Henge Stones: Rollright (The Cotswolds)
On a surprisingly sunlit day in the English Cotswolds, a large circle of stones stands. These are ancient stones, pitted, pocked, marked with mosses and weather spots, and they stand proud.
This ring is known as the King's Men. Also on site are the King's Stone and the Whispering Knights. If you are the hands-on type, this is a perfect opportunity for you to be close to prehistoric stones. Unlike Stonehenge or even Avebury, you may not only approach the stones, but you may touch them, sit on them, take pictures with them, and otherwise familiarize yourself with them.
And if you're visiting the Stones at the right time of the season, you may even take part in the Druid solstice rituals!
The King's Men
Entering the circle is exciting -- from which angle should one approach? Which stone looks the most interesting? You touch the stones to feel their depth, and knowing you are touching rock from thousands of years ago is simply fantastic.
The circle itself is about 108 feet wide, adding to its mystique. Some of the stones lay in the ground, covered by grass and moss; some stand upright, while others appear to have been molded by the wind and rain. Some have whole middle sections worn right through, also from weathering.
The Whispering Knights
Follow a permissible footpath around a large field of red poppies to get to the Whispering Knights. This cluster of three large stones stands behind a low wrought iron fence and is visible from the King's Men.
Named for the manner in which the stones appear to lean toward each other and "whisper" together in cahoots against their king, the Whispering Knights are the remains of a burial chamber from the Neolithic period, likely dating from 4000-3500 BCE. Originally the burial chamber would have had more supports, with the flatter capstone resting atop them all. But it lays at the feet of the still-tall supports behind a black wrought-iron fence.
The King's Stone
Across the street stands the King's Stone. Majestic and alone, it waits behind an iron gate as visitors approach it. It was cordoned off between WWI and WWII since locals had taken to chipping pieces from the stone in the belief that it would protect them in battle.
When I took my pictures, the only company the stone had was a couple of cows.
Druid Rituals at the Rollright Stones
The Cotswold Order of Druids honors pagan events like solstices and Samhain, as well as rare events like the Transit of Venus by holding public celebrations.
You may be asked if you would like to celebrate the earth with them (I did it and it felt lovely), but if you feel uncomfortable, they will not force you to join in.
Mother Shipton's Legend
Legend says that the stones were originally men -- a witch named Mother Shipton turned a traveling King and his party to stone after challenging the king to see Long Compton on his way to conquering all of England.
Upon his final stride toward his attempt to see the town, the ground rose up and blocked his view. The legend continues that Mother Shipton turned the whole company to stone and herself into a tree so she could watch them.
The Uncountable Stones
On the way to the Stones, I stopped for lunch in Chipping Norton. Since I hadn't spied any signage yet, I asked the manager of the pub for directions. He provided them, and asked if I knew the legend of counting the stones.
"No, please tell!"
"The legend states that no one can count the stones three times and come up with the same number. Either another stone crops up, or several will be missing. If you can count the stones thrice properly and come up with the same total, your heart's desire will be fulfilled."
"So how many are there, really?"
"I'm sorry, miss, can't answer that. No one really knows."
And please believe me when I tell you that once I arrived, I tried to count the stones in the ring. But I couldn't! I kept losing my place and before I even made it around twice, I gave up. I satisfied myself by marveling at their age and ridged and furrowed beauty.
Fees and Hours
Admission costs a very reasonable £1. The site is not publicly subsidized, so they rely on donations.
The site is open from sunrise to sunset, and may also be booked through the Rollright Trust for functions (birthdays, educational opportunities, and others in addition to pagan festivals).
My Impression of the Stones
I very much enjoyed taking part in the pagan ritual, but the ambiance of The King's Men (at least, pre-ritual) is diminished somewhat by a well-traveled road immediately on the other side of the bushes. Engine noises are not exactly what one imagines when they think of ancient circles.
The poppy field bordering the King's Men and the Whispering Knights does provide a sense of peace, however. So if I'm ever in the Cotswolds again, I'll make it my business to return to the site. I was there during the day, but I certainly wonder what the King's Men would look like in the moonlight...
Also, shortly after this hub was published, the Rollright Stones site was named one of the seven wonders of the Cotswolds by a public vote. They sure know their stuff!