Saturday, 18 July 2015

Stonefest 2

Scotland hasn't a monopoly on impressive stone circles by any means. In late May, while still in Northern England, on a one-night stopover in the Lake District, I visited Castlerigg Stone Circle, which lies south of the A66, between Keswick and Threlkeld. It was clearly on the main tourist trail, judging by the number of parked cars and the number of other visitors milling around. But in the right season, at the right time of day, it must be a haunting place.

I caught it in late afternoon, and realised at once that to secure any kind of worthwhile photo would need some patience. I did not want people in my pictures. Fortunately many didn't stay long, or were constantly moving about. Moving was good: it meant I could grab a shot as they passed behind a stone, and therefore they wouldn't show up in my picture. But to do this I had to be alert, and the shot timed just so.

Ideally I should have come back later, but I was tired from towing the caravan over two hundred miles earlier on in the day, and knew that once I returned to the caravan I wouldn't go out again. The popularity of the site just had to be coped with.

Funny that - how so many people find ancient stones appealing! Perhaps they see the stones as a window to an intriguing, almost unknowable past full of strange ritual. Or it may be that the very size, shape and hoariness of the stones fires people's imaginations at a primitive level - although so far as I can judge, the ancient people who erected these stone circles were, by the standards of the time, a sophisticated lot and not at all 'primitive'. I dare say that if they had the means (i.e. metal tools, and heavy lifting machines) they wouldn't have been content to leave the stones in their natural state, but would have chiselled them much more; and they would have arranged them in much more complex patterns.

Maybe one day I'll set up a standing stone, or a stone circle, or a quoit, in my front or back garden - aligned (of course) with one of the solstice positions of the sun.

On arrival at Castlerigg Stone Circle, the visitor is greeted with a rather nice metal model of the stones:

It's a more-or-less complete set of stones, none of them as high as you get in Stonehenge, but there is a strong sense (probably an illusion) that nothing much has changed since the circle was set up in Neolithic times, 4,500 years ago.

A 'strong sense' most certainly compromised by folk in brightly-coloured outdoor wear! Sigh.

It was pretty windy!

At least as attractive as the stones themselves was the mountainous backdrop, which my shots don't do justice to. Do go and see this place for yourself.

Sixteen days further on, and I visited this stone circle in south-west Scotland, not far from Newton Stewart in Galloway. It's called the Torhouse Stone Circle. It features stones graded in height, so that the tallest are where the main solar action takes place.  It was just off a quiet country road. A husband, wife and daughter were there when I arrived. They had clearly not been there long. While the wife took some careful shots, I chatted with the husband, and once again I was struck how popular a pastime stone-hunting is. After waving goodbye, I took some considered shots of my own. The cows in the next field must have thought us all mad.

Now some single standing stones of the Pictish kind, meaning that they were carved with certain designs. They were all in Aberdeenshire, up in north-east Scotland. The tallest and best-carved was Sueno's Stone on the eastern outskirts of Forres. It was so important that they had popped it into a protective glass case of houselike proportions. 

The name 'Sueno' is a fanciful invention of course. But the carvings are elaborate and well worth seeing, although the glass case does inhibit photography, because of the reflections.

Further south-east were two other carved standing stones. The one just south of the A96, between Insch and Inverurie, was the Maiden Stone, partly so-called because of the female mirror and comb carved on the stone, but mainly because of a local legend that a girl skilled in baking was turned into this stone to save her from the consequences of losing an 'I can bake a loaf faster than you can build a road' wager with the Devil. Hell or petrification? Not much of a choice, to my mind. Perhaps the legend was a general warning not to make boasts.

A real-life maiden? 

And then there was the Picardy Stone, which stood in a field on a minor road between the B9002 and the A96, north-west of Insch. It was surrounded by a low protective iron fence, I suppose to prevent horses or cattle rubbing against it. One nice thing about the approach was the avenue of fine trees.

The carvings were not terribly obvious. I thought the stone worth visiting, but would have left quickly had it not been for the horses - mum and dad, and two young ones - who came over hoping for some fuss from me. Unfortunately, I had nothing to give them except nice noises, but they made my escape difficult for a few minutes!

Such are the hazards of the amateur stone-hunter. Cows, horses, wind, have to be truly dedicated.

1 comment:

  1. Bit envious of your stone hunting, something I used to do and a bit before it go quite so popular it seems.

    Even forty years ago I waited nearly an hour to get a photograph at an ancient site without any people in it. It did not help that it was a busy part of the day and I wanted a wide view of the Parthenon! Some of us are more patient / crazier than the general public...


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