English Neolithic stone circle

You set your feet on a path and expect to go somewhere, that is certain. Here, setting your feet on the track means travel, it's true, but this road is both sweet and dangerous. The road to Fæery was never so fraught; Thomas the Rhymer never took such a path, and yet I did. It begins as so many do with a sweep up the hill, a gentle climb in the Derbyshire countryside, pretty in every season. I know, because I have oft taken it. Here, the trees - oak and beech, ash and elm, stark or bright each in their own way from Spring to Winter. There you see the gentle rolling meadows and yonder, to the West you know there's the heath, purple and brown, uncertain underfoot.

You may be distracted, there is much to see, and the way is worn by countless footprints through many a century. Every inch has been trod, and by people whose language we may never know, remote in the dim mist of years. There, an ancient dry stone wall, neglected now. Here, a hedge once beautifully laid, now overgrown thicket. Now here is a stile, and thereafter the path ends. You think your feet still tread the same beaten road, one you could retrace back to car,home and modern life. Yet in a moment, you know this is no longer true. Each step, once light and sure, becomes heavy. This is not the weight of tiredness, nor the slope, which is levelling out as you approach the brow of the hill. You move more slowly, uncertain why. The very air, the light, the ground itself, seem different. As indeed they are. For you have moved in space a few hundred yards, but in time you have travelled back through millennia.

In The Modern World

Set on Stanton Moor in the English county of Derbyshire, this delightful place is at once beautiful, spooky and inspiring. A few miles to the northwest of Matlock, Stanton Moor is a windswept place, popular with walkers because of the scenery and history of the place. The moor is dotted with many ring barrows, burial cairns and standing stone monuments, of which the Nine Ladies is the most spectacular.

The nine stones are surrounded by young tree growth, and overlook the cliff edge to the east. The stones are laid out in a slightly flattened circle about 36 feet (14 metres) across, originally surrounded by a slight bank, and which in turn contained a low cairn. Most of the stones appear to be about 3 feet (1 metre) in height.

A flat stone (about 4 feet across) lying just within the circle may have topped the original cairn, and a tenth stone, the "King's Stone", stands away about 100 feet (40 metres) to the southwest. The bank and cairn are barely visible now, worn away by generations of visitors.

History and Legend

As with so many circles, legend has it that nine local women were dancing in a circle on the moor on the Sabbath, and they and the fiddler were turned to stone as punishment for their sin. In some stories, the violinist became a piper, and the King's Stone is sometimes referred to in local histories as the "Piper's Stone".

In fact, the circle was most likely built in Neolithic times, probably between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago, as the whole area is dotted with burial mounds which have been dated to this time. It may have been used by Druids - the area is replete with trees bearing mistletoe, sacred to the religion, and there are many local legends related to Druid activity. (The Druid's Inn at the nearby village of Birchover, and legends abound of Druids worshipping at other sites.)

Thomas Bateman, a local historian and archaeologist, surveyed the site in the 1840s, and recovered some shards of pottery and left many observations and drawings behind.

The stone is local Millstone grit, probably mined at a nearby quarry (the closest of which is about 200 metres away). Indeed, there is still a great deal of quarrying in the area (as with much of the Peak District), and recent controversies over the planned expansion of a nearby commercial quarry have brought the stones into the news again.

Plans are in hand to reopen two quarries adjacent to Stanton Edge, and English Heritage and other conservation groups are very worried about the impact on the area, especially these unique monuments. The media recently reported that large numbers of protesters had gathered to raise public awareness of their concern, although only two were evident when I visited the site.

The main threat to the site is in fact not commercial interests, but the footfall of an estimated 40,000 visitors a year. At the time I was there, a project to preserve the area was already under way.

The paths leading to the stones have been built up and turfed, and the stones themselves were fenced off while the ground was being built up and grassed over. Erosion has accounted for up to six inches (15 cm) of soil loss in places around the circle, and many people have dug fire pits, which have destroyed the grass and sterilised the topsoil. In addition, several of the stones have been chipped at by souvenir hunters, and the King's Stone was recently damaged by a park ranger, who reversed his Land Rover into it.

Personal Observations

I feel at peace here, walking deosil around the circle, sitting on the grass next to them. The spiritual feeling cannot be dampened by the fencing set up to protect them during the conservation process, and I am filled with a sense of well-being. The site itself is still beautiful, surrounded by young trees, and overlooking the Derwent valley to the east. I could imagine myself there thousands of years ago, before the vandalism and thoughtlessness of later generations took their toll on this wonderful place.

This is no fleeting thing, the love of this place, and it is no accident that I come back time after time. Those first few heavy steps past the stile, the treacly feeling of pushing through the barriers of reality, that is part of the magic for me. There are those who deny the magic, and yet I have walked here with many a skeptic who now believes, and with many a "witch" who trod on no magic turf, moved through no time. The true believers I would see clearly, the false, as through a prism, for they are out of phase with me in this place.

Such is the magic of these stones, this hill, these trees. This is why I tell this story again now, for someone fell in love with me here, though we had never met. She knew not my voice nor my spirit, and still the power of the Ladies moved her. Moved me too, more than five thousand miles in time.

Love Among The Stones

Away with the romance for a moment, and down to earth. Back in 2004, Christine and I started chatting here,on E2. Gradually we worked up at chatting through instant messaging, talking food and politics, life and time, until one day we touched on the spiritual and began talking about who we were, where our strength came from and our spiritual desires. Innocent, I pointed her to a gallery of photographs I had taken on a trip here, and told her this was where I felt strongest - high up from the moors,with rock under my feet. Her response was silence. "I may not say anything, I need to be quiet", was her reply. Then followed that quiet. I felt a something I could not define. "May I call you? On the phone?". She answered in a moment, gave me her phone number. I could feel the trembling of her hands, connected with my own. I called her, and she told me the story, of how she was transported. Not by the pictures, not even my description. This surpassed all those ones and zeros, it had struck her deep. So we talked, on and on, burrowing through the feelings, down and down until the desire to return into the bright light of the real world came upon us.

Thus began my new journey, one I've told you many times. I surprised myself continually, spending hour upon hour glued to the phone, something I was never good at. Slowly we learned one another (and dared I say it) fell into love, which surprised us both. Should we meet? Yes, we should. She invited me to stay, I did a touchdown dance in my lonely room. Now the tale begins.

We met in the November, confirmed the love. I proposed, she accepted. In due time, we came to be handfasted, and we continued the magic in the circle on Hampstead Heath. We visited the Nine Ladies, of course, and she too waded through the stickiness of time to get there, as I had. And we consummated the spirit of our love again there,in the misty time-heavy place so many years ago. The circle is complete, our love stands now as it started then, in spirit and completing us both.

Map at http://goo.gl/uUPA7

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