There appear to be several coffin stones in the United Kingdom. A coffin stone is normally so called as it is a place for pall bearers to rest while carrying a coffin to a graveyard before burial. There are a couple of less famous examples at Ivelet Bridge in Yorkshire, and on the Lazenby Fell in Cumbria. Of the two coffin stones described here, only one is a genuine coffin stone, that of the stone on Dartmeet Hill in Devon. The other, found in Kent, is far more ancient and is only a nickname due to the stones shape.

The Kent Coffin Stone

The coffin stone in Kent lies near The Countless Stones, just off the A229 between Rochester and Maidstone. It is not marked on the OS map, but is in the same field. This is not a coffin stone in the sense described above, but is instead a very large sarsen laid flat in the ground like a tombstone.

The stones dimensions are approximately 4.4m long, 2.8m wide and 0.5m in height, and it is thought that the stone marks the burial chamber of a previous longbarrow, evidence of a mound still being visible around it. In 1836 curious farmers managed to lift the stone and discovered two human skulls underneath. These have since been lost, and there has been no further excavation.

In 1980 a smaller sarsen stone was placed on top of the coffin stone by a local farmer. It is not the most interesting of the Kent stone monuments, but worth a look if you are visiting the countless stones.

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Other Local Prehistoric Sights

The Devon Coffin Stone

The Devonshire coffin stone can be found to the east of Dartmeet, off the B3357 on Dartmoor. It would have been used as a resting place on the way to Widecombe Church, after the rather steep ascent of Dartmeet Hill. The boulder is quite large, being approximately 9m x 8m.

Once a single boulder, the coffin stone now lies in two pieces. This is due to natural erosion processes, but legend has it that the stone was split in twain by a lightning bolt after a particularly notorious local sinner was laid on it on the way to Widdecombe Church.

Another peculiarity of the stone is a collection of inscribed crosses and initals on its surface. If a person of note was being buried, then they were accompanied by a stonemason who would carve a commemorative note on the stone. There are four sets of initials, occuring on both of the stones.

There is no charge to see the stone, other than that on your energy as you climb Dartmeet Hill, and it is open all year round. It could be combined with a vist to the settlement site on the southern side of the hill, reached by crossing an ancient field system.

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Kent - for a picture of the coffin stone
Devon - for pictures of the stone and for more information regarding the parishoners who used it.

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