The standing stones and ancient monoliths that dot the British Isles are some of the most enigmatic and awe-inspiring reminders we have of our ancient past, and Oxfordshire in particularly rich in them. Here are 7 standing stones and monoliths that you can visit in Oxfordshire today.
The Rollright Stones near Chipping Norton are the granddaddy of Oxfordshire standing stones. What the Rollright Stones lack in terms of size (compared to Stonehenge or Avebury), they more than make up for in their sense of magic and mystery.
Made up of a large stone circle known as the King's Men and two smaller groups of standing stones known the King Stone and the Whispering Knights, the Rollright Stones are a nexus for folklore and legends.
From fairy sightings to witches curses and stones that move of their own free will, the lore associated with the Rollright Stones is rich. Their position on a hill looking south over the rolling northwest Oxfordshire countryside makes the Rollright Stones a great spot for a picnic on a sunny day, and a dramatic spot to watch the sunrise on midsummer morning!
The Devil's Quoits near Stanton Harcourt could be described as Oxfordshire's forgotten stone circle. The circle was nearly lost entirely during WWII when the area was cleared so it could be used as an airfield. However, during the 2000's a campaign by a group of enthusiastic volunteers saw the stone circle being restored to its former glory, with the circular ditches being re-dug, stones being returned to their original positions and missing stones being replaced.
The circle's name comes from a legend that the Devil was playing quoits with a beggar on Wytham hill. He flung his huge quoits down into and they landed where the circle now stands near Stanton Harcourt. An alternative legend is that the Devil was playing with the stones on a Sunday, and on being told that playing games on a sunday is sinful, he flung his stones down in disgust, landing where they now stand.
Today, the circle is well worth a visit. Although the nearest parking is on the site of the Dix Pit waste and recycling centre, the circle itself stands a short walk away in near-perfect isolation. Definitely a must for passing stone-botherers!
The Hoar Stone lies at a crossroads between Enstone and Fulwell. Only three stones stand today, but older descriptions of the site describe a considerably larger monument, constituting the entrance to a large chambered tomb.
Legend has it that the largest stone, known as the 'old soldier', likes to go for a walk to the local pub for a drink on midsummer's eve! Another version of the legend depicts a rather more austere version of the stone who instead prefers to go down to the brook for a drink of water.
Just a short way off the A44 and with amble layby parking nearby, the Hoar Stone is definitely worth a stop off if you are travelling between Oxford and Chipping Norton.
Just a few miles to the east of the Hoar Stone at Enstone, and said to be connected to it by a layline, stands the monolith known as the Hawk Stone. Although it stands alone in a field, some believe it was once part of a larger group of stones that has since been removed.
The Hawk Stone is most likely named for the similarity between the stones silhouette and the silhouette of a bird, but a local legend suggests that the notch between the two 'ears' of the Hawk Stone once served a much more shocking purpose. One legend states that in the past witches would be chained to the stone and either whipped or burned, and the notch at the top was made by the chains rubbing against the stone as the unfortunate witches struggled!
Conversely, another legend states that the stone reached its current position after either being dragged there or hurled their by magical means by a witch.
The Thor Stone is a seven-foot-tall standing stone that can be found on the side of the road just to the north of the village green in the village of Taston.
Little is known about the stone's origin, but one local legend is that the stone was originally a bolt of lightning that was flung to the earth by the Norse god Thor, perhaps aiming for the 14th century Christian cross that once stood on the nearby village green.
While this story is improbable to say the least, the stone was clearly once very important to the local community. In fact, the village appears to have got its name from the presence of the stone. Back in the 13th century, the name of the village was recorded as Thorstan, a corruption of 'Thor's stone'.
This unusual 3 foot high sarcen stone stands out among the other standing stones of Oxfordshire as it is the only stone in the country that has musical properties!
The stone is perforated with natural holes which produce an eerie booming sound if blown into in the correct way. It is said that the sound can be heard seven miles away, and is perhaps the reason why the stone appears to have been moved on number of locations. It once stood outside a pub in the centre of the village of Kingston Lisle and rumour has it that the sound of intoxicated pub-goers blowing the stone at closing time became a real nuisance. As a result, that the stone was eventually moved to its current position outside Blowing Stone cottages, a mile or so to the south of the village.
The most well known legend about the Blowing Stone is that King Alfred the Great blew a great blast on the stone to alert his troops camped a mile away atop White Horse Hill to the arrival of the Danish forces before the Battle of Ashdown in AD 871.
The stone circle at Stonor Park near Henley-on-Thames is possibly a controversial choice for this list. Some sources, including Stonor Park's own website, claim that this stately home was built on the site of a place of pagan worship, a stone circle constructed from the distinctive stones that give the valley of Stonor its name. They draw attention to the large sarcen stone built into the wall of the chapel as evidence that here at Stonor Park, Christianity co-opted a pagan site of worship for its own.
However, the stone circle that can be seen today in the grounds of Stonor Park is more an example of 17th - 20th century landscaping than anything more ancient. Some dispute whether the stones were ever part of an earlier stone circle at all and regard then as little more than a picturesque folly constructed at the whim of a wealthy aristocrat.
Regardless of who you believe, I'd recommend visiting Stonor Park to see the stones and decide for yourself.
There you have it, 7 of the best standing stones in Oxfordshire! There are a few additional locations worthy of honourable mention. The famous burial mound Wayland Smithy is enclosed by a number of dramatic sarsen stones. Barton Park contains another Hoar Stone, though this is sadly on private land. The villages of Ashbury and Sarsden both feature a number of huge stones used as paving, curbing, or walls surrounding the village church that are thought to have been stolen from previous stone circles. There is an impressive standing stone close to Lyneham Longbarrow, just off the A361, thought getting up close to it requires jumping a few hedges and I definitely couldn't condone that sort of behaviour! There are also intriguing references to standing stones that no longer seem to exist. For example, 1922 Ordnance Survey maps refers to a 'site of Hoar Stone' to the northwest of Fairspear Farm, Leafield. Who knows how many more standing stones could have existed in Oxfordshire in the distant past?
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