The Rollright Stones are a collection of Stone Age/Bronze Age stones down by the Oxfordshire-Warwickshire border, just over an hour’s drive from my parents’ house where we were staying last week. And if that wasn’t cool enough, they even have their own legend.
In fact the Rollrights consist of three discrete monuments. In a field next to the road lie the King’s Men, a circle of 77 stones; four hundred metres east of these sits a smaller heap known as the Whispering Knights, as if someone had been trying to build a card house out of stones (the remains of an ancient burial chamber); and in a separate field on the other side of the road lies a single solitary monolith, the King Stone.
These stones were part of my growing up, my country’s own ancient monument; and while away south Stonehenge sold herself in tawdry burlesque shows for tourist dollars, the Rollrights rested in quiet seclusion, much as they’d done for thousands of years, our little secret, enigmatic, English and mysterious.
Of course it couldn’t last: revisiting them last week after a decade or more we found a warden in attendance, brochures, dog walkers, tourists, chatter, even the local astronomy club sitting in a row, telescopes pointed at the clouds, their backs to the stones. It seems a pity—but still, when the people have all gone home, the stones remain; quietly giving the landscape meaning.
But what, you ask, about the legend? Well, actually there are two: the first, which we’ve already disproved, is that you can never count them and get the same number twice. The other is that they are an ancient king and his followers turned to stone by a witch. The best thing about this is her curse:
‘Rise up stick and stand still stone, For King of England thou shalt be none;
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, And I myself an elder tree!’
Isn’t the language great? You can see where Tolkien got a lot of his folk idiom from. I also like the fact that she curses herself at the same time, and like to think that her last words, as her arms turned to branches and her feet took root in the earth, were, ‘Oh, bugger!’
I took a break from knitting while we were away, but having had a few days to recover from the jetlag of driving 600 miles in a day I’ve made rapid progress, and have almost finished the first sleeve—always assuming I don’t have to rip these ones out and re-do them, like last time. (I’m also trying to get as much done as possible before the clocks go back and it’s too dark for navy yarn.) I picked up 110 stitches around the armholes and decreased at two stitches every fourth row.
Now we’re back I can appreciate the loneliness of the Caithness landscape. The ancient monuments up here may be less dramatic—the Hill o’Many Stanes is more like a Stone Age rockery than a ceremonial relic—but they’re every bit as ancient and mysterious. And if the British landscape is a palimpsest in which different cultures have written their own history, it’s nice to have some peace and quiet in which to read it.
Apologies for the late post – due to circumstances beyond our control (the site was moved to a new server) – we were unable to publish on time. Ed.