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Flamborough (John Knaggs) 7: 5 October

FJK141005a 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.


The King’s Men

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.


The Whispering Knights

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.

FJK141005bBut 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!’


The Hill o’ Many Stanes

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.


5 comments to Flamborough (John Knaggs) 7: 5 October

  • =Tamar

    Funny how those clocks make it so dark… Welcome back! I understand the driving lag, having done something similar recently. I’m still recovering.
    The sleeves look okay from here. That pattern seems to pull in enough to make up for some looseness anyway.
    Thanks for the associated rhyme! I do wonder whether the last line was changed at some point. Or maybe she meant to keep an eye on them for a while, to be sure the spell took, but gave herself an escape clause since the tree would die eventually.

  • Sue

    Welcome back and the gamsey is looking great. I have finally finished knitting the Aran for my brother and it’s now drying on the spare bed after being washed and blocked.

    I was interested to hear about the Rollright Stones and the way things have changed. I went to see them in the summer of 1986 – with 8 teenagers in tow that I and a couple of PT youth work staff had taken on a cycle tour through the Cotswolds (we travelled by train to Oxford from Chester and then got the train home from Bristol). I can just imagine what the oresent day risk assessment would have to say about such a trip now!

    One of the PTimers had studied archeology at Uni and wanted to see them so we all did a detour to take them in. The teenagers were not impressed and not just because it added at least 10 miles to the cycling distance to the next youth hostel! It was mainly because it took us a while to actually find them as they weren’t signposted and as one of the teens said when we did find them ‘but they are just a collection of stones’. I was glad that there was nobody else around and especially nobody who wanted to stand in quiet contemplation of the Stones given the rampaging teenagers crashing through the undergrowth etc!

  • Jane

    Nice to see you back! Hope you had a good break , you were lucky with the weather. I do hope the present weather in Wick is not quite as bad as the BBC makes out, is the ship with the radioactive concrete really coming your way!?

    Many, oh so many, years ago I visited the Rollright Stones. It was in the 1970s before the wardens and brochures, a quiet, mystical place. Like probably everyone else, I can see the well trodden path, I walked round and touched every stone in the circle, clockwise of course. Go the other way, widdershins, and you might turn to stone. If that were true, there would be a whole load of monoliths. I was a youngster in that happy untidy area of the rural counties where the corners of Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire come together. Later when the kids were little we lived near Towcester, not I think too too far from your parents!

    Now, meanwhile, the gansey is looking very, very good, and the light is still reasonable. I do like the plain area immediately behind the cuff. You must be pleased.

    The little red gansey jacket has been refreshing to knit, there is a good sense of achievement with small garments. The body is finished, and the first sleeve underway. Weather in Hampshire absolutely dire, I have gone from T-shirt to woolly jumper in two days! Peacocks and cats somewhat dejected.

  • Lynne

    I love the navy gansey, but that pattern is really going to ‘pop’ once it’s blocked! I’m currently knitting that East Neuk Hoodie featured in the Knitscene magazine that you ‘starred’ in. The pattern FINALLY got interesting after the first eight inches but I miss working with smaller gauge needles and yarn. Oh, well, we all need to get out of our comfort zone now and then.
    Margaret, your Blipfotos are wonderful!

  • Gordon

    Hello everyone, and thank you. I was going to say that it’s good to be back, but 60-mile winds, driving rain and floods (not to mention the 10ºC temperature differential between Northampton and Wick) would make a liar of me… Just a short reply today, as I’ve been in Inverness at a meeting all day, just the 200-mile round trip this time!

    Tamar, I love stories of people turned into trees, so much so that I wrote one myself (Wraiths of Elfael), and I agree, I think the witch could change herself back. The king and his men are supposed to change back to human form if ever Britain votes to leave the EU, or something, when they will catch the Eurostar and relocate to France.

    Sue, I think it’s the unassuming nature of the Rollrights that make me so fond of them. Thousands of years ago people like us planted them in the landscape, and it meant something to them, and we’ll probably never know what—but every generation comes up with a new theory. Hard to argue with the assessment of them just being a collection of stones, though…

    Jane, the shipload of radioactive concrete is moored off the Cromarty Firth. I had a look as I drove over there this afternoon, but it was raining and i couldn’t see much. Hopefully the seas are a little calmer now.

    It’s a little-known fact that one of the biggest headaches faced by English Heritage is removing all the monoliths of tourists who’ve gone round the circle the wrong way and been turned to stone. (They do it at dead of night, using wheelbarrows. Then they send the stones off to be crushed and turned to gravel for people’s driveways, thus making a nice profit into the bargain. True story.)

    Lynne, best of luck with the East Neuk pattern. I last went out of my comfort zone back in 1987 and found the world a very scary place; never gone back, as you may have noticed! And yes, the photos are great, aren’t they?

    Best wishes to all,

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