On the road from Banbury to Chipping Norton (one that I drive often as I adore the Oxfam second-hand bookshop in the town), there’s a very ordinary-looking sign directing you to ‘The Rollrights.’ The Rollrights are a set of villages nestled in the idyllic Cotswold countryside, but that’s not the main attraction here.
Nearby there’s a hilltop that is unlike any other. It’s beauty created not just by the location and the view, but also by the collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monuments known as The Rollright Stones.
The King’s Stones
The Stones were placed between 5000 and 3500 years ago, and in this small patch of the landscape, there are three distinct formations. The King’s Circle is perhaps the most famous. Most likely built for religious purposes, the 30m diameter circle was once comprised of around 100 standing stones, now there are 77 left.
Although I’m an art historian, I never know what I should feel when I experience these kinds of ancient monuments. They are remarkable for sure. How did these stones last for so long? What meaning did they hold for the people who constructed them? How have their meanings changed over time?
Should I feel something profound when entering the circle? This is still a site of sacred significance for many practitioners of the various forms of Paganism. Indeed the charitable trust who manage the stones work to make the circle accessible to those who would like to perform ceremonies at the circle.
Dotted around the site, both on the stones and hung from the trees, are offerings to various deities and beings. They are all left respectfully; look closely and you’ll find coins and herbs tucked into pockets in the stones.
The King’s Stone on the other side of the road to the King’s Men stone circle is much smaller than it once was. People in the nineteenth century used to chip parts off to carry with them; it was believed the stone could protect you from the devil. For this reason, the Rollright Stones were instrumental in legal protection for ancient monuments being introduced in 1882. It was one of the first ancient monuments to be put into guardianship of the state.
The Whispering Knights
A short distance away stands a smaller collection of stones. They are known as the Whispering Knights. Legend has it that the stone circle is what remains of the King’s Army when a witch turned them to stone. The Knights were conspiring behind his back when she turned them to stone too. It turns out that if you look in the right places, history is full of strong women!
These stones are actually atop a burial chamber and they are the oldest standing stones on the site. The fallen stone would have once been placed majestically on top of the others.
The site is well maintained and easy to walk around, with paths laid so that the stones can be accessed even in winter and wet weather. We went early so that we could avoid it getting busy later, and don’t forget your £1 per person for the honesty box at the entrance.
My plan is to revisit the stones multiple times over the course of the year to see how the location changes with the season. My only regret is that I didn’t see the stones sooner despite living locally for several years.