Holed Stone, West Overton, Wiltshire

Enclosure & Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1285 7151

Aerial image of site
Aerial image of site

Getting Here

Follow the same directions to reach the Polisher Stone at the top-end of Overton Down as it meets Fyfield Down. From here, walk down the slope for 100 yards or so where you’ll notice, just above the long grassy level, a line of ancient walling running nearly east to west.  It’s very close to the yellow marker in the attached aerial image shot to the right. If you walk along this line of walling you’ll find it.

Archaeology & History

Overton’s Holed Stone

As I’ve only been here once, and briefly — under the guidance of the Avebury expert Pete Glastonbury — my bearings on this site may need revising.  There are two distinct sections of walling here: one has been excavated by Peter Fowler and his team; the other hasn’t. (correct me if I’m wrong Pete)  And in Fowler’s (2000) fine survey of this area he does not describe this very distinct holed-stone in the line of walling, or adjacent “linear ditch F4”, as it was called.  But then, many archaeologists don’t tend to find items such as these of any interest (unless their education stretches to other arenas, which isn’t usually the case). But the stone seems to be in a section of walling that isn’t in their survey; standing out in aerial imagery as a less well-defined, but still obvious line of walling that is closer to the fence, 70-80 yards north, with a decidedly Iron-Age look about it!

But, precision aside! — as you can see in the photos, the holed stone here isn’t very tall — less than 2 feet high; though we don’t know how deep the stone is set into the ground.  This spot is on my “must visit again” list for the next time we’re down here!

Folklore

Veritable vagabonds, Mikki, June, PeteG & Geoff, readying themselves for fertility rites!
Veritable vagabonds, Mikki, June, PeteG & Geoff, readying themselves for fertility rites!

There’s nowt specific to this stone, nor line of walling, nor settlement (as far as I know), but it seems right to mention the fact that in British and European folklore and peasant traditions, that holed stones just like the one found here have always been imbued with aspects of fertility — for obvious reasons. Others like this have also acquired portentous abilities; whilst others have become places where deeds and bonds were struck, with the stone playing ‘witness’ to promises made.

References:

  1. Fowler, Peter, Landscape Plotted and Pierced: Landscape History and Local Archaeology in Fyfield and Overton, Wiltshire, Society of Antiquaries: London 2000.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Holed Stone

loading map - please wait...

Holed Stone 51.442427, -1.816462 Holed Stone

The Polisher, West Overton, Wiltshire

‘Standing Stone’:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1283 7150

Also Known as:

  1. OD II (Fowler)
  2. Parsons Penning Stone
  3. The Polissoir

Getting Here

The Polisher at rest

We were graciously guided to this spot by local archaeological authority, Pete Glastonbury — which is good, cos otherwise it’d have probably taken us all day to find the damn thing!  Best way to get here is out of the Avebury circle, east, up for about a mile up the Herepath or Green Street till you hit the ancient track of the Ridgeway.  Turn left and walk up the gentle slope for another 350 yards or so, then note the footpath on your right.  Go down the slope for about 150 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for the smooth rock with the slits in it, not far from the Holed Stone!

Archaeology & History

Although classified on the Wiltshire Sites & Monuments Record as an “unclassified feature,” this is one of a number of whetstones (as we call ’em up North) that feature in various settings in and around the Avebury region: literally, a rock used for sharpening axes, daggers and other metallic artifacts. First rediscovered in the spring of 1963 by a Mr Inigo Jones when he was out exploring the many rocks hereby for rare lichens and any more cup-markings like the one at nearby Fyfield Down, the site we see today is merely a long piece of stone with five or six long lines or grooves cut into the top-end, along which the ancient weapons and tools slid and cut into the rock, sharpening them.

It was thought until recently that this was the prime function of this stone; but following excavation work done here by Pete Fowler and his team in 1963, it seems that the stone actually stood upright!  Digs were made on three sides of the stone and some earlier disturbance seemed apparent:

“The material appeared to be redeposited on top of an earlier ground surface, inferentially of medieval or earlier date.  At the north end of the sarsen bench, the lip of a pit or trench was partly excavated.  It showed clearly in plan as a feature dug into the top of an undated surface level with the disturbed top of the clay-with-flints; it was filled with flinty, clayey humus similar to that through which it was cut.  In the top of that fill was a heavily weathered sarsen, c 0.6m by 0.45m, and a cluster of smaller, broken sarsen stones.  The hole was at least 0.45m deep, its bottom as excavated marked by an increase in the density of flints.  The evidence, though incomplete, suggested very strongly that the feature was part of a hole dug to take the pollisoir as an upright stone.” (my italics, Ed)

In the same dig, a medieval coin of King John (1199-1216) and the remains of a medieval horseshoe were found beneath the stone, giving Fowler and his team the notion that the stone had been split and pushed over at this period.  Consistent evidence of activity from the neolithic period onwards was expected and found here.

In Lacaille’s (1963) original description of the site, he gave a most accurate description of the dimensions of the stone and its incisions.  Highlighting its proximity to a cluster of other stones, as well as being close to a wide ditch, Lacaille’s measurements were thus:

“From 1ft (0.31m) above ground at its south end the regular surface of the sarsen slopes to the grass, its main axis being aligned about 15° west of the true north and south line.  In length the stone measures 5ft 6in (1.68m) above the grass, and 2ft 10in (0.86m) in width.

“Closely grouped in the south-eastern corner of the sarsen there are six hollows.  In plan the largest and southernmost is of long elliptical shape, 1ft 8in (0.5m) long and 9in (0.23m) at widest and 1in (0.0254m) deep.  From its wider end near the eastern long margin there protrudes a short groove.  Beside this, and curving slightly inward, there is another groove, 1¼in (0.028m) wide and ½in (0.013m) deep.  It is as long as the large basin-like cavity.  Next to it there runs one of similar length and width, but of only half the depth.  In turn, a third groove, ½in (0.013m) wide, 1ft 8in (0.5m) long, has been worn at right angles to the long edge but to a much deeper hollow than its companions.  At 2in (o.051m) to the north a lesser version of the main basin occurs.  Like this it measures 1ft 8in (0.5m) in length, but is only 2¼in (0.058m) wide and ¾in (0.016m) deep.  Vague in places over its interior length of 10in (0.25m), but attaining a maximum width of 1¼in (0.028m), a last hollowing shows faintly at both ends and nowhere deeper than 1/8in (0.0032m).”

The Polisher & its marks
Celoria & Lacaille’s 1963 drawing of the stone

It appears that this fallen standing stone was being used to sharpen knives and axes whilst it stood upright and, in all probability, as a result of this ability would have been possessed of magickal properties to our ancestors.  Metalwork was an important province of shamanism and smiths, whose practices were deeply enmeshed in the very creation of mythical cosmologies.  Hence, the simple act nowadays of sharpening metal tools onto rocks would not have been a mere profanity to the people who came and used this stone to re-empower their weapons, but would have been entwined within a magickal cosmology.  The spirit inherent in this stone would likely have been named and recognised.  Today it is forgotten…

It also seems that this standing stone was part of some ancient walling.  Aerial views clearly show it along the line of some sort of enclosure that runs down the slope, along the bottom and back up and around.  In the same stretch of this enclosure walling we find the Holed Stone a little further down the slope.  And holed stones, as any student of folklore and occult history will tell you, have long-established magickal properties of their own…

References:

  1. Fowler, Peter, Landscape Plotted and Pierced: Landscape History and Local Archaeology in Fyfield and Overton, Wiltshire, Society of Antiquaries: London 2000.
  2. Grigson, Geoffrey, The Shell Country Alphabet, Michael Joseph: London 1966.
  3. Lacaille, A.D., ‘Three Grinding Stones,’ in Antiquity Journal, volume 43, 1963.
  4. Watts, Ken, “Fyfield and Overton Downs, Wiltshire: A Prehistoric and Historic Landscape,” in 3rd Stone, no. 33, January-March 1999.

Links:

  1. The Polisher – on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Overton Down Tomb, West Overton, Wiltshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1305 7052

Getting Here

Overton Down cairn (image © Pete Glastonbury*)

From the Avebury stone circle, walk out eastwards and straight up the ancient Ridgeway for about a mile until it levels out and meets up with the adjoining track upon the hilltop. Instead of going left or right, go straight across and onto the footpath that crosses Overton Down, until you reach the wide horse-racing track lookalike called ‘the Gallops.’  Stop – don’t go on it – and follow the fence down for a coupla hundred yards till you’ll see the fenced-off rise with a modern ‘barrow’ enclosed within. You’re very close! From here, go another 100 yards or so down and keep your eyes on the rise of land with rocks scattered around it.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

From all accounts, there’s been nowt of any consequence written about this site — which is bloody incredible to be honest!!  We came here on a fine day (that’s Mikki, Geoff and June) in the company of the local Avebury magus, Pete Glastonbury.  Crossing Overton Down towards an experimental “barrow” that some archaeo’s have knocked-up, the rise in the land here stands out quite clearly, saying (at the very least), “look at me!”  But until Pete Fowler (2000) first described this “unrecorded kerbed round barrow” a few years back, it had escaped the noses of all previous archaeological surveys!  How!?

What the hell do archaeologists in the Avebury area do with themselves if they can’t pick this sorta monument out!?  But anyway…

Overton Down cairn – looking NW

This is quite a large rounded cairn structure by the look of it.  At least 30-feet across, probably kerbed from the initial look (only for a few minutes, sadly).  Local writer Terence Meaden has apparently found the site of some importance in his studies (not yet published).  Its position here in the landscape was what caught my attention more than anything: it stands on the crest of the hill and has superb uninterrupted views far across the Avebury landscape.  This siting was obviously quite deliberate. Less than 100 yards due north of here are two curiously placed stones which may ‘frame’ the cairn for a southern lunar alignment.  I had no time to look at this really, so it would be good if some local Avebury dood could check this out.  The outlying stones may be merely fortuitous, but it’d be good to know for sure!

The site has been plotted amidst a mass of landscape changes dating from the neolithic to medieval periods.  It seems probable, on first impression, that the ‘cairn’ is of Bronze Age in character (though could be earlier), but until detailed analysis has been made we obviously won’t know for sure. A short distance to the south we have the much-denuded Overton Down site X1: another Bronze Age burial that yielded three beaker graves when Fowler excavated the place in the 1960s.

For those of you into geomancy, meditation and the subjective realms of genius loci, this one really grabbed me.  Give it a go and lemme know what you get.  But please, no stupid pagan or New Age offerings — the site doesn’t need that sorta thing.

References:

  1. Fowler, Peter, Landscape Plotted and Pierced: Landscape History and Local Archaeology in Fyfield and Overton, Wiltshire, Society of Antiquaries: London 2000.

* Pete Glastonbury is a Wiltshire-based photographer specialising in Landscapes, Astronomy, Archaeology, Infra-Red, Experimental Digital Photography and High Dynamic Range Panoramic photography.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Overton Down tomb

loading map - please wait...

Overton Down tomb 51.433478, -1.813673 Overton Down tomb

Devil’s Den Cups, Clatford, Wiltshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SU 15211 69652

Getting Here

Follow the directions to reach the Devil’s Den, a half-mile north of Clatford up the footpath towards the Fyfield Down cup-marked rock.  You can’t miss it!  The cup-markings are on the top of the capstone.

Archaeology & History

First described and illustrated by local historian and photographer, Pete Glastonbury, as far as I’m aware these cup-markings have not previously been included in any of Wiltshire’s archaeological surveys (that can’t be, surely?).  The only reference I’ve found — not untypically — is from one of the early editions of the english Folklore Journal.

...and again!
…and again!
Devil’s Den cup-markings

At least two well-defined cups stand out on the top of the capstone.  Each of them have ‘cracks’ running out of them, with the easternmost one of them (closer to the edge) turning into a channel which runs upwards on the stone, before then leading down off the edge of the rock.  Each cup-mark is very clear, about two inches across and about a half-inch deep.

Archaeologists can check these cups out and work out for themselves whether they’re natural or not.  They’re far more qualified than I on such matters and may be able ascertain other faint remarks on the stone.  The proximity of the nearby Fyfield Down cup-marked rock, several hundred yards to the north, shows that such petroglyphs can be found in this region.  Although we cannot expect many examples of rock art in this area (the rock’s damn tough and takes some burrowing into), it is likely that more carvings await discovery.

Folklore

The capstone on which these cup-markings are seen was told to be immovable and had lore said of it akin to that found at the great Whispering Knights, near the Rollright Stones.  But the main piece of lore describes the cups quite specifically.  In an article by Alice Gomme (1909), she told that:

“if anyone pours water into any of the natural cup-shaped cavities on the top stone at midnight, it will always be found in the morning to be gone, drunk by a thirst-tormented fiend.”

The tale is later repeated in Kathleen Wiltshire’s (1975) survey, where she too mentions the cup-marking (though only one), saying that,

“if a person pours water into the natural cup-shaped cavity on the top stone at midnight it will always be found to be gone in the morning — drunk by the devil.”

This folklore motif — repeated in Grinsell’s (1976) text — is found at rock-art sites in a number of the northern counties, where milk has been poured into the cup-markings (some of which were known as ‘cat stones’) and left overnight for the spirits to drink.   In the case we have recorded at Devil’s Den, the spirit of the place seems to have been demonized, as is common.

Miss Gomme (1909) also reported the curious ingredient that the spirit of a white rabbit with glowing eyes would appear on the capstone at midnight and help the devil demolish the site with the aid of eight oxen!  On this latter matter, I am duly informed by one-in-the-know that, to “those of us that know the locals and their humour, we just know this tale was made up for a visiting townie!”

References:

  1. Gomme, Alice B., ‘Folklore Scraps from Several Localities’, in Folklore Journal, 20:1, 1909.
  2. Grinsell, Leslie V., Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, David & Charles: London 1976.
  3. Wiltshire, Kathleen, Wiltshire Folklore, Compton Russell: Salisbury 1975.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Devils Den CR

loading map - please wait...

Devils Den CR 51.425670, -1.782620 Devils Den CR

Stonehenge Cursus, Wiltshire

Cursus Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1095 4292 to SU 1370 4319

Also Known as:

  1. The Cursus
  2. The Greater Cursus, Stonehenge

Archaeology & History

Stukeley’s Stonehenge Cursus

Not far south of the smaller Lesser Cursus monument, this huge linear earthwork was the very first cursus to be described, by William Stukeley no less, who thought it to be an old race-course for charioteers and the like!  He stumbled upon this: a curious gigantic linear earthwork feature, stretching for nearly two miles roughly east-west and as wide a football field, cut into the Wiltshire Earth, betraying all notions of ‘primitive’ histories as proclaimed by the ‘intellectuals’ of his day.  They were clearly wrong!  This immense enigmatic structure, still baffles the same creed of intellectuals to this day — but at least our old ancestors have been granted greater abilities than previously believed.  In his book on Stonehenge in 1740, Mr Stukeley described this,

“most noble work, contriv’ed to reach from the highest ground of two hills, extended the intermediate distance over a gentle valley; so that the whole cursus lies conveniently under the eye of the most numerous quantity of spectators. To render this more convenient for site, it is projected on the side of more rising ground, chiefly looking towards Stonehenge. A delightful prospect from the temple, when this vast plain was crowded with chariots, horsemen and foot, attending these solemnities with innumerable multitudes.”

Sir Norman Lockyer propounded its function as astronomical, aligning with the Pleiades around 2000 BC — a date we now know to be inconsistent with its construction, although as John North said in his Stonehenge (1997):

“Lockyer’s chronology was certainly better than the general archaeological consensus at the time.”

But further archaeological alignments and leys have been suggested running eastwards from here.  And as Paul Devereux pointed out, “In the case of this cursus, archaeology got there first.”  J.F.S. Stone, who carried out some excavations at the cursus in 1947, noted that

“its axis, if projected 1500 yards east, strikes Woodhenge and passes the Cuckoo or Cuckold Stone by the way.”

This was endorsed in 1981 by archaeologists John Hedges and David Buckley:

“In addition to aligning upon Woodhenge, the Greater Stonehenge cursus also sights upon the Cuckoo or Cuckold Stone.”

Alignment to Beacon Hill

In Roy Loveday’s (2006) survey of cursus monuments he told how this alignment goes much further, telling how it aligns “on the lower, northernmost prominence of Beacon Hill 8km away”, crossing Woodhenge on its way.  Such suggestions used to bring outcries of derision from the archaeological fraternity, but it seems archaeologists themselves are making such claims more and more these days.  At the forefront of modern alignment research in previous decades was Paul Devereux — and it was he who first noted the line-up with the distant Beacon Hill from the Great Cursus, telling:

“The course of the alignment can be extended eastwards a few miles beyond Woodhenge to cross the barrow-dotted ridge of Beacon Hill — a perfect example of a Wakins-style ‘initial point.’ The ridge is highly visible from Woodhenge.  It disappears from view as one walks westwards down the cursus, but reappears clearly as the west end is approached.  Indeed, the west end is so placed that it is at about the furthest point from which the Beacon Hill ridge , and the intermediate on which the eastern end of the cursus fall, can be seen together.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, A Brief History of Stonehenge, Robinson: London 2007.
  2. Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  3. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  4. North, John, Stonehenge, Harper-Collins: London 1997.
  5. Pennick, N. & Devereux, P., Lines on the Landscape: Leys and other Linear Enigmas, Hale: London 1989.
  6. Stone, J.F.S., ‘The Stonehenge Cursus and its Affinities,’ in Archaeological Journal, 104, 1947.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Stonehenge Cursus

loading map - please wait...

Stonehenge Cursus 51.186467, -1.824964 Stonehenge Cursus

Fyfield Down Cup-Marked Stone, Avebury, Wiltshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1343 7152

Getting Here

‘X’ roughly marks the spot

We were fortunate & taken here by the renowned local megalith authority, Pete Glastonbury – but without Pete’s help you might be ambling here & there for quite a while.  It’s on the eastern side of The Ridgeway, down the slope past the stone known as The Polisher, across the flatland sea of many rocks until it begins rising again a few hundred yards east.  Where a long straight embankment rises up a few feet (a boundary line), the rock’s just a few yards above it.  Walk around!

Archaeology & History

Lacaille’s 1962 sketch of the Fyfield carving

Archaeologist A.D. Lacaille (1962) appears to have been the first person to have written about this little-known site, describing it as being “between the south-western corner of Totterdown Wood and Delling Cottage.”  Here is what he described as,

“a cluster of unmistakably artificial and mostly well-preserved cup-markings on the smooth south-easterly sloping surface of a recumbent sarsen.”

Fyfield cup-markings (© Pete Glastonbury)

And from the photos accompanying Lacaille’s article, it obviously looked a decent carving as well — and so it has transpired.  Lacaille (1963) briefly mentioned the carving again a year later in his lengthier essay on the nearby Polisher Stone up the slope a few hundred yards away.  But then Wiltshire’s only known cup-marked stone was all-but ignored by archaeologists and left in the literary wilderness until, years later when rock art became a fad in such circles, regional archaeologists Pete Fowler & Ian Blackwell (1998) described the carving as “a cluster of several round depressions…each about two inches across”; though incorrectly ascribed it as the “southernmost example” of cup-marked stones outside of Cornwall.¹  Another rock-art student known as Mr Hobson, following his excursion to the site with the regional authority Pete Glastonbury, wrote:

“The cups themselves are very smoothed out, and fit the bill from the drawing. The horseshoe is very evident, as is the ‘slug’ mark, possibly a half-finished groove from one of the cups near the horseshoe. There are also some angular, yet serpentine (?) grooves at turf level on the south side of the stone. These look like they might be enhanced natural marks in places.”

The rock itself isn’t in its original position, having been moved from another point very close by (probably only yards away).  It is sited on the edge of an old boundary line — which made me wonder whether the ‘U’- or ‘C’-shaped ingredient in the carving was a later addition, perhaps of one of the old land-owners hereabouts.  The cups however, seem typical of the thousands that we find in northern Britain.

and from another angle (© Pete Glastonbury)
Primitive man & stone (© Pete Glastonbury)

The isolation of this carving is rather anomalous.  Others should be in the area but archaeo-records are silent (though the majority of Wessex archaeologists are academically illiterate when it comes to identifying such carvings).  The carving may simply be the product of nomadic northerners, showing what their tribes do ‘up North’, so to speak.  However, considering the tough nature of southern sarsen stones, it’d have taken ages to etch just this one stone.  You can visualise it quite easily: southern tribal folk looking on, somewhat perplexed, as a northern traveller tried to convey what they etch on their stones in the northern lands, only to struggle like hell with cup-marks they’d do with ease on the softer rocks of their homelands.  Wessex tribes-folk may have watched, seen the trouble their traveller had over such inane and (perhaps) meaningless carvings, and didn’t see the mythic point s/he was trying to convey…

Curious ‘U’ or ‘C’-shaped feature

Or maybe not!

The lesson with rock-art tends to be simple: where there’s one carving, others are nearby.  The rule aint 100% of course — but when we were here the other day I was wanting to dart here, there and everywhere to check the many thousands of outcrop rocks that scatter this entire area.  Us rock-art nuts tend to do things like that.  It’s a madness that afflicts…

There were one or two stones with ‘possible’ single cup-markings on them, but I wasn’t going to start adding them to any catalogues.  They were far too questionable.  I was wanting something a bit more decent than that.  And then, when Mikki, June, Pete, Geoff and I got to the collapsed long barrow known as the Devil’s Den a few hundred yards further down this rock-strewn sea of a valley, there was something with a bit more potential that we came across…

Folklore

In recent years this cup-marked stone has already attracted imaginative notions, with little foundation.  Archaeologists Fowler & Blackwell (1998), in their otherwise fine book, think this carving was related to goddess worship, describing how,

“On Dillion Down…the Great Mother’s help was permanently invoked by patiently indenting a special stone with symbols of her potency.”

Adding that this “was a new idea brought in from the North, and Fyfield was the only place to have such a stone.”  Weird!  I could’ve sworn there were plenty of other rocks between here and there!

References:

  1. Fowler, Peter J., Landscape Plotted and Pieced: Landscape History and Local Archaeology in Fyfield and Overton, Society of Antiquaries London 2000.
  2. Fowler, Peter & Blackwell, Ian, The Landscape of Lettice Sweetapple, Tempus: Stroud 1998.
  3. Lacaille, A.D., ‘A Cup-Marked Sarsen near Marlborough, Wiltshire,’ in Archaeological Newsletter 7:6, 1962.
  4. Lacaille, A.D., ‘Three Grinding Stones,’ in Antiquity Journal, volume 43, 1963.

¹ Along with the cup-markings atop of Devil’s Den a few hundred yards to the south, across in Somerset we had the Pool Farm example; there are a number of examples in Dorset, including the Badbury Rings carving; plus others in Devon, etc.

* Pete Glastonbury is a Wiltshire-based photographer specialising in Landscapes, Astronomy, Archaeology, Infra-Red, Experimental Digital Photography and High Dynamic Range Panoramic photography.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Fyfield Down CR

loading map - please wait...

Fyfield Down CR 51.442538, -1.808106 Fyfield Down CR