Stanton Drew

Stone Circles
Nearest town: Bristol
Nearest village: Stanton Drew
Map reference: ST 601634

Stanton Drew Image The remnants of one of the two avenues, with the four standing boulders of the North-East Ring (on the background)

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This huge megalithic complex consists of three stone circles, two stone avenues, a cove of stones and an outlier. The Great Circle, the second largest English stone ring after the outer circle at Avebury, is 112m (368ft) in diameter and is composed of 27 stones. Beside it lies the North-East Ring. It is 29.6m (97ft) across and its eight massive boulders, four of which still standing, are the biggest of the entire complex. The South-West Ring, badly ruined, is on private land but is accessible.
     From the two visible circles there are two avenues running eastward towards the river Chew. The avenue starting from the North-East Ring, composed of seven surviving stones, and the wrecked one extending from the Great Circle, if continued, would have merged into one. The Cove, in a straight line with the centres of the two accessible stone circles, consists of two huge upright stones with a recumbent slab lying between them. They are blocks of dolomitic breccia, while the circles' stones are of pustular breccia and oolitic limestone. The Outlier, also known as Hautville's Quoit, lies half a kilometer (1850ft) north-east of the circles, on a high ridge. It is a sandstone boulder, now recumbent, and it is in a straight line with the centres of the Great Circle and the South-West Ring.
     Professor Alexander Thom assumed a third orientation, to the major southern moonset, from the centre of the North-East Ring through the South-West one. As Professor Aubrey Burl writes: Midsummer processions and ceremonies may be imagined, rituals by moonlight celebrated by hundreds of people from the countryside, assembling for reasons long forgotten but preserved silently in the stones themselves.
     English Heritage's Ancient Monuments Laboratory scientists, in recent geophysical research of the site (examining it with a portable magnetometer, without having to dig), have discovered that within the Great Circle are the remains of a highly elaborate pattern of buried pits that once held massive posts. They are arranged in nine rings concentric with the stone circle, at the centre of which are further pits. The rings vary in diameter from 23m to 95m (75.5ft to 311.7ft). The magnetometer survey also revealed that the Great Circle is itself contained within a very large ditch 135m (443ft) in diameter. Twice as large as Stonehenge, this prehistoric ceremonial site has been described as the biggest in Britain.
     There are several local traditional stories about the megalithic complex. The best known tells how a wedding party was turned to stone: the party was held throughout Saturday, but a man clothed in black (the Devil in disguise) came and started to play his violin for the merrymakers after midnight, continuing into holy Sunday morning. When dawn broke, everybody had been turned to stone by the Demon: so the stone circles are the dancers, the avenues are the fiddlers and the Cove is the bride and the groom with the drunken churchman at their feet. They are still awaiting the Devil who promised to come back someday and play again for them. Another legend, shared with Long Meg and Her Daughters and many other megalithic monuments says that the Stanton Drew's stones are uncountable. John Wood reported this story in 1750; when he tried to count the stones, a thunderstorm broke out.

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