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What are the Stanton Drew Stone Circles in Somerset?

Photo Mark Haywood Photography
Photo Mark Haywood Photography

It’s not Stonehenge, it’s not Avebury, it’s Somerset. It’s the Stanton Drew Stone Circles and every bit as impressive as anything Wiltshire has to offer.

At the entrance to the site I was passed at the gate by a woman leaving. ‘Wow, this place is magical,’ she exclaimed to me, ‘I’ve been here an hour and I feel so much calmer now.’

Visually there’s plenty to take in around the village; the iconic toll house, the impressive Stanton Court, the 13th century church of St Mary the Virgin, the Victorian ‘lecture hall’, the new War Memorial and the curious curvaceous stone bridge, but it’s the stones that take the headlines.

John Richards is a keen archaeologist with a self-confessed passion for the Stanton Drew Stones. When asked what are the purpose of the stones, he replied loosely, ritual. Then admitted humbly: ‘The answer to many of the questions about the stones is, we don’t know.’

The megalithic complex is believed to be 4,500 years old with three circles and two avenues. The largest is the Great Circle, 113metres in diameter, smaller than Avebury but larger than Stonehenge. It has 27 surviving upright stones (but don’t count them, folklore has it that you will get ill…or worse). Alongside it is the more obvious north-east circle. More hidden away, in a different field, is the south-west circle with eight large stones.

Three hundred years ago a man called William Stukeley, considered to be the father of British archaeology, made a brief visit to the site; did some sketches and placed the stones on the proverbial map.

Last July to commemorate that anniversary John instigated a weekend event called Stukeley 300. He explained: ‘Stukeley came here just for one day. But the stuff he did here, he did five or six fantastic drawings which in years to come were to make the site extremely well known. So I thought it would be a great idea if we celebrated this one day.

‘On the Saturday we had an academic symposium with speakers invited in the village hall and then on the Sunday we had more of a family day with free guided tours of the stones, displays and stalls in the village hall. It seemed it went down extremely well with the local people.’

Legend has it that a wedding party was held at the location on a Saturday evening, at midnight the violinist was replaced by the devil who played into the early hours of the Sabbath. All the party-goers were turned to stone.

Another three stones, known as the Cove, are situated in the pub, aptly called The Druid Arms, garden. Continuing the theme of the legend, these stones are the bride, the groom and the drunken parson, passed out on the ground.

Entering the Druid Arms at 4.30pm on a Wednesday I was met with a pleasantly convivial atmosphere. There were about 20 people present including one Mike Regan, the former England rugby hooker.

The landlady, Julie Bragg, who is also the village Parish Clerk, described the small village as ‘buzzing’ with activity, mainly through the inn and the village hall.

There have been Druid weddings in the garden next to the stones of the pub and although it doesn’t open early on solstice mornings for Druid breakfasts there are always a troupe of Morris Dancers on that evening. Every day the inevitable eponymous ‘Druid burger’ is served.

Julie said: ‘There are always things going on in the village hall, quite a popular venue now. Exercise classes, pre-school nursery classes, yoga, film night in the winter, on a Wednesday there is a coffee morning for the elderly and then some of them come over here and we put on a special lunch at a discounted rate for them.’

Before leaving I was introduced to a trustee of the village hall, who explained that all events on Saturday night had to finish promptly at 12. Lesson learnt.

INFO

POPULATION: 787 (2011 census)

STAY OR BUY: Every room at the Greenlands B&B has a window facing the surrounding valley and the standing stones at Stanton Drew. Just recently a couple of brides were preparing themselves in the hostel for a wedding at the historic archaeological scene. Your hosts, Lorraine and Andre Allan, provide an ‘unstinting’ full English breakfast. greenlandsbandb.co.uk

A tree-lined avenue welcomes you to Applewick, a four-bedroomed detached property in the des-res village, set in a peaceful, tranquil and private location. Most of the living accommodation is open plan with the dining room, sitting room and snug flowing naturally through to the next. £825,000. Killens. Chew Magna.

THE WURZELS

If a set of prehistoric ‘magical’ stones is not sufficient the village has also been immortalised in the title and refrain of a song by the popular Somerset band, The Wurzels: When the Common Market Comes to Stanton Drew.

The lyrics include a reference, of course, to the local village pub, The Druid Arms, and local natural landmarks like Harptree Hill and the River Chew. Nearby towns such as Radstock, Paulton and Timsbury also get a mention.

The narrative tells how we will have to drink a ‘tank of Portuguese vin blanc’, buy port and brandy for a pound a quart and consume caviar from a cider jar.

Worst of all, the folk sitting down expecting to eat some Irish Stew will be faced with a dollop pf spaghetti.

If you ask 'Alexa' to play 'When the Common Market Comes to Stanton Drew', the chances are that she will play a live version recorded at the Royal Oak in Nailsea.

Landmark

The iconic Round House situated at the edge of the village was built in the 18th century by the West Harptree Turnpike Trust.

The white thatched building, actually hexagonal in plan, had a pouch hung on its door so that coach drivers could pay their fee.

It’s essentially a one-up, one-down house and yet apparently it did have a family of eight living there.



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