First, an apology to Inge of Pinhole Obscura…I promised to write this post for you a long time ago. I never did and now I’m doing it for Pinholista. What can I say, I’m a horrible person.
With that out of the way, let’s go back in time. Way back in time, long before records began and certainly long before light hitting film became a way of capturing memories. As remnants of those times we have enigmatic stones that really could tell a story but choose not to. To be fair, I like it that way, when I visit these sites I can make up my own mind. There’s a common thread that runs through many of them, which is the situation the stones find themselves in, often up high above the landscape, and always somewhere pretty dramatic.
We’ll start with the obvious one, Stonehenge, which is perhaps one of my least favourite circles. The reason for this is you sadly cannot get near to the stones (unless you book well in advance and promise not to touch, or you go at the solstice). Although I can kind of understand the reasons for this, I often think back to the horrors of the Battle of the Beanfield and just think that somehow we’re being separated from our culture and that disturbs me. Nonetheless, the stones are impressive, and they make for a great film swap with the wonderful Jana Obscura.
I much prefer the stones at Avebury, which is relatively close to Stonehenge. The site is open (well after all, there is a village in the middle of the circle) and is incredibly impressive in scale. I guess I should issue another apology here for the somewhat ropey image, that’s why I don’t do much black and white…I suck at it. Nonetheless, I think this illustrates the scale of the stones. What it doesn’t do is illustrate the joys of walking down the avenue, away from Avebury and over the ridge to gaze down at Silbury Hill. If the light is right, Silbury seems to glow and again you get an idea of why our ancestors created these incredible places.
If you do visit Avebury you might also run into the Arch-Drude himself, Julian Cope. If you’re at all interested in Megalithic Britain or Europe then I’d highly recommend you get yourself copies of the Modern Antiquarian and Megalithic European. These marvellous tomes are the perfect guide to these places (along with the slightly drier but not less useful Stone Circle guide by Aubrey Burl).
Heading further north, into the Lake District and Cumbria, you come across two more magnificent circles. The setting for these couldn’t be more different. Firstly, Castlerigg is set up high in the hills (but easily accessible) and seems to float in the landscape. We were lucky when we visited Castlerigg, the weather was kind with not a drop of rain, but that did bring a lot of people out (not surprising given the accessibility). It might sound selfish but I much prefer to visit these places when few folks are about so I can be alone with my thoughts (and with A). All that being said, sinking into that pinhole fugue is a pretty good way to ignore other folks (apart from the usual questions about the camera).
Long Meg and her Daughters are in a very different place. Not really nestled in or above hills, there seems to be little that is remarkable about the landscape. The circle though is wonderful, despite the farm track running through it. The daughters form a perfect ring whilst Meg herself stands proud outside the circle, seemingly keeping watch for trouble.
Further north still, we find two circles very close to each other (and presumably part of a single complex at one point), the Loupin Stanes and the Girdle Stanes. These are both wonderful circles, with a river running close by, which has disrupted the landscape somewhat. These circles are in the Scottish Borders, near Eskdalemuir, in one of the wettest places in the UK. They are isolated, yet accessible, and you’ll definitely need waterproofs and wellies…at least we did! Interestingly, the (presumably) sacred nature of the landscape is echoed in the modern Tibetan monastery nearby.
Also in Scotland, the Leys of Marlee are perhaps the most easily accessible stones of all, the road runs straight through them. This act of vandalism, to allow the road to go straight, makes for a very odd atmosphere but the stones are still incredible. You do need to take care when you visit though, the cars speed past with no care for the stones or their visitors.
Back south again, to Derbyshire, and we find the wonderful Nine Ladies circle (which has featured on the Next Best Thing Pinhole Project). Its a little trek to the Nine Ladies, but well worth it, and when we arrived their were families camping amongst the trees, which was a great echo of the past (to me at least). Interestingly some of the stones are marked with carvings, although I have no indication as to when those carvings were made (some are undeniably modern). Even more interestingly, there were a number of perfectly circular burn marks, perhaps 1-2 feet across, dotted around near the circle. I assume those were created as part of a modern ritual and were not anything more mysterious. You will actually find similar signs or ritual near most stones, ribbons in trees are very common, and its definitely worth keeping your eyes open during your visit.
Sadly, there are no stone circles near me in Norfolk, we simply don’t have any stone, but evidence of neolithic culture has been seen, both in wood henges and in places like Grimes Graves, which is a must for all local school children.
Further east though, where the stone has returned, there are signs of a similar culture. Stammershalle on Bornholm (and yes I am still going on about Denmark) is very easy to get to, particularly if you stay in the hotel opposite as we did. Again, this site is magnificently situated on a cliff above the Baltic Sea. There are also further circles nearby, as well as a stone ship.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip through the stones. These are a great subject for pinhole photography, they don’t move for a start. The process of pinhole photography (the fugue mentioned above) allows the photographer to really appreciate and take in the landscape, setting and atmosphere. Happy shooting my Pinholista chums.