Last Photographed: Saturday 2nd June 2007
Other Names: Stanton Drew
Stanton Drew is a megalithic site consisting of the remains of three stone circles, two avenues and a cove. The main complex that greets the visitor consists of the Great Circle, The North East Circle, and the Avenues. Without a clear impression of the site layout, it can be difficult to distinguish between these features on the ground.
The Great Circle is the second largest stone circle in Britain. It measures 112 metres in diameter and consists of 27 stones - mostly fallen - out of an original 36. A short avenue leads away from the circle down towards the River Chew, but few of its stones remain, making it difficult for the visitor to identify.
The North East circle is slightly removed from the Great Circle. It is 30 metres across and consists of eight massive megaliths, the largest of which reaches 3 metres in height. Most of these are still standing, and the circle is clearly defined, making this the most visually striking feature at Stanton Drew. Like the Great Circle, the North East Circle also featured an avenue of stones leading down towards the River Chew. The leaning stone marks the start of this avenue, but the remains are still difficult to interpret on the ground.
An English Heritage magnetometer survey recently revealed that the Great Circle is enclosed within a henge, with an entrance to the North East aligned with the North East Circle and ceremonial avenue. This henge is no longer visible. More surprisingly, the survey also revealed that the Great Circle sits above an earlier elaborate pattern of buried pits laid out in nine concentric circles. It is believed that these pits originally held 400-500 huge timber posts, each approximately five tons in weight. Some speculate that these posts supported a roofed structure, whilst others favour the theory that they were, like the stones, simply circles exposed to the elements.
Although such "wooden temple" sites are not unique (seven others are known to exist, including Woodhenge), the site at Stanton Drew is particularly significant, being twice the size of its nearest competitor.
Stanton Drew features a folklore association common to many stone circles - that of petrified dancers. The legend tells how a number of wedding guests were gathered on a Saturday, dancing around a fire and celebrating a marriage. Upon the stroke of midnight, the fiddler packed up and left, refusing to play on the Sabbath. Another musician (the devil) then mysteriously joins the party, and the revels continue until dawn, when all present are turned to stone. The stone circles are supposedly the guests, with the cove being the parson, bride and groom.
Stanton Dew is one of Britain's hidden gems. It's not unusual for local people with a passing interest in ancient sites to be entirely ignorant of its existence. It always surprises me how few people are familiar with this impressive site.
For those who do make the effort to visit Stanton Drew, the reward is substantial. The two larger circles are still an imposing site, despite the somewhat ruinous state of the Great Circle. With a little foreknowledge, it's possible to obtain a clear feel for the layout of the complex, and this can significantly improve the visitor's experience.
The location isn't perfect - the land is farmed, and it feels substantially over-grazed and neglected. This is a busy rural area, very close to Bristol, and there's no real sense of seclusion. On the other hand, the site's relative anonymity does mean that there's a very high chance of having the place to yourself when you visit. And as far as I'm aware, The Cove is the only megalithic monument that resides in the beer garden of a pub!