Last Photographed: Saturday 9th April 2005
The Greywethers are a twin pair of adjacent granite circles, both about 100ft in diameter. Between them, they boast 49 stones - all roughly 3ft in height. Their exceptionally good condition is due to restoration work carried out in 1909 - perhaps in itself a good counter-argument to those who oppose the re-erection of stones at better-known sites such as Avebury.
Aubrey Burl - despite his impressive credentials - really misses a beat when describing this site. He tells us the Greywethers are located "through the forest and across the shabby moor" and that the walk is "tedious but rewarding". Even on the most miserable of days (and I've seen been here when it's been grim!), I find this description hard to credit. The forest is remarkably pleasant for a Forestry Commission enclosure, featuring a beautiful reservoir, hut circles, barrows, stone rows and Fernworthy stone circle. That's a pretty good start to anyone's walk! Once out on the open moor, the rugged beauty of the Dartmoor scenery is wonderfully refreshing. I find a sense of renewal every time I venture here that's anything but "shabby" or "tedious".
For those who still fancy the walk, I'd allow between thirty minutes to three quarters of an hour for the journey in each direction. The approach through the forest is up a mild slope and although I found it a reasonably easy climb, my partner found it slightly more exerting. It makes a noticeable difference if you visit at the height of Summer with the sun beating down. If you take a break at Fernworthy circle though, the walk really shouldn't pose a challenge for any reasonably fit person.
If you're wondering where the name comes from, 'wethers' is an old word for sheep - and you can see how in the Autumn mists these stones might look like a grazing flock as they rise out of the gloom ahead of you.
For my money, the backdrop for the Greywethers is absolutely spectacular. While it's not as isolated as the fabulous White Moor Circle, it's a close second. For anyone in search of what little wilderness England has left to offer, this circle has to be near the top of your 'must see' list. One thing worth noting - the Greywethers are apparently a popular waypoint for Dartmoor walkers, although I only saw one other couple while I was here.
A number of local legends are associated with these circles. One tells how the stones rotate slowly at sunrise, allowing each to soak up heat from the sun. Another legend tells how faithless wives and loose young women had to do penance for their misdeeds before kneeling at the stones and asking forgiveness. If forgiveness was forthcoming, nothing would happen and the women were free to leave. If forgiveness was withheld, the stone would topple, crushing its unlucky victim beneath it. Yet another legend recounts how a young maiden broke the heart of her shepherd husband. Subsequently, one of the old gods of Dartmoor witnessed how the shepherd found solace in his flock, so turned man and sheep to stone so that they might never be parted again. Other legends tell similar tales and all are better documented elsewhere. A link to one good source is provided in the sidebar.