Briagha is a community leader who ran OakDragon,
MEGALITHIC MEETS TRIP TO MITCHELLS FOLD AND THE HOARSTONES 12TH JUNE 2005.
This was my first attendance at a megalithic meet, and it was a really marvellous day out, walking across stunning countryside with a bunch of folk all interested in these sites , yet all having a slightly different take on it to share and inform the rest. We met up at the carpark for Mitchells Fold, but started by going to the Whetstones cairn just around the corner, in a field just off the road. There are a rather depressing line of stones along the field boundary, which are all that remain of another stone circle that was once here. The cairn is quite big, maybe 20 ft across, and had a similar look to some of the scottish ring cairns, with a central mound of small stones and larger stones that may have formed a kerb once, though they are all piled up on the cairn now. Up on the hill above is a high cairn looking out over the valley, with another 5 along the ridge behind it, out of view to us, but already visited by one of the group. There is also a good view of the Stiper Stones, a line of rocky outcrops on the brow of a nearby ridge. We then turned round and headed back towards the path for Mitchells Fold, which is high above the valley on Stapeley hill, and came first to the outlier, a cubic stone about 50yards from the circle. Its corners neatly pointed to the four directions, with the Snowdon massif visible in the far distance as the western point, the high cairn in the south, the Stiper Stones in the east and the circle itself in the north.
The circle is in quite good condition, with a number of upright stones as well as some fallen ones. The views are truly spectacular, and give some good sun and moon setting markers, with distant mountains at the equinox, beltane/lammas, and midsummer setting points, and also potentially for the lunar standstills [ I do not know exact degrees for these at this spot, but the major northerly setting point was almost certainly marked]. Apparently Paul Deveraux found evidence of a geomagnetic anomaly at one stone, but this had been toppled and re-erected since his visit, and we found no effect on our compasses. On to the Cow stone, connected with an old story about the circle. Once upon a time, a magic cow had lived at the circle, who never ran out of milk and gave of it freely to all. However a wicked witch came along and milked the cow dry, and it then walked away and dropped dead, turning into a stone as it did so. There was certainly some marking and shaping of the stone that could be seen as cow like, and one of the group who had been before on a sunny day said that the shadows then had made this resemblance even more marked. This stone is bigger than the circle stones and may well have been an outlier on the old track that runs along the top of Stapeley Hill, set up to be visible from a distance to guide people in to the circle.
Following the track we then came onto the top of the ridge and saw a rather fine ring cairn, about 15 ft across, with a central mound and an outer ring of little stones, all grassed over but clearly visible still. As we walked we crossed over ancient cross dykes, long raised banks that are thought to be part of some old field systems, or territorial markers. The other side of the hill was visible from here, and we headed down to investigate the Giants Grave, a mysterious mass of stones that might just be the only chambered tomb in Shropshire! Tim had arranged our visit as the structure is on private land, and so the farmer met us when we arrived and filled us in on some of the more recent history. Apparently a cow fell in in the 19th century, and the hole was filled in then, and there was speculation that it was a “level” - a sloping hole dug into the hillside to catch water. There are several local mines, with stone structures above the shafts, visible from the hill, but it is not one of these.
We set off up the hill to investigate, and spent some time checking out the Grave and the surroundings, where there were other stone formations. The Grave itself was very intriguing, consisting of a large backing stone, almost certainly a natural outcrop, but with several large slabs, all weighing several tons, looking as though they had been placed on their sides to create a walled enclosure coming out from the back stone. It was not quite clear which bit had been filled in, and it was a bit overgrown with nettles etc. The farmer said some archeologists had been there last year, and spent their day digging a trench, but had nothing to report to him. At each side of the main structure were smaller walled areas, which seemed connected. The site is situated on a lovely south facing slope, and the closest connection for me was with a place I recently visited in southern Spain. This was a place where the steep hillside went inwards and humans had put up a wall of stones, thus creating chambers, with the hill as their back wall, and lived there in stone age times. So the potential is that this is not a burial place but a living place, used by the megalithic people who built the circles as a good camp site when coming to the circles for their ceremonies. The farmer is keen to have it excavated, so Tim may try to organise a trip here next spring to do some digging and investigation.
Back up the hill and on to the next circle, the Hoarstones, or Black Marsh stones. This is a fabulous place, a vast field of golden buttercups and waving grass, with the circle in the centre. Interestingly no buttercups grew in the circle, leading us to speculate that there may have been a paved or gravelled area inside the stones. The peace and beauty of this spot was so lovely, and completely different to the rugged exposed feel of Mitchells Fold, being in a bowl of hills, with no sight lines at all. Local folk have used this circle for weddings, and sadly some of the stones had holes in where powder was put and fired off as part of the celebrations. However most were still intact, though quite sunken into the soil, being only 2 or 3 feet tall at most. We all enjoyed spending a little quiet time here, despite a spot of rain - it was a typical cold june day! - and found it hard to leave.
Finally we did get away, and went back up the pathway to return to our cars. On the way the others did a small diversion to see some round barrows, but I just went on and revisited Mitchells Fold, and enjoyed spending some more time here, seeing how different it is to the Hoarstones. Both circles have a very strong atmosphere, and it was lovely to appreciate their different energies. Sadly our day ended on a bad note. for when we returned to our cars, one had been broken into, and several irreplaceable items taken as well as money and clothes. This is a real reminder not to leave any valuables in ones’ car on a trip to a lonely place like this, as there are thieving bastards about even here in the middle of nowhere.
My thanks to Tim for arranging a great day out, and I look forward to joining in on the september trip in north Wales.
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