Standing stones offer some of the world’s most fascinating, and mystifying, tourist sights. Been their readers let us in on their favorites, from Orkney to South Korea
WINNING TIP: Filitosa, Corsica
This is an amazing collection of carved standing stones, or menhirs, 50km south of Ajaccio, dating from around 1500BC. They are different from what we usually think of as standing stones, as many are carved with human faces and anatomical details. They make you contemplate the nature of civilization more than 3,000 years ago.
South-west of Petreto-Bicchisano; open daily, 8 am to sunset, free; filitosa.fr
Swinside stone circle, Cumbria
Walk for 20 minutes up a lonely track and there, in a field, is a magical stone circle 90ft across, consisting of 55 irregular monolithic stones. If you love that feeling, as I do, that you are the only person who has ever been there, visit this place.
Nine Ladies, Derbyshire
“Nimble were the fingers that fiddled the tune/ As the nine ladies danced naked by the light of the moon/ For the sinful deed they had performed/ The fiddler and ladies to stone were transformed.”
The Nine Ladies stone circle near Stanton-in-Peak is a strange place. The stone circle is surrounded by burial mounds. According to legend, the fiddler and ladies came up to the moor one sabbath. The fiddler played lustful music, the ladies danced naked, and for this they were all turned to stone. Stanton Moor is said to be haunted by the ghost of a huge black hound. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Ramsdale stone circle, North Yorkshire
The North Yorks Moors are awash with standing stones, circles, burial mounds and markers from the neolithic, bronze and iron ages. New ones come to light from time to time that have been covered by heather and bracken for hundreds of years, and a walk on these glorious moors reveals a surprise cross or stone at almost every turn. Some served as markers on the pannier tracks that connected Yorkshire’s monasteries; some are boundary stones, such as the aptly named Fat Betty on the road between Castleton and Rosedale. Two miles inland from Robin Hood’s Bay are the three bronze age stones of the Ramsdale circle. This is an unsurpassable site for a picnic, with a wonderful view of the coast across rolling moorland which has probably changed little since the stones were erected.
Castlerigg stone circle, Cumbria
This prehistoric stone circle near Keswick in the northern Lake District is set among some towering fells, with the great hulks of Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north. Like Stonehenge it is very popular, so it’s best to head there early. There is limited roadside parking and it can be reached on foot from Keswick.
Avebury stone circle, Wiltshire
So many tourists descend on Stonehenge – a bleak, cold setting where you are fenced off from the stones. You would be better off travelling 22 miles north to Avebury. Arrive early on an autumn or winter morning, when the stones rise out of the mist, touched with frost. Wander freely between the stones, and along the avenue to West Kennet Long Barrow. If you are of a certain age, the memory of the 1977 ITV drama Children of the Stones will send a shiver down your spine and, if you are very lucky (as I was on my 40th birthday) you’ll meet Avebury resident, stone circle expert and “Arch-Drude” Julian Cope.
Balnuaran of Clava Cairns, Inverness
Perfect for midwinter mystics, this well-preserved 4,000-year-old burial site is just a mile or so from the Culloden Battlefield visitor centre, with its 21st-century facilities. The ring cairns and standing stones are tucked away in a valley close to the Nairn river and in sight of a high viaduct. When we visited it on a bright, frozen New Year’s Day the standing stones cast long shadows. Visit at the winter solstice and watch the sun send rays of light along the passages to illuminate the back wall of the ancient burial mounds.
Machrie Moor, Isle of Arran
The standing stones of Machrie Moor are one of Scotland’s most important prehistoric sites. There are a number of stones from different periods around the site. It’s about a three-mile round trip along the signposted track from the A841 three miles north of Blackwaterfoot.
Callanish standing stones, Isle of Lewis
These are set in the barren, almost lunar landscape of the treeless Outer Hebrides. In midsummer the sunset goes on for ever and even in winter the vibe is moody and atmospheric. There are hardly ever any crowds.
The Standing Stones of Stenness, Orkney
While the Standing Stones of Stenness are not as numerous as the nearby Ring of Brodgar, this circle is much more peaceful. I almost don’t want to recommend this, as it is the ring’s quiet calmness that seeps into you if you take the time to stand and stare. The combination of the size of the stones and the low, rolling countryside means that the circle can be seen from some considerable distance, but for me it’s the spirituality you feel when standing within the circle that makes it special.
Moel ty Uchaf, Corwen
Few stone circles can have such a spectacular setting. Well off the beaten track, this small circle sits atop a hill, with vast views across the Clwydian range and Snowdonia. What makes you think, though, is how untouched by man the area seems. Sitting by one of the stones, you can imagine whoever constructed it 4,500 years ago, staring at exactly what you see now. megalithics.com/wales.htm
Bedd Arthur stone circle, Pembrokeshire
What marks out the Bedd Arthur is its location, in the Preseli Hills. These modest hills rise out of the surrounding landscape, and on their top is the quarry from where the mighty bluestones were cut to make Stonehenge. This is an impressive site on its own, but a short walk to another hill brings you to Bedd Arthur, a low, irregular stone circle, possibly once marking a burial mound long since eroded or robbed out. From here, in the peace and tranquillity, you can see the bluestone quarry and wonder at the connection, if any, between the two. What is clear is that the area had some significance, and sitting within the circle it’s not hard to imagine why. It’s best reached by car, though a walk can be done, taking in the bluestones and Bedd Arthur, from the road that runs to the south of the hills near Mynachlog-ddu, or from near Mountain Bach off the A478 (from here an ancient hill fort can be visited en route). A tourist bus service runs in the summer from Crymych, but this is under review, so it’s best to check beforehand.
Tinkinswood burial chamber, Barry
Built during the Neolithic period, about 1,000 years before Stonehenge, the burial chamber is a dolmen of the Severn-Cotswold type, with upright stones supporting a capstone weighing about 36 tonnes. Part of the mound covering the tomb still remains, two parallel lines of stones form an avenue leading away from the chamber, and two flat parallel standing stones point to nearby Coed Sion Hill. In 1914, during excavation, 920 human bones were found in the chamber, and the Beaker-style pottery shows the site may have been used until the bronze age. Legend has it that anyone spending the night in Tinkinswood at certain times of the year will die, go mad or become a poet.
Drombeg stone circle, County Cork
If you are interested in stone circles but feel nothing at over-commercialised sites, come here, to this peaceful and stunning circle aligned for the winter solstice, and you will really feel a connection with people from the past.
Maryhill Winery and Stonehenge Memorial, Washington State
This winery on the Columbia river boasts a Stonehenge memorial, a replica, but fully built. It’s a first world war memorial, a reminder that “humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war”. Its strangeness doesn’t really dissipate, even as you enjoy the wine, and attached art gallery.
Gochang dolmen site
In size they are nothing much, but the sheer number and variety of weathered dolmens in this area is incredible. You have to wander through fields and woods to find them all. You could even have a competition to see who finds all 442 recorded dolmens first.
Source: The Guardian