Although Wiltshire boasts two of the most famous megalithic monuments of all, Avebury and Stonehenge, there is little if anything else in terms of stone – legions of long barrows, plenty of henges, but no apparent stone circles (though I have read rumours of one or two) or menhirs. But there are a few secret discoveries to be made nonetheless.
I had read some time ago of some sarsen stones in the village of Kingston Deverill, about 5 miles from my cottage. There are two theories about them: one, that they represent the remains of Egbert’s Stone, where King Alfred is said to have rallied the men of three counties before going to defeat the Danes at the Battle of Edington (near the White Horse of Westbury, the original of which may have commemorated the event); two, that this is a mistake, and they are in fact the remains of a dolmen.
The Alfred theory has rivals: a boundary stone near the place where Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset meet at Bourton; the site of King Alfred’s Tower, an 18th century folly which is part of the Stourhead estate; or Court Hill, a hill just outside Kingston Deverill. I want to write something more comprehensive about all this some time. I have read that the strongest theory is Court Hill (and the stones may actually have been brought down from there), and there are several other places of relevance to Alfred immediately in my area: a walk between them suggests itself if I ever get anyone here I can talk into it!
I’ve been desperate to see the stones for some time – you can’t see them from the road as you whizz by in a car. At last, this evening I made time for the pilgrimage.
The stones are not by any means easy to spot: they are now in a private paddock, accompanied by a Shetland pony and a gleaming white goat, which I couldn’t resist photographing next to the stones as if it were the genius loci – or an impending victim of sacrifice, perhaps. The paddock itself is hidden behind a scrubby area of cow parsley, nettles and grass.
But worth finding! I clearly wasn’t the first person ever there, but it’s also obviously not often visited. The stones – two, leaning against one another, are magnificent, and I just caught them in the evening sun before the light fled and the battery in my camera gave out. And a joyous cycle there, too, along the meanderings of the Wylye, which is surely one of the most lovable rivers to come across, always limpid and friendly, all the way to Wilton. Another walk I want to do some time is to follow it from its source, up in the hills not far from Kingston.
[Note: pictures of these and other ancient sites I’ve explored are at The Modern Antiquarian]