The first time I visited the Rollright Stones, on the borders of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, I fell in love with the place. It was in the mid 1990’s and it had just been sold by the elderly lady who had owned it for many years and charged a very small admission fee that went to the Cats League or some such charity.
There was a feel about it, special and gentle and I wanted to get to know it better. I volunteered as a warden. This was when the hut was still in place and we had a warm place to sit and a fire to toast bread, crumpets and toes during the colder times of the year. I am gratified to find that there are still hardy souls who warden without such comforts and am seriously considering re-offering my services for next year.
I was trained by a lady whose name escapes me at the moment, but who was highly protective of the stones. I have seen her run across the field to the Whispering Knights after jumping a barbed wire fence at both ends to stop someone who was attempting to climb over the iron fence onto the stones. She started as she saw them put their foot on the bottom rung and got there before they had got their leg over the top. She also went around all of the stones with a pen light and a pair of dentists tweezers as soon as she arrived, so that she could get any coins and pebbles out of the holes that people leave there. She taught me that the metal in the coins reacts with the slightly acid rain that we have and increases the erosion of the delicate oolitic limestone that the Rollrights are made of.
I learned the history and the legends which I enjoyed passing on to the visitors as I collected their 50p, and teased those on a treasure hunt by telling them all different numbers for the count of the stones. Well, serves them right if they can’t be bothered to count them and cheat by asking someone. The Rollrights are known as the stones that cannot be counted because some stones look like 2 when they are one, some are hidden in the grass and you have to look carefully for them. It is said that you cannot get the same number each time you count them. I never could.
I was pleased to be there when Emma Restall Orr (Bobcat) performed a hand-fasting and I was standing with a lady who was new to all of this, explaining what was happening. The lady had been for lunch at the village pub with her husband and was just stopping off for a visit on her way home. As Emma called the element of Air into the circle, a cool breeze rushed passed our legs and made the lady who lunched go OOOOOH!!!. That day we were blessed with Air, Fire,(Sun) Water (it rained and made a rainbow) and Earth (it also briefly hailed). That lady bought a book on Earth Energy before she left.
I was enchanted to be there one Beltane Eve, on the night of a full moon. It was clear and once the parents had taken their children home, and the musicians arrived, we had fire dishes burning and shared food, and sang and danced. I can still see the stones as I came back in from the portaloo, bathed in moonlight, it was breath-taking.
I remember being there with my now fiancé when we were standing inside the stones on a very warm day and were treated to little ‘dust devil’ whirlwinds which whipped the long grass into little curls and swirled around Rick’s legs.
During the time that a gentleman called Dohn was the site manager, we had an Anish Kapoor sculpture in the middle of the stones called Turning the World Inside Out. It was part of an art project called Extraordinary Art in Ordinary Places, although I would not call the Rollrghts ordinary. It was there for a month and I loved every minute of it being there. Some people were outraged, I was delighted with the juxtaposition.
I was impressed with all that Dohn did to improve the site, the negotiations with English heritage and the Oxford Council for funding to change the entrance, to put down wheelchair friendly access paths and to move the path to the Whispering Knights to the inside of the hedge so that we didn’t have to brave the traffic on Jurassic Way without a footpath. He also had a footpath put beside the parking areas to the stones.
More sadly I was a warden during the time when someone threw yellow paint on every one of the stones. Also the times when the hut was broken into and was finally burned down. Dohn had ideas to replace it, but sadly passed away before it could be put into place.
The most recent time that we visited was just after the Equinox weekend, we were celebrating our engagement. It was a misty damp day but all the more magical for that. I was still enchanted by them, but distressed to see that people still insist on leaving the detritus of their rituals and petitions there. I wouldn’t mind so much if they were thoughtful gifts. During my time as warden I was always struck by the idea that a 1p stuffed into one of the holes or even a foreign coin of small denomination, was perceived as an offering. Where were the £1 coins or even the rolled up fivers?
This time people thought it appropriate to tie nylon ribbons (and don’t tell me they were not the hanging loops cut from jumpers and the like because I know these type are too mean to buy something for things like this) and the silvery contents of a party popper to the trees as ‘clooties’. The only thing I can say about that is they damage the trees, end up looking dirty and nasty and if you think that this is an appropriate offering to the Gods for the answer to your prayers then you are sorely mistaken.
They also left what I thought was a black rubber glove on one of the stones. When I looked at it more carefully I noticed there was a face carved on the top that looked like a sleeping woman. It looked like it was carved from a root of something, really nicely done too, and then painted black. There was also a Bridhe’s Cross made out of straw. C’mon guys, Bridhe’s Cross is for an entirely different time of the year, unless you were trying to make a corn dolly, in which case, learn to do it properly. I have been to St Nectan’s Waterfall and seen what happens when these type of offerings are left in a public space, and it is a disgrace. It is selfish and arrogant. It may look pretty when you first leave it there but after a while as the weather gets to it, it looks grubby and disrespectful.
Needless to say that my warden hat was put on my head and I removed all these objects. The Goddess figure and the Bridhe’s Cross were ceremoniously placed in the wooded area because they are biodegradable and the ‘clooties’ were lovingly placed into the next litter bin that we came across. I have also removed 2 pebbles from the holes in one of the stones, one of which must have cost all of 50p, the other was picked up from somewhere. These now grace a space in a bowl I have had for years for such finds.
So for anyone who reads this and are tempted to leave anything amongst the Rollrights and its environs for whatever reason, I will remove it if I find it. You are not adding anything to the ‘energy’. Your Gods don’t need you to litter these places to revere them, quite the opposite I would argue. This is a public space, not your personal temple. Take away your litter, clear up your stuff including spiritual energy. If you truly revere the place, and this is said for all ‘Sacred Spaces’, take nothing but memories, leave nothing but the sound of your footsteps.
For more information on the Rollright Stones, please go to The Rollright Stones
All photograph are (c) Richard M Carr or the Author