Standing Stones have long had an aura of mystery surrounding them. Whether that's man-made, ritualistic style circles such as Stonehenge or down right crazy naturally occurring stones like the famous Bowder Stone in the Lake District. How did they get there? What do they even mean? In this post, that's what you'll discover, as well as some notable sites you can visit yourself across the British Isles. So, pack your rucksack and bring your best pair of walking boots, a new outdoor adventure awaits!
Standing Stones: What They Are & Types Of Standing Stone
Many a local legend has formed as a result of standing stones. Do you believe they have significance?
What Is A Standing Stone?
Standing stones are large vertical stones or boulders that have either occurred naturally over time, such as an erratic, or have been man-made, like a monolith or menhir. The significance of man-made standing stones is largely debated as they date all the way back to the stone age, though it's widely believed that they were placed in order to memorialize a notable event/celebration or to signify religious beliefs. Natural stones on the other hand are placed by nature itself, for instance erratics were transported across the lands long ago carried by glacial ice, whereas rocking stones form as a result of extreme weather conditions and erosion over time. Regardless how how natural stones occur, some of them are so bizarre that they actually look man-made.
Types Of Naturally Occurring Standing Stones
Inland stacks are tall columns of rock, typically formed by quarrying or subsidence over time. A popular example of an inland stack would be the Devil's Chimney in Gloucestershire.
A Tor is an outcrop commonly consisting of either granite or sandstone which has weathered over time to resemble a large pile of stones. You'll see plenty of tors around national parks such as Dartmoor.
Erratic stones are large stones which were transported miles from their original source by the glaciers during the ice age. Sarsens (a form of boulder) were also rumoured to have been transported in the same way, or carried by major flooding.
Rocking Stone / Logan
Rocking Stones (also known as Logans) were also thought to have occurred during the ice age, however lots of the common rocking stones seen across the UK are likely as a result of extreme weather or weathering over time. Rocking stones are aptly named, they're described as huge boulders which are balanced enough to be able to rock when pressure is applied.
Types Of Man-Made Standing Stones
Menhir / Monolith
Monoliths are one of the most recognizable man-made stones, they're large singular stone monuments used for religious or ritualistic practices. Many monoliths were placed across Europe during the bronze age.
A Henge is one or several tall stones aligned in a circle to serve as either a monument or for religious purposes, ceremonies or for solar observation.
Cairns serve as a marker. They're a pyramidal style heap of stones and are commonly seen atop summits worldwide.
Dolmens are thought to have been used as burial tombs, they're made from large upright slabs with a capstone on top.
Trilithons are groups of three large slabs used in the construction of henges, such as Stonehenge.
Standing Stones To Visit
Fancy visiting some standing stones in the flesh? Why not consider some of these popular sites listed below! A word of warning though, like most standing stone sites they're pretty exposed to the elements, so make sure to bring your waterproof jacket.
1. Castlerigg Stone Circle
Also known as the Druids' Circle, the Castlerigg stone circle is located near Keswick in the Lake District. It's a fantastic site to visit if you're spending a weekend in the lakes due to the surrounding natural beauty. In total, there are 38 standing stones positioned at the Druids' Circle. It's one of the oldest stone circles in the country, dating as far back as 4000 - 5000 years.
2. The Bowder Stone
The Bowder Stone is located in Borrowdale Valley, another site located near Keswick. It's 30 feet high and even has a ladder for visitors to climb to the top, but what makes the Bowder Stone appealing to visitors is how the rock balances on one edge in a seemingly "gravity-defying" way. What's more, there's also a wheelchair accessible walking route to the Bowder Stone as part of the Lake Districts miles without stiles program.
3. Standing Stones of Stenness
The Stones of Stenness aren't as accessible as other sites across the UK, mainly as the site is located off of the UK mainland and over on the Orkney islands (the archipelago in the northern isles of Scotland). However, if you're up for the journey, the mainland of Orkney is home to more than just the Stones of Stenness, you'll also find the Ring of Brodgar, meaning you can visit two noteworthy Neolithic sites in one journey.
Now a world heritage site, Stonehenge is one of the most globally recognized stone circles. Located in Wiltshire, the site's purpose is still unknown to this day. Some suggest that Stonehenge was to be used as a burial ground, whilst another common theory is that it was constructed for celestial reasons or even to serve as a Neolithic calendar. Near Stonehenge you'll also find Avebury Henge, another stone circle site and manor house held under the same world heritage site, so there's tons to see on your visit!
5. Long Meg & Her Daughters
In Cumbria close to the River Eden stands Long Meg and her daughters. The site is made up of 69 stones, with long meg standing the tallest at 12 feet high. This stone circle served as inspiration for William Wordsworth's "The Monument" poem and has an eerie local legend attached to it.