The Place of the Stones
Updated: Jan 12, 2021
When the name of a place literally means “place of the stones”, you know it's worth a visit, so pre - lockdown that's what I did. Staunton is a large village in the Forest of Dean, close to the Welsh border, which while boasting a nice medieval animal pound at it's centre, is perhaps most well known for the many curious stones and rocky outcrops that surround it.
The Buck Stone is perhaps the most well known and accessible of these features. It stands on a hill above the village looking down towards Monmouth and the Wye valley and was originally a “rocking stone”. This meant that the huge boulder sat on a tiny point at it's base and only needed a push from one person to wobble it slightly. Many of these rockingstones dot the landscape of Britain, particularly in the Peak District, and during the 1800s there seemed to be an unfortunate craze where groups of people were trying to rock the stones completely out of their bases. The Buck Stone was sadly no exception and in 1885 a company of actors from London, who had been getting drunk at the Agincourt in Monmouth, decided to get a carriage to take them to Staunton. The troupe clambered up the hill and went to work rocking the Buck Stone back and forth, before achieving their aim and sending the huge boulder crashing down the slope. It broke into pieces but it appears local opinion demanded somebody do something, so at great expense and effort – I'm not sure whose – the pieces were hauled back up the hill and the Buck Stone cemented together again, set permanently into it's base. It was sometimes whitewashed for bank holidays and festivals, as happened when Lord Nelson visited Staunton.
Next to the Buck Stone is a curious slab known as the Virgin's Cup. It features a strange bowl either carved out or naturally occurring which some have deduced to be an altar once used during the Bronze Age and earlier for blood sacrifice. Maybe they thought it a safer option than using the wobbly Buck Stone?
At the bottom of the hill is the Toad Stone, so named for it's amphibian like appearance, then across the road and into the woods to find even more of the stones of Staunton. Off the path through the forest is one of the true wonders of Britain – the Suckstone. This is claimed to be the largest single boulder in the land, and with no other candidates coming forward I'm happy to confirm this. It is absolutely huge, maybe 14000 tons, and from one angle has the appearance of a gigantic dinosaur head lying in the ground. Legend says that those of an artistic bent should climb the Suckstone, as standing at it's summit will trigger an encounter with it's spirit guardian the Fairy of the Stone. Apparently she will bestow great inspiration upon those who call on her. William Turner the famous painter climbed the stone and talked of receiving this gift, along with Forest of Dean son Dennis Potter who wrote so many memorable TV dramas.
Higher up the slope from the Suckstone is a strange looking outcrop. This is Near Hearkening Rock. So named as gamekeepers and hunters would crouch under it's curved cliff and all the sounds of the forest would be amplified, alerting them to the presence of poachers. Standing then on the summit above they would hopefully be able to see who had made the sound. A natural stone bench still sits under the rock, I took my seat on it and marvelled at how many hunters had sat here in the past, and over how many generations? During the Civil War Royalist soldiers sat sentry here, listening for Roundhead intruders. Looking to the left another outcrop is visible, this one is the Far Hearkening Rock which they say has the opposite effect to it's brother – whispered words under here can be heard across the valley. An altar-like rock lies across the base of this one, giving it a natural temple feel, and I have no doubt that prehistoric people held some of these places in high spiritual regard.
There is one more stone to see before leaving, and leaving is usually how most people see it. The Staunton Longstone is a solitary megalith that stands in the woods along the roadside on the way back to Coleford. It was probably a carved standing stone at some time but went on to be a “hundred stone” to mark the spot of Anglo Saxon moots before being seen as a wayside marker to signify joining the road to Monmouth in the medieval and later eras. It is also known as the Bleeding Stone, as legend claims if you visit at midnight and prick the Longstone with a pin at the precise stroke of the hour, it will bleed. There is a curious streak of red running down the back of it but I put this down to iron oxide rather than blood! Alfred Watkins, in his The Old Straight Track, said the Staunton Longstone was on a minor leyline branching out from the main Aish Ridge Line.
Post lockdown, tiers etc a walk taking in all these stones and perhaps ending at the the White Horse in the village would be a great day out and a nice way of experiencing some of the lore of the Forest of Dean.
The Buck Stone
The Buck Stone - look at that face!
The Suckstone - Britain's largest boulder, and reminiscent of a dinosaur?
The Suckstone in the mist
The Suckstone from above
The Virgin's Stone, note the bowl in the centre, unfortunately filled with ice on my visit
Near Hearkening Rock
Near Hearkening Rock, note the little stone bench there under the curved cliff
The Staunton Longstone
The Stauton Longstone stands it's lonely vigil