The Hawk Stone - The Ale Drinker’s Totem
The Hawk Stone is a solitary megalith that stands at the edge of a field in Oxfordshire, near the village of Dean. The name might ring a bell to some as a result of the recent publicity this standing stone has enjoyed, as veteran TV star Jeremy Clarkson decided to name the lager he brewed from the crops at his Diddly Squat farm after the stone. A couple of admittedly quite funny ads were filmed at the Hawk Stone but both were rejected by the ASA for their risque language and that the second attempt was “offensive to Birmingham”...you can find them on Youtube.
So what is this ancient structure, gnarled and battered by time and the elements? No, not Clarkson, the stone! This is a Neolithic standing stone, agreed by most archaeologists to have always been that way but a minority do argue that it may once have formed part of a circle or a dolmen. Interestingly, according to The Old Stones of Rollright and District by Paul Bennet and Tom Wilson, dowsing carried out in 1980 revealed an “overground line” linking the Hawk Stone to the Kings Men, the main Rollrights Circle, and there are another five or so stones lurking half-forgotten within a few miles.
Deep channels are visible in the oolitic limestone – the same rock as the Rollrights – which folklore tells us were worn in by chains stretched across the stone, binding condemned witches to the stone to be burned to death. Witches were generally hanged in England so this might be a fanciful explanation for simple wear caused by four thousand years of rain but there is another tale that claims a witch actually dragged the stone to the field herself by chains slung over her shoulders. In common with lots of other such menhirs, the Hawk Stone is said to uproot itself every night to wobble around the field before repositioning itself as dawn rises.
As for the name of this 8 foot megalith, some say it is because of its resemblance to a hawk opening its wings but try as I might I couldn't see it myself when I visited. The more likely explanation is a gradual evolution of the Old English hoar stan meaning very rough and gnarled stone. However, the hawk was supposedly considered a sacred and totemic animal to the earlier Celtic people of Britain so perhaps the memory of that association was handed down?
In any case, the Hawk Stone is still held in high regard by modern pagans as evidenced by the offerings left within its curves and crevices. Entirely natural rings of rowan saplings, flowers, feathers and nuts, these are the kinds of things that are in keeping with the idea of nature worship and a welcome contrast to the tealights and plastic ribbons I have seen at a couple of other ancient sites.
The Hawk Stone is easily accessed via a footpath from the road so by all means pop into the field to pay your respects to this ancient monument, but I do wonder about the runaway success of Hawkstone lager...perhaps Mr Clarkson's sacrifice of ale at the stone was behind it?
If you like these posts you might like my book The Mystery Of Mercia, available at this link -
Offerings left at the Hawk Stone
Deep channels worn into the stone by the elements - or by chain binding witches?