The Mysterious Stones of Avening
The Cotswolds area of England has some of the highest concentrations of ancient sites in the whole of Britain. Stone circles, standing stones, barrows, chambered tombs, there are literally hundreds of them scattered across the region, and those are just the ones we know about. Archaeologists and historians group a lot of them together as the “Cotswold-Severn group” - although they continue to widen this net to include places in Herefordshire like Arthur's Stone. I've been to many of these places on my travels but today I wanted to find a few of the more obscure and hard-to-reach ones, I think I succeeded!
An easy one to find is the Minchinhampton Longstone. Standing a good 7 feet high in a field off the road, it may have once been part of an old barrow but as time went on it developed folklore of its own. They used to say that a battle took place here between the Danes a'viking and a group of defending Anglo-Saxons, and they used the holes in the Longstone to fire arrows through. The road here is actually called Woefuldanes Bottom, supposedly in honour of their defeat. It was also customary to pass babies through one of the two large holes in this megalith, to ensure their health but also to cure rickets, measles and whooping cough. The holes are about the size of my foot so these children must have been new-born! Of course, in common with half the stones in England, the Longstone uproots itself and strolls around the field at night, but this is also an alleged haunt of a spectral Black Dog.
Take a right turn after the Longstone and a lonely track will take you along the boundary of Princess Anne's Gatcombe Park estate. The land is patrolled regularly by officers of the Royal Protection Squad so wandering across it isn't recommended, but...look to the west and a stand of enormous trees marks a suspicious looking mound. It appears the dry stone walling had collapsed at one place so technically...I went across to investigate and discovered the Tinglestone. A solitary megalith, yes, but it stands atop what was once a multi-chambered Neolithic burial chamber, wrecked by inept amateur archaeologists of the early 19th Century. The collapsed entrance is now just part of the general mound but the Tinglestone itself is impressive, a good four feet wide slab of the usual oolitic limestone showing many holes worn through by time. They say it is so called because of a tingling sensation felt by some who touch it, I can't vouch for this as I felt no tingle! The name might have come from the Old English “tyning” meaning meeting or moot place, rather than the Norse “ting” others speculate as – if folklore is correct – the raiders were trounced.
I avoided any attention from HRH's protectors and continued on into the village of Avening where another mystery lay...somewhere. I'd read that a local Rector had witnessed the excavation of another chambered barrow a mile or two away, possibly Norns Tump, and for some bonkers reason decided to measure, sketch and document the structure then have the whole thing moved to the grounds of his rectory and rebuilt there. Some have seen it, albeit it a long time ago, but could I find it? An old overgrown track led off the main road, with heavy woodland along the slope it led along. I spotted some stones in the trees that looked interesting and attempted to safely negotiate my way down the sheer woodland cliff. I ended up just hurtling headlong down it then using a tree to break my fall, but I found what I was looking for.
A Neolithic burial chamber lying forgotten in a wood, overgrown and wild. This is the stuff of dreams but as I had strayed – or tumbled - onto private land it was a case of get in and get out, leaving no trace of my presence. The chamber entrance is there and quite visually striking but it appears the rest of the Rector's reconstruction has been lost to two centuries of mudslides. Whoever owns the land today has opted to let the area just grow wild which is great for wildlife and I noticed that badgers had delved into the hillside to build their setts – but avoided the ancient chamber. We all know from our ghost stories what happens when you move stones!
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The Minchinhampton Longstone
The holes of the Longstone don’t look big enough to pass children through!
The Tinglestone stands atop its barrow mound
The Rector’s barrow lies lost in its woodland location