Wednesday, 1 June 2016

It was a Yellowhammer sort of day

This is Arthur's Stone (who else?!) near Dorstone in Herefordshire.  We were there last Friday.  Having seen a rather fetching poster of this Neolithic burial chamber down in Hay, many a time, we decided we wanted to see it for ourselves.

So yes, Simon, you rightly surmised that this is a Dolmen.  It dates back to between 3,700 and 2,700 BC.  It took some building too - that broken capstone is reckoned to weigh about 25 tons!  I assume it was rollered into place up an earthen ramp.

However, Arthur's Stone (it was named about the 13th C but of course, has nothing to do with King Arthur!)  is just a wee bitty different to many other Neolithic burial chambers.  For starters it has an interesting entryway nearly 5m long (4.6m to be precise).

This entire monument would originally have been covered with a huge earthen mound, so this long "approach" to the tomb would have posed problems for anyone leaving further bodily remains inside the chamber.  It has the remains of a drystone-wall surround to it, which makes it a distant outlier of one of the Cotswold-Severn tombs.  It has been estimated that such a structure would have taken 10 men some 7 months to build.  Or 5 men 14 months, or . . .  a long time anyway, and jolly hard work.

We got our compass out and this seems to be on a SSE alignment - looking along it the axis would seem to be aligned just past the end of Hay Bluff (but perhaps my stance on the stone was slightly out) but it is more likely there was an alignment on a particular star (see this link on Welsh burial chambers).  I'm not terribly up on Archaeostronomy - that once frowned-upon now-trendy branch of archaeology.

Most of the information board on the site.

The burial chamber stands beside a modern road, but back in the times when it was still being used, this ridgeway would have been a well-travelled pathway used especially in summer to take animals up to pasture on the rich grazing here.  This is known as transhumance and still happens in parts of Europe today.

Just by this wonderful view across the Golden Valley was a modern footpath sign, but I have no doubt that this was a well-used pathway 5,000 years ago too.

Photo showing blocked entrance.  This was done when the burial chamber was "decommissioned" and no further burials undertaken there.  By burials, I mean deposition of human remains, either as cremated bodies or remains following exhumation, where the flesh was removed from the bones by natural causes.

The other end of the chamber with a further blocking stone.  You can see the footpath sign in this one.

My husband trying to get out of shot!  Another view for you.

The entrance from the side.

That is some capstone, broken or not.  This site has never been excavated, although there was one small "excavation" survey when several of the wooden fencing posts were taken out by a car.   Most revealed nothing but one has the most wonderful stone corbelling beneath it.  If you type in Arthur's Stone, Dorstone, you should come up with a link.  You have to sign in to the site to view it, so I can't give a direct link.

Some interesting facts, gleaned from Wikipedia:

During the Wars of the Roses, a Knight named Turberville (they had a pad near Pylle to the East of Swansea) was killed here in a duel with another knight called Thomas ap Griffith.

In 1645 King Charles gathered his army here and he dined on the stone before staying the night at Holme Lacey.

CS Lewis was inspired by the Golden Valley area, and apparently had this very stone in mind when he wrote about Aslan being sacrificed on it!

Celebrations of dancing were held at the stone until the mid-19th C, when the church decided that they had best step in and appropriate the revels by holding a Baptist meeting here on the 4th Sunday in July.

Oh - and the Yellowhammers in the title?  We saw several swooping between the hedgerows as we were driving along.  We don't get them at home so it was lovely to see them for a change.


  1. That's rather splendid. Looking forward to hearing about it. Hope you got your gardening done:)

    1. Some good gardening done - like hiding all the weeds below thick membrane and mucho mulch. Still LOTS to do though!

  2. Hmmmm wonder if that's like a Dolman?

    1. You could well be right sir! Read the update.

  3. How is your house sale going, you've not mentioned anything lately

    1. It isn't. The last viewer cancelled as not all the vendors could comply on the date she wanted.

  4. What an interesting Dolman. Reminiscent of the ones in Brittany.
    Such lovely green lanes and hilltop views surrounding it.

  5. I love the way our ancient ancestors chose the tops to build their settlements. We have several around us - mainly Iceni. At least (in theory) they could see any enemies approaching, although the land would be much more wooded.
    I love yellow hammers. We have two pairs that have built nests in the hedge down the sid of our garden. They are constantly at the bird table. Such pretty birds.

  6. A wonderful and interesting post with great photos. Such a lovely area and the views are stunning :) Lovely to see Yellowhammers - there's a location not far from us where you are almost guaranteed a sighting - one of my favourite birds - always take me back to my childhood and my grandfather explaining the song :)

  7. Great archaeological post and lots of interesting photos, the dolmen/cromlech just oozes atmosphere.