The Nine Stones, Winterbourne Abbas

Right next door to the busy A35 between Bridport and Dorchester there is a small stone circle. Despite being so close to the side of the road it was not easy to reach let alone access. We passed it 3 times before I was able to find a small but safe place to park the car within 200m of the circle. All other parking places were a long way away. Even parking where we did required a walk along a very wet verge being buffed by the slip stream of large lorries thundering past. On crossing the road opposite the site I I found a small sign directing visitors to the Little Chef Restaurant car park down the road, Now this seems to be an eminently more sensible approach to the circle than what I was about to attempt, however, there was one major problem with this piece of advice from the authorities. The Little Chef not longer exists! So the only option involved jumping across a small ditch, a slippery climb up the bank and then battling my way through bushes before arriving at a gate in the protective railings. The circle is such a challenge to get to I really don’t think the protective railings are needed.

Looking toward the north of the cicle with the road behind.

This is the smallest stone circle I’ve visited, mind you that’s not very many  in the greater scheme of things, and I am no expert, but it is dinky (anyone born after 1990 will have to look up ‘dinky’ maybe). It’s been dated to the Bronze Age, and is thought to have been built around 4000 years ago, however it’s not been fully excavated. Despite being beside the busy road on one side, the fact that it is surround by trees on the other three sides makes it a remarkably tranquil once site. The size of the stones are very uneven with two large stones, the other 7 are pretty small by comparison. It’s not a true circle, but is more an oval measuring 9m by 7.8m. The type of stones themselves are also different, either sarsen or conglomerate. Perhaps the builders chose them in different sizes and types specifically to represent different aspects of their mythology, or they were the only ones available.

The largest stone clearly showing the roughness of the conglomerate stone.

Local legends and folklore provide a number of different explanations of the site. One claims the stones to be the Devil and his wife and children, another that they are children who were turned to stone by the Devil while playing five-stones on the sabbath. Another story is that they are the petrified figures of dancing maidens. These all name the circle differently and over the years it has been called The Nine Stones, the Nine Ladies or the Devils Nine Stones. As is the case with many megalithic monuments, they are said to be uncountable. The last one I can personally attest is wrong. Unless I can’t count.

An engraving of the Nine Stones from Stuckley’s Monumenta Britannica

The view of the site has changed a great deal from the time it was first recorded in the 18th centenary by W Stukeley, and included it in his illustrated Monumenta Britannica, though in his engraving the scale of the stones is greatly exaggerated. Then the area was open, but the road was still running next to the site. However, today the trees and the fence seem to isolate the circle from the surrounding environment. Despite the busy A35 and the rush of the lorries and traffic, this sense of isolation keep the place quiet. After a while I had to leave the circle and once more do my best impression of Bear Grylls as I made my way back to the 21st century.

2nd October 2019

Historic England. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1011986. Accessed 12.10.2019.

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