1.0 The monuments adjacent to the village of Stanton Drew stand on different levels and all are important to the general scheme.
Picture 1.0 was taken from the higher ground on which stands the remains of the South Circle - the southernmost of Stanton Drew's three stone circles. The lower level shown, is known as Stone Close, and Stone Close continues on downhill till it meets up with the river Drew. The Close holds two circles, the Great Circle and the North Circle.
The famous surveyor of the City of Bath, John Wood Snr, was the first to survey Stanton Drew in the year 1740. John considered the North Circle a lunar temple because of its alignment with the southernmost setting moon. This alignment has since been proved correct.
Stone Close is grassed over these day's and so, by superimposing the ditch and bank of the Great Circle, we show how it ended its life by becoming a henge. However, that is not how the Great Circle started out.
The more-complete North Circle can be seen through the main causewayed-gap in the Great Circle's henge.
A TV programme, aired in 2001, told of the time when people in the Stanton Drew area cut down six-hundred of the largest oaks to build two massive fires. These were no ordinary fires; the largest at over 300 feet in diameter, consisted of nine almost perfectly circular rings, each ring succeeding the other like Russian Dolls.
The other equally important fire consisted of three rings and was positioned relative to the 300-foot version forming a line which pointed at the fast disappearing stars of the Southern Cross. These fires are though to have been built around 5,600 years ago, and well before the stone circle of Stonehenge was built.
Join me on a walk in an attempt to figure out what Stanton Drew was all about.
Present day. It was the 18th June 2016, and the forecast promised a clear sky in the Bristol area in what was an otherwise cloudy Britain. This presented a photographic opportunity too good to miss. So, with packed lunch, flask of tea and cameras packed away in the boot of the car, I set off to spend the night at Stanton Drew.
The village of Stanton Drew has only one public house - the excellent and highly recommended, Druid’s Inn. This inn has a spacious car park from which I planned to conduct operations, and where I could get some overnight shut-eye. The car park is also conveniently situated alongside Stanton Drew’s Neolithic stone cove, as my photos will later show.
On reflection, I am not entirely sure why I chose to photograph the setting and rising of the sun from the most southerly of Stanton Drew’s three stone circles, but I’m glad I did!
2.0 Photo taken on the evening of the 18TH of June 2016 from the South Circle. The most northerly sunset, seen here, can be thought of as a kind of terminus were the sun abides a while before returning south from whence it came. This photo shows it setting to the south (left) of the distant 233-metre-high Dundry Hill. The sun set one-degree closer to this hill in 2,500 BC.
This picture was taken from the centre of the South Circle and two of its stones, every one of which has fallen, can be seen in the left foreground. But where am I. From where was this picture taken?
3.0 This ground-plan-view of Stanton Drew’s three stone circles and Cove should help. The South Circle is built on elevated ground known colloquially as the ‘Orchard’, and it overlooks the Great and North Circle when looking north.
After snapping Walk Picture 1, I returned to the car and spent a fitful night worrying if I would wake in time to get the rising summer solstice photo I was mainly after. But as it turned out, I need not have worried.
4.0 Sunrise 19th June 2016. This picture, out of necessity due to offending hedges, was taken from the pathway leading from the ‘Orchard’, a little to one side of the South Circle. Here the sun is seen exiting the 123-metre-high Publow Hill, about 3 miles away. The altitude of Publow Hill, compared to the altitude of the South Circle, (54 metres) causes us to look up-hill about three-quarters of a degree. The solstice sun rose about one-degree further north when the stone circles were built. So, with the solar disc about half-a-degree across, the sun was two diameters further north than seen above.
Having got photographs of the sun at solstices, and with no reason to stay, we smartly make our way downhill - noting how a dip in the walk causes the sun to disappear - we follow the first of Stanton Drew's famous alignments - that made between the South and Great Circle and a standing stone way over on the other side of the river, known as Hautvilles Quoit.
We are only going as far as the centre of the Great Circle, when we will turn around to see where the stars of the Southern Cross could once be seen skimming the horizon, five to six thousand years ago. So, that was what Hautvilles Quoit was all about - a place which marked the setting stars of the Southern Cross, as they exited Round Hill to trace out a low curving arc before entering the South Circle. Then of course, every 18.6 years, the moon could be seen doing something similar.
Strewth: if the sun, moon and stars were fish, Stanton Drew would be a fish-farm selling tackle and maggots!
And we've only just started on our walk.
5. Sunrise 19th June 2016: Altitude one-degree. This picture of the North Circle was taken from near the middle of the Great Circle.
This picture proves that Alignment A, which starts at the Cove and passes through the centre's of the Great and North Circles, does not directly point at the summer solstice sun but a little while later, when at a greater altitude. This is exactly the same as at Stonehenge but greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, no one can deny the real object of interest here has to be the mid-June rising sun. Making matters worse, the sun rose one-degree further north (left) in 2,500BC, than that photographed. So, what is going on?
First of all, Professor Alexander Thom, stated that Stanton Drew made a poor observatory because of its many trees. Well; that's because Stanton Drew was not an observatory!
We can look at this problem from several different way's. First, maybe the folk who set this up, were making the best of a bad job. Secondly, perhaps they wanted to capture the sun a day or two before reaching its terminus or lastly, and more likely, wanted to illuminate the stones of the North Circle and Great Circle with maximum brilliance.
Either way, this puts a whole new complexion on the astronomical alignments our ancestors made during the Neolithic.
So far on our walk, we have managed to show how the sun was captured at its most powerful and, looking back south to the start of our walk, how Hautvilles Quoit was placed to view the stars of the Southern cross entering the South Circle.
What we need to do now is to work out how the moon fitted into all of this.
6. I produced this ground-plan of Stanton Drew's monuments some time ago and it's due for updating. It owes its accuracy to several sources, not least of all Online Bing.
It should be noted that what I have called 'The North Circle', archaeologists call 'The Northeast Circle'. And, what I have called 'The South Circle', archaeologists call 'The Southwest Circle' and at other times 'The South South-West Circle'.
7. The sun in this photo, is much too far south for Alignment A to point at the winter solstice as Alexander Thom claimed. Furthermore, the sun was a full degree further south than that seen above.
Coming soon. The Cove and, what happened to the Equinoctial-aligned Tyning Stones?
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This is how the Great Circle started its life as a 300 foot diameter of timber posts set in nine almost perfect circles. The South West Circle from where the previous picture was taken, had three such timber rings.
This is a view of the timber structure in the middle of the Great Circle but this time looking south and in the opposite direction.
The view south to someone standing in the middle of the Great Circle in the shallow valley known as Stone Close is partially blocked by rising ground except where it gives way to expose a 150 metre-high hill, some 2540 metres away that forms part of the horizon. This hill goes by the name of Round Hill because its north-eastern end presents as a spherical-shaped knoll. The southernmost moon exits via the peak of Round Hill every 18.61 years and after skimming the horizon will set into Knowle Hill. The stars of the Southern Cross skimmed the southern horizon 5,500 years ago too, before finally disappearing below the horizon around 3,000BC. While they were still visible, one or two stars of the Cross would surely have exited via the notch through the hill.
With Round Hill's altitude of more than 2-degrees from Stone Close, every star of the Southern Cross, at one time or another, was clearly seen from here.
Whist it's anybody's guess which one, or all four stars of the cross were Neolithic man's object of interest, all were gradually disappearing due to the fact that the earth and its axis has been falling backwards for many thousand of years. Don't worry, it will come back again, as it always has done. But we won't be around to see it!
So this fire took in 40-degrees of the southern horizon to watch this star, or stars, as they left Round Hill and came to ground in-line with the South-South-West-Circle where it could be caught. This small circle also had a circular fire of timber at its centre.
So started the monuments of Stanton Drew.
So far, we have discovered that Stone Close held two timber fires. The fire in the middle of what would later become the Great Circle of stone, was made up of nine circles using about 450 timbers and had an outer diameter of some 120 megalithic yards.
The smaller SSW Circle had only three circles, three being Stone Age man's most important number.
A television programme, aired as long ago as 2001, told of the remains of this massive fire that archaeologists had found in the middle of the largest of Stanton Drew's three circles. And it was that very programme that got me interested in trying to solve Stonehenge in the first place.
To reiterate: Around 5,600 years ago, and well before Stonehenge was built, people many miles to the west of the Stonehenge site, constructed a monstrously large bonfire in what later became the second largest stone circle in England after Avebury. Known as the Great Circle, it was not alone, but accompanied by two others around one-third its size.
The remains of these circles can still be found at Stone Close in the valley of the River Chew, next to the village of Stanton Drew, some 5-miles south of Bristol.
So, far we have been looking south.