A trip to Derbyshire for the wedding of two of my favourite people, who also enjoy visiting the stones, was a great opportunity to see some of Derbyshires great sites. The day after the wedding I took off up north to see some of the amazing sites in Cumbria (The Lake District) before heading home. The five days I spent there with some great friends, who'd also come along for the wedding, were fantastic.
One of the 'must see' sites for me in Derbyshire is Five Wells (SK 124 711). This tomb is always presented as a passage tomb , and indeed this is what it appears to be. However, looking at it through the eyes of someone who has seen over 150 Irish portal tombs something isn't right. There are two passages here. One is small and leads to an undifferentiated chamber, the other one leads to a massive chamber that to me seems to be a portal tomb. There is a single back stone, two evenly matched side stones and two portal stones (see fig. 1). The site over looks a river in the valley below and the entrance faces east.
It would appear that an Irish-style portal tomb was built here at some point and it was later converted into a passage tomb by adding a passage to the front of the main portal tomb chamber and another passage to the west of it.
Next on the itinery; Arbor Low. Where do you start with this? This monument is a large henge , a circular raised bank with an internal ditch. The inner ditch creates a secluded inner platform within this enclosure. A lot of henges are empty within, but this one has what appears to be a fallen stone circle (see fig. 2), with all the stones lying flat upon the platform area. I have never seen a definite report saying whether the stones were ever once raised or not. This question adds to the mystery thatsurrounds such places.
The bank reaches over 2m abover the external ground level and over 6m above the base of the silted-up inner fosse, which is over 5m wide. The work-effort that went into constructing this is massive.
In the shadow of the great tor of Robin Hood's Stride we find Nine Stones Close (SK 225 626), also known as the Grey Ladies. From the name it must be presumed that once nine stones stood here, but now there are only four, each one around 2m tall (see fig. 3). A fifth stone can be spotted in a field wall a short distance away. Each stone seems to have its own character or personality. Each one is of different size and proportions. Taking what remains the circle would only have been 12m across, which with such large stones would have been a very impressive, but enclosing circle.
As mentioned above, Nine Stones Close is built in the shadow of the fabulous proto-temple like tor known as Robin Hood's Stride (SK 224 624). When you stand below this huge outcrop you can understand why a monument such as a stone circle should be built in its presence (see fig. 4).
From here it is not too far to reach Stanton Moor, where many fabulous monuments are situated. Sadly this area is much quarried and is currently threatened by further quarrying. Court battles rage to protect this area which is sacred to many and beautiful to all.
Passage tombs are perhaps the most celebrated style of tombs, mainly due to the fantastic examples at Newgrange (County Meath), Knowth (County Meath) and Dowth (County Meath) in the Boyne Valley as well as those at Loughcrew (County Meath), which is by far the best place to experience these wonders.
The classical form of passage tomb is the cruciform style, where a long passage leads to a main chamber with 3 small chambers off, forming a cross when viewed from above. However, there are many other styles, some don't even have a passage! These other forms are with a round chamber (see Fourknocks (County Meath)), a polygonal chamber or in the form of a cross of Lorraine, which can be found at Seefin Hill (County Wicklow).
There is one form known as an undifferentiated passage tomb wherein the chamber is simply a broadening of the passage, such as at Matthewstown (County Waterford).
The passage and chamber was, once constructed, covered in a mound of earth or a stone cairn, which was in turn held in place with a kerb around its perimeter.
Perhaps what Irish passage tombs are most known for is the form of rock art more commonly called passage grave art, which can be seen in abundance along the Boyne Valley in the many cemeteries.
Two stones place either side of a gallery, opposite each other, but not touching so as to leave a gap, that are used to segment it into smaller chambers.
Portal stones are a pair of upright stones that form the 'entrance' to a portal tomb. They are usually well matched, being of even dimensions. As well as forming this doorway they also act as the front support for the capstone and are usually taller than the stones that form the chamber.
Often there is a door stone in between them blocking off access to the chamber within.
Henges are circular monuments that are defined by an outer earthen bank with a ditch around the inside. With the ditch on the inside they are obviously useless as defensive structures and so are considered to be of ritual origins.
Stones circles, put quite simply, are rings of standing stones, although not all of them are cicular, many being eliptical. Many have definite layout plans and often stone circles in one region share a similar style, e.g. Cork features many axial stones circles, where a recumbent stones faces an apparent entrance into the circle (see Drombeg (County Cork)).
They are the most well known of megalithic monuments and the ones most likely to capture anyone's imagination. Many theories exist about the original purpose of these enigmatic structures, the most popular (and at times most controversial) one is that they were built as astronomical observatories, many having apparent solar alignments with the sunrise and sunsets at the solstices and equinoxes. Lunar and star alignments have also ben noted.
No matter what the exact purpose it is certain that they played a significant role in the ritual or religious lives of the builders. One thing that nearly everyone has in common is that they are located in the most dramatic of places, usually offering unrivalled views.
Quite often other monuments, such as alignments, cairns, boulder burials or outliers, are to be found in close proximity to stone circles.