“To the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
– William Blake
Last week I went with a friend to see Scorhill stone circle on Dartmoor. It was a magical visit on a lovely autumn day, and the fire of my imagination was kindled!
Walking over the gentle hill from the village of Gidleigh, the view opens up onto a moorland valley, with the stone circle resting on the slope below.
The valley is huge, and the open vista makes my heart expand to meet it. To the left below us there is a river, and there are other smaller streams glinting in the valley. Even on the hilltop there are small pools of water.
The Stone Circle
The stones themselves are beautiful, filled with sparkling crystals and painted with lichen. The largest stone is about 8 foot tall. If you look closely you can see black protrusions in this stone, like crystalline balls embedded in the rock. According to one commentator , they represent women’s breasts, and are the reason why this stone was chosen for the circle, but there are other stones in the area with the same ‘breasts’.
According to Dartmoor 365 , if you stand in the centre of the circle, you can see the sun set over this tall stone on a midsummer evening.
We watch the clouds on the horizon, forming shapes which change by the minute: a bird, a fish, it’s gone.
Imagine a summer night at the stones, with the bowl of the valley beneath our feet, and the bowl of sky above. Stars, moon and planets slowly swing by. What constellations and planets rise and set on the horizon? Behind which hills? At what hour? There would be the usual two circles in the sky – one the path of the stars, and the other the path of the sun, moon and planets. Perhaps at special times, beacons were lit on the hilltops, making another circle of light. And at the centre of it all the stone circle – in vibrant stillness.
There are many legends about the stones – my favourite is a modern one told on the Legendary Dartmoor site:
“A modern happening reported in 1998 was that a small herd of moorland ponies were seen to walk up to the circle. The herd leader entered the ring of stones and stood there for about a minute, it then rejoined the rest of the ponies. One by one all the ponies did the same thing, went into the circle stood there for 30 – 60 seconds and then came out. All the animals faced the same direction whilst they were stood in the stone ring. It was suggested at the time that the ponies were ‘taking energy’ from the stones – who knows?”
I wonder what direction the ponies were facing? My guess would be that were facing south-east towards the rocky outcrop of Kes tor. I don’t know why I think that.
Walking down the hill from the circle to the river, we first cross the Walla Brook, a lovely fast flowing stream with many-coloured water plants waving in the flow.
The Walla flows into the North Teign River, and as it approaches the junction the sound of the water becomes musical. The shape of the stream bed and the boulders it flows around make it drum and tinkle and trill as it flows.
The Tolmen Stone
Just downstream of the meeting point of the Walla and the Teign is a large boulder which has a hole in it big enough to allow an average sized person through. Called the Tolmen stone, its name derives from the Celtic words for hole and stone, (in a similar etymology to the Cornish Men an Tol stone).
The Legendary Dartmoor site has several stories about the stone, including the legend that it was used by Druids for purification: wrongdoers would be lowered through the hole into the water for lustration. Possible other associations would be with fertility or healing, and of course the stone forms a portal.
There are some nice pictures of modern use of the stone here!
Imagine on a summers night, people walk down into the valley, coming from Kes Tor perhaps, and they pause at the river, listening to the music of the waters. One by one they cross the bridge and step out onto the Tolmen stone. With help where needed each one passes down through the hole into the waters of the river, making a transition to sacred land. They wash and then sit a while by the river before walking up to Scorhill circle and the special night.
 Burl, A. 2000. The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, London: Yale University Press. Quoted by Legendary Dartmoor
 “Dartmoor 365: An Exploration of Every One of the 365 Square Miles in the Dartmoor National Park”, by John Hayward. (Scorhill is in square E.12).