Iron Age to Druids
Stone circles are found in most regions of the British Isles - the Peak District is no exception! There are some good examples, but don't expect Stonehenge because the stones of most circles in the Peak are seldom taller than a metre. Many of the Peak District circles have also been vandalised over the years, for example the fire set round the Kings Stone on Stanton Moor which cracked it. Some of the cicles may not actually be stone circles, they could be the remains of the kerbs of barrows.
The fascination with stone circles is nothing new. Take, for example, Thomas Bateman. Bateman was born at Rowsley and helped run his family estate at Middleton-by-Youlgrave. He excavated many barrows and stone circles in the Peak District and Derbyshire. The artifacts he collected from his nineteenth century archaeological digs were sold by his family to the Sheffield Museum.
The best known stone circles of the Peak are the Nine Ladies on Stanton Moor and Arbor Low. Arbor Low is classed as a henge and therefore I have not included it on this page.
I have produced this page from notes taken some years ago when I first developed an interest in archaeology. Some of the information came from an evening class and some of it I believe came from a book entitled ‘Stone Circles of the Peak’. I will add more as time progresses.
Geometry and Alignments
Stone Circles are often associated with Druids and pagan ceremonies like sacrifices. The Peak District stone circles date back to the Bronze Age and earlier. That means Druids were not the builders, however, it is possible they used the stone circles of the Peak.
They may well have been built as ceremonial centres. They may have been astronomical observatories or calendars or possibly associated with trading routes. We just don't know.
Prof. Alexander Thom, a Scottish engineer became obsessed with stone circles. Thom visited and studied stone circles in Britain and France during the middle decades of the twentieth century. He classified the circles into groups based on shape and other geometrical features. He also identified many alignments of the stones with the Sun, Moon and stars.
Additionally, Thom identified a standard measurement that he termed the megalithic yard. This seemed to be a base standard for setting out the stones in all of the circles he studied. The counter culture of the 1960s and 1970s quickly seized upon this as evidence for the 'lost wisdom' of ancient peoples. His scientific studies thus became more associated with pseudoscience. In reality, the megalithic yard was probably just a body measurement, like the cubit.
Information about the geometry and mystical numbers is something about which I remain sceptical, but I have included it where I have the information, for those who are interested.
Stoke Flat, Froggatt Edge
This stone circle is best viewed in the winter, when the bracken is dead. Visiting on a misty day adds an aura of mystery to the setting. To find it, take the path along towards Froggatt Edge from the Hay Wood end. Walk through delightful silver birch woodland to reach a small stream and gate.
Go through the gate and continue along the path for about 200 metres or so. Just after the woodland gives way to moorland, Stoke Flat stone circle is on the left. It is easily spotted in the winter by its one tall stone (about 1m in height) which looks a like a small gatepost. Stoke Flat is hidden by vegetation in summer, but there is a path that leads through the bracken to the circle.
At first it seems very unimpressive since the rest of the stones are smaller and the wide, low earth bank has been disturbed in places. The bank is about 15 metres diameter, less than 0.5 metre in height and 2 - 3 metres in width. The inside edge is kept in place by a small two-course dry stone wall. To the NE and SW, the bank is cut by the entrances, diametrically opposed and something like 2.5 metres wide.
The northern entrance is blocked by rubble which is thought to be contemporaneous with the bank. The remaining stones show that there were two rings, one on each edge of the earth bank. It is not known how many stones there were originally - only 15 still remain and 6 of these are no longer standing. The stones were equally spacing, according to a report from 1848, so the missing ones must have been moved relatively recently. The stones of the entrances are placed with their faces parallel so as to give greater importance to these features of the ring.
Stoke Flat circle is believed to be a lunar circle. It seems to have been built to relate to the moon at the times of the solstices in particular, although other times are represented. The tall stone of the Southern entrance is lined up with the position of Arbor Low, when viewed from the norther entrance. The midsummer full moon would be seen to set here.
An observer sitting at the centre of the circle would see the midwinter Sun set into the centre of the stone. No stones remain to use as guides, but the rising point of the midwinter full Moon would have been marked by Curbar Edge, across the moor. One of the remaining stones marks the midsummer sunset by its left edge when viewed from the centre of the circle. Another stone on the outer edge of the earth bank could have been involved in the pinpointing of this event. It is thought that observations from this circle could have been used in eclipse prediction.
Geometry and mystical numbers
Stoke Flat is apparently based on circles; three are suggested. The outer and inner edges of the banks are two and the third one is the centre of the bank. The diameters and circumferences are integral because the dimensions are based on the use of multiples of seven. If squares are drawn within the circles they have the following perimeter measurements - 60, 50, 40.
Symbolically, the circle is an expression of the numbers 1 to 7. Number one is the whole and the numbers one to three are the basis of all things. Four represents the world and five the life force. Six is the unifying and harmonising number, whilst seven is the number of initiation which underlies the whole construction. The numbers are found from one whole site, two entrances, three circles, four , five and six from the circumferences of the circles and perimeters of the squares, seven in the width of the bank and the underlying construction.
Nine Stone Close, Harthill Moor
The standing stones of this circle are probably the most impressive in the Peak District National Park as they are about 2m in height. Unfortunately they are in an area that has been heavily farmed and now only 4 stones remain. It is on private land but is easily visible from the nearby Robin Hood’s Stride. In this case, Robin Hood is the local alternative to the ‘Green Man’, the old god of fertility, not the outlaw of Sherwood Forest. Originally the stones would have been equally spaced in a ring of about 15 metres in diameter.
Stone 1 is the most northerly. Stone 2 would have more or less marked the rising point of the midsummer Sun. It is aligned with the northern end of Stanton Moor, a significant area of high ground nearby. Stanton Moor is a major Bronze Age centre with at least one circle and many burial mounds.
The third stone is aligned with the nearby horizon of Cratcliffe, marking the midwinter sunrise. Presumably the stone missing between it and number 2 would have marked the equinox sunrise. It is thought that one of the key functions of Nine Stone Close would have been to help with eclipse prediction by following variations in the path of the midsummer full Moon using the nearby Robin Hood’s Stride rock formation.
Stanton Moor Stone Circles
The two most significant circles in the area are the Nine Ladies (on the moor itself) and Doll Tor. Doll Tor was unofficially reconstructed in 1993 and the mistakes from that were put right by English Heritage in 1994. Stanton Moor contains several other ring structures as well as a large number of Bronze Age burial mounds. Two of the rings resemble miniature henges and are regarded by many as stone circles although no standing stones are evident. It is possible that they are the remains (or beginnings) of burial cairns. In addition to the burial mounds, there is a prehistoric field, it is about 150m north of the main burial mound on the left of the main path. It is visible as a low bank of earth and is not particularly obvious because of the vegetation.