The Rollright Stones - History and Facts | History Hit

The Rollright Stones

Long Compton, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom

Harry Atkins

30 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Rollright Stones

A complex of megalithic monuments near the village of Long Compton in north west Oxfordshire, the Rollright Stones site comprises three distinct monuments, all constructed from local oolite limestone. Despite their close proximity, the monuments weren’t erected at the same time. In fact, they span nearly 2,000 years, ranging from the early Neolithic era (3,800-3,500 BC) to early to middle Bronze Age (1,500 BC).

The Rollright Stones history

The earliest of the monuments is known as the Whispering Knights, a dolmen (a type of megalithic tomb) that dates back to the early Neolithic era.

This was followed by the main stone circle, the King’s Men, thought to have been constructed around 1,000 years later, in the late Neolithic era. Measuring 33 metres in diameter and composed of 77 closely spaced stones, it’s unlikely that the circle we see today is as it would have been when it was originally built.

Over the years extensive reconstruction work has been carried out and analysis indicates that some of the stones were added in the late 19th century, presumably replacing original stones that were lost and damaged. Some historians suggest that the stones would originally have been closer together, perhaps even touching.

The third monument is the King Stone, a single 2.4 metre tall monolith that stands 76 metres north of the King’s Men circle. The monolith’s likely function has been debated over the years, but the most popular theory seems to be that it was a cemetery marker.

All three monuments owe their names to folklore. Legend has it that an ancient king, riding across the county with his men, encountered a local witch, who challenged him, saying:

“Seven long strides shalt thou take, If Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be.”

While his men gathered in a circle, the king accepted the challenge, taking seven strides as suggested, only to find that his view of Long Compton was obscured by a mound. The witch cackled:

“As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be, Rise up stick and stand still stone, For King of England thou shalt be none. Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, and myself an eldern tree!”

Whereupon the witch turned the king and his men to stone, including four knights who stood apart from the circle, whispering plots against the king.

The Rollright Stones today

The Rollright Stones are arguably less spectacular than the nearby prehistoric sites like Stonehenge or Avebury, but the site has a distinct atmosphere that’s definitely enhanced by a relative lack of crowds.

As you’d expect, the stones have suffered considerable erosion over thousands of years and the King’s Men circle has been altered. But gazing at these ancient, enigmatic monuments and contemplating their meaning, and the lives of the communities that erected them, remains a worthwhile experience.

Getting to The Rollright Stones

The stones are located just north of Chipping Norton on the Oxfordshire / Warwickshire border. If you’re driving, take the A44 and look for a minor road, signposted Little Compton.

If you fancy incorporating your visit into a walk through the surrounding countryside, you’ll find a few suggested routes online. We like this 5 mile round walk from Salford, a nearby village. It’s not too demanding and, as all good walks should, it ends at a pub.

There’s a small entrance fee to view the stone circle but the other monuments are free.

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