Wessex Attractions: The Rollright Stones

According to local folklore, an army serving under an unnamed king was marching across the border between Wessex and Mercia when they were accosted by a witch named Mother Shipton, who said to them “Seven long strides thou shalt take, and if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!”. The king marched forward, but the ground rose in front of him, blocking his view. “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 I myself an elder tree!”, cackled other Shipton. And so the Rollright Stones (and an elder tree) were created. Incidentally, the real Mother Shipton was Ursula Southell (c1488-1561), a seeress from Knaresborough, Yorkshire. She seems to have been brought into the tale due to the similarity of her married name to that of the nearby town of Shipton-under-Wychwood.

Today the stones are maintained by English Heritage and the Rollright Trust. They are accessible via laybys on an unnamed road north of Chipping Norton. Stagecoach bus number 50 from Stratford Upon Avon to Chipping Norton stops in nearby Long Compton, from which you can reach the stones on foot, provided the ground doesn’t rise up in front of you. The postcode is OX7 5QB and the what3words is ///circus.highs.helpless

Wessex Attractions: Bratton Camp

Anyone who has travelled through Westbury in Wiltshire cannot fail to have noticed the magnificent white horse carved into the side of Bratton Camp hillfort, visible from the approach to the railway station three miles away. It is believed to have been carved in the late 17th century to commemorate the Battle of Ethandun, which possibly took place at the site. White Horses will be the subject of a later Essential Wessex post. so this post will concentrate on Bratton Camp itself.

The hillfort dates back to the Iron Age, though three Neolithic barrows have been found on the site. It was excavated in 1775 by Jeffrey Whittaker, who found Roman and Saxon coins on the site. Nearby Bratton Down is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and home to the rare Adonis Blue Butterfly and Forester Moth.

Bratton Camp is reachable by public footpath, and the modern Port Way passes through the site. The satnav postcode is BA13 3EP and the what3words code is buggy.protrude.reboot

Wessex Attractions: Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill is a neolithic chalk mound near Avebury in Wiltshire, the largest artificial mound in Europe. Roughly contemporary with the Egyptian pyramids, it is comparable in size, though its function is unknown, There is no known burial associated with the site, although local legend tells of a King Sil, who was buried along with his horse, both clad in golden armour. It is part of the Avebury UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The mund was not built all at once. Current archaeological research suggests that it was built over a period of around 120 years, between 2470 and 2350 BC. A geophysical survey has revealed evidence of a later Roman road and settlement near the site.

The legendary King Sil, or Zel, is sometimes said to haunt the mound, riding hs gold-armoured horse. Another legend, common to many prehistoric mounds. is that the Devil dumped a load of earth there in order to conceal a golden statue, because reasons. An excavation in 1849 had to be called off due to a thunderstorm, confirming the superstitions of the locals.

Silbury Hill is free to visit, though climbing the hill is forbidden due to the erosion of the site caused by large numbers of visitors. The postcode is SN8 1QH, and the what3words code is appointed.deal.confused. Bus routes 42 and X76 serve nearby West Kennett.

Wessex Attractions: Bishop’s Waltham Palace

The bishops of Winchester in the middle ages enjoyed a level of wealth and political power that would have had Jesus reaching for his whip of cords. One symbol of this prestige was the magnificent palace at Bishop’s Waltham, now a ruin maintained by English Heritage.

Originally a manor granted to the bishopric of Winchester by Edward the Elder in 904, the first palace was probably built by Henry de Blois, bishop of WInchester from 1129 to 1171, some time near the beginning of his tenure. It was extensively renovated by William of Wykeham, bishop from 1367 to 1404, and again by his successors, Henry of Beaufort and Thomas Langton.

During the English civil war (1642-9), Bishop’s Waltham was a royalist stronghold. but was captured by the parliamentarians and, it would appear, burnt down. Whether this was done accidentally or deliberately is not clear.

After World War 2, the property passed to the Ministry of Works, and then to English Heritage. The ruins are free to visit, open to the public daily between the hours of 10am and 5pm. There is a small museum which opens at weekends from noon to 4pm. The postcode is SO32 1DH and the palace is served by buses 7, 8, 17 and 69. The nearest railway station is Botley, 3½ miles away.

Wessex Attractions: Greyfriars, Gloucester

We have already covered the Dominican Blackfriars monastery in Gloucester on this blog. Now it is the turn of its Franciscan counterpart, located two minutes’ walk away. The Dominicans and Franciscans were two different mendicant orders in the Catholic Church, both founded in the early 13th century. Whilst the similarities between them outnumbered the differences, the Franciscans favoured a simpler, less academic preaching style than the Dominicans, and were more severe in their vows of poverty.

The friary at Gloucester was founded in 1231, and the church was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style by the wealthy Berkeley family in the 16th century, shortly before the dissolution of the monasteries. The building was heavily damaged during the English civil war, and only a shell remains today.

The property is now maintained by English heritage, and is open to the public free of charge during daylight hours. It is situated half a mile from Gloucester bus and railway stations, and the postcode is GL1 2EZ.