The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Harold’s Stones, Trellech, Monmouthshire.

SO4992 0514. Standing in a field just off the B4293 Chepstow road just south of Trellech village are three Bronze-Age standing stones, dating from 3,500 years ago, all that is now left of a probable stone row or stone circle. Monmouth is 5 miles to the south and Tintern 3 miles to the north-west. Trellech means ‘the place of the three stones’. The three stones or monoliths lean at different angles to each other and vary in height from 8 feet, 10 feet and almost 13 feet, the tallest stone having sunk into the ground and slipped leaving it at a crazy angle. A fourth standing stone apparently once stood close by but was robbed-away or destroyed in the late 18th century. The stones are made of conglomerate rock that is known as ‘Pudding Stone’.

According to legend, the stones were hurled by the giant, Jack o’Kent, from either the Skirrid Fawr (Holy Mountain) 12 miles away to the north-west or, from Beacon Hill, 1 mile to the east, while he was having a fight or playing a game with another giant or, perhaps the devil? King Harold of the English, known as Harold Godwinson, fought a ferocious battle hereabouts with a Welsh army in the 11th century; Harold was victorious although he lost many of his men in the onslaught. He had the stones erected here to commemorate that battle. However, there is no connection whatsoever with King Harold, the stones pre-date him by thousands of years. It is thought likely that religious ceremonies took place here – the stones being phallic symbols, with some magical significance to the ancient druids maybe another line of thinking – though they are not generally thought to be part of a druids’ circle.

Harold’s Stones, Trellech, Monmouthshire.

In the village church of St Nicholas, a 13th century building on a 7th century Saxon site, there is an interesting 17th-century four-sided sundial. Three of the faces show the historic features in the village each with it’s own Latin inscription; the three standing stones are depicted along with the inscription MAIOR SAXIS or ‘greater because of the stones’ and HIC FUIT VICTOR HARALDUS or ‘here Harold was victorious’. On the other faces of the sundial are St Anne’s well or The Virtuous Well, 300 yards along the Llandogo road, was where medieval pilgrims came to receive a miraculous cure, and Tump Terret a 20 foot-high mound in the grounds of Court farm behind the church, that was probably a 12th century motte and bailey castle or a keep that was built by the Norman de Clare family, although local legend says that the mound contains the bodies of King Harold’s men who were killed in the battle. But no excavations have taken place so we shall probably never know it’s real meaning only what can be learned from the locals who know a good tale or two!

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012. Updated 2023.

The Priapus Stone, Great Urswick, Cumbria

SD2704 7377. The ancient Priapus Stone is embedded into a wall beside a country lane half a mile south of Great Urswick village, near Holme Bank farm, and 4 miles south of Ulverston. There is much uncertainty about it’s age but it is probably prehistoric in origins and almost certainly pre-dates Christianity. This block of un-hewn limestone which measures 7 foot long by 2 foot 7 inches wide and 1 foot thick used to stand upright in the field on the other side of the wall till 1920. It is said to weigh upto one and quarter tons and was brought from a nearby quarry. There are six small holes at the head of the stone, five of which are in a cluster. These little holes apparently allowed women to place their fingers in as a kind of ancient fertility rite, but the stone itself is very crudely phallic in shape, supposedly fashioned to look like male genitalia, representing the ancient Greek and Roman god Priapus.

The Priapus Stone, Cumbria.

Back in the mists of time the women of Great Urswick would perform a fertility rites ceremony and decorate the stone to look like the god Priapus, son of Aphrodite. On midsummer’s day, in particular, coloured pieces of rag were smeared with sheep’s saliva or butter and placed over the stone; the head part was decorated with flowers – all this in the hope of a fruitful procreation being helped on. The ancient Greeks and, later the Romans, honoured Priapus with painted pictures on temple and villa walls, and often tiny statuettes were kept by ladies with the god himself usually depicted as a young, well-endowed man with “over-sized genitalia”. Today the stone in the wall at Great Urswick is slowly becoming forgotten, no such rituals and rites take place now, or do they?

Devil’s Arrows, Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire

One of the Bronze-Age arrows.

One of the Bronze-Age arrows.

OS grid reference: SE 3910 6650. The three large standing stones, part of a stone row, are located between Bar lane and Roecliffe lane to the south-west of Boroughbridge, close to the A168 and A1(M) roads. Two of the stones stand in a farmer’s field, while the third stands in the garden of a private house 110 metres to the south. They date from the early Bronze-Age over 4,000 years ago and are now heavily worn at their tops, due probably to rain running down causing grooving or fluting in the millstone grit surfaces. It is thought the stones were quarried at Knaresborough 7 miles to the south-west.

These three monoliths, also called ‘the three sisters’, are orientated north to south and stand on an almost true alignment which is 374 metres long, something that was perfected by the ancient people who lived here – the three uprights stand as a testament to the great ingenuity of their time. Another one or perhaps two stones are now lost – having quite probably been robbed away, broken up and used locally; indeed one of the stones was thought to have been used to build the 16th century bridge over the river Tutt at Aldborough.

Devil’s Arrows, North Yorkshire (picture credit Sydney Tranter).

The three surviving standing stones measure between 5.4 metres and 6.8 metres high (16-22) feet high, each weighing-in at around 20-30 tonnes and buried into the ground by upto 1.5 metres. At around 5.4 metres (16 feet high) and 6.7 metres in circumference is the northern-most of the stones, while the second, central most stone 61 metres further south is 6.7 metres high and 5.4 metres in circumference, and the third stone located on the opposite side of the lane beside a private house is 6.8 metres (22 feet) in height.

There are a number of crazy legends associated with the Devil’s Arrows, the most famous one being that the devil was shooting or throwing stone arrows from nearby Howe Hill at the Roman town of Aldborough, a few miles away but, much to his annoyance, he missed the target. Reputedly the devil shouted the warning “Borobrigg keep out o’way for Aldboro town I will bring down”. Another legend says the devil hung himself from the tallest stone. One legend had it that human sacrifices were placed on top of the pointed stones and left to die there, their blood flowing down the grooves. It is probable the stones were used as a kind of astronomical alignment or for sun-worshipping by Bronze-Age people. Many people visiting the stones today claim to be able to feel energy flowing out of the stones, this can be affected by hugging the stones, similar to hugging trees perhaps!