"A Massive Piece of Granite"

It is a family joke that whenever a large piece of stone is seen, one person asks “What is it?” and the other answers – slowly and after much deliberation and head scratching – “well, it’s a massive piece of granite”. For, many years ago, this was the only answer we got from an old countryman at an ancient stone burial chamber that towered above us.
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Burial chambers, stone circles and other standing stones, which mostly date back 5000 years or so are reasonably common around Britain,and a surprising number of them are quite impressive. There are several scattered around the Cotswolds and I have written about our little known and little visited Old Soldier and also the very well known and very much visited stone circle, the Rollright Stones.
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The Old Soldier
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The Rollright Stones
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Far more scarce and, perhaps even more impressive, are the stone ‘clapper’ bridges. These are often not as old as they look although, even these, were probably built the best part of a 1000 years ago. I find these bridges, which are mostly in the West Country on Dartmoor and Exmoor, just as impressive as Stonehenge, England’s world famous ancient stone monument. The clapper bridge in the photoographs below is at Postbridge, on Dartmoor, in the county of Devon. This clapper bridge was built to aid the transport of tin from moorland mines about 1200AD.
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The ‘new’ bridge in the background, which carries the road and car traffic over the East Dart river is a mere upstart, having been built about 1780. In the photo below, I love the way the arch of the new bridge is framed by the ‘arch’ of the old one.
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The granite slabs measure over 4 metres (13ft) long and are over 2 metres (6ft 6in) wide and weigh over 8 tons each. Despite this, over the centuries they have been swept away downstream by floods. Some have been rebuilt many times, others lost forever. However did they, without modern technology, transport them?
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The bridge just invites you to step onto it and it can be the starting point of many walks that lead across the open moorland. It was for me, a couple of months ago. On that walk, I found deserted settlements and the most incredible stone circle – unusual in that there were two circles side by side. I shall write more of this soon.
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Even now, when a special occasion needs to be commemorated it is to stone that we often turn to. To my knowledge, no modern material is in common use to mark the burial place of a loved one: we mark our graves in a very similar way as our most distant ancestors, with stone slabs.
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We also use stone to mark more joyous occasions. This standing stone was placed on Ibstone Common, high in the Chiltern Hills, to commemorate the millenium. A small thread that unites us through 5000 years of history and far into the future – a comforting thought.
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10 thoughts on “"A Massive Piece of Granite"

  1. I so enjoyed this post … you do bring this so well-loved part of the country to life for those of us who haven't seen it.It is fascinating that we indeed do use stone to commemorate special occasions! Something basic about that need! The clapper bridge is an amazing feat of construction … I wonder how they did get those massive pieces of stone out there?

  2. Dear Johnson, One cannot help but be impressed by these huge pieces of granite and I especially like the bridges. One is, of course, left wondering at the immense weight with all of these stones requiring to be manhandled into place.

  3. Thanks to all of you for your comments and glad that you enjoyed this post.I love the history that is held in these stones – you can almost feel it seeping out of the rock in a way that no book can ever inform. I didn't know of the clapper bridge at Eastleach, PG. Not so very far from the secret valley so I shall have to add that to my list of places to visit.Johnson

  4. You really are a fine writer…and I especially enjoy when you write of England, and it's romance.. from Stone and Cobbles to Hedgerows and more. Thanks for this lovely post above..I will look at gravestones in a different way now.

  5. Many thanks for your comment on my blog… Yours is fascinating. I've just been reading a book (fiction) that has stone circles and prehistoric sites as its theme (it's not yet in print) and have been chatting to the author about British stones – and then here we are! I had no idea the Cotswolds were so well-endowed. The bridges are incredible too – that slab is unbelievable. We are so close to Tarr Steps that I suppose I've come to take it for granted. Off to check out more of your entries now – I see tempting tags such as Culbone and D&S on the sidebar!

  6. Many thanks, Bren & Jane,for your comments -especially those that relate to the writing rather than just the topic. It's not just big-headedness (probably is, really) – I am trying hard to improve the quality of my writing. Still some way to go, I fear.There are very many stones in the Cotswolds, some just used these days as marker stones half hidden in hedgerows. I hope to visit more of them when time permits.I purposely didn't mention Tarr Steps on Exmoor, Jane. Of course, it is my favourite of all! I shall be down on Exmoor in a few weeks time and hope to visit and get some photos. Tarr Steps, for those that don't know, is another clapper bridge. It is in the very most beautiful of settings. Culbone church is another place I must see. I nearly did the walk last time I was in Porlock – but then I remembered the steep climb!Johnson

  7. What a fascinating entry! I'd never heard of or seen a clapper bridge before. Amazing stuff…I'm catching up on your blog (I'd lost the link awhile back and am so glad to have found it again!). I'm an American who loves "everything England." I really do enjoy these informative and beautiful slices of English life that you provide.

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