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Myths of the Rollright Stones

From Chipping Norton to an ancient site associated with a charming legend.

Distance 8 miles (12.9km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 295ft (90m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Field paths and tracks, country roads, 9 stiles

Landscape Rolling hills on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 191 Banbury, Bicester & Chipping Norton

Start/finish SP 312270

Dog friendliness Under control or on lead across farmland, one lengthy stretch of country road and busy streets in Chipping Norton

Parking Free car park off A44, in centre of Chipping Norton

Public toilets At car park

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1 Follow the A44 downhill. Pass Penhurst School, then veer right, through a kissing gate. Skirt the left-hand edge of the recreation ground and aim for a gate. Descend to a bridge and, when the path forks, keep right. Go up the slope to three stiles and keep ahead along the right edge of the field. Make for a gate and drop down to some double gates in the corner.

2 Cross a track just beyond the gates and walk towards Salford, keeping the hedge on the left. Continue into the village and soon turn right by a patch of grass and a sign, 'Trout Lakes - Rectory Farm'.

3 Follow the track to a right-hand bend. Go straight ahead here, following the field edge. Make for a gate ahead and turn right in the next field. About 100yds (91m) before the field corner, turn left and follow the path across to an opening in the boundary. Veer left, then immediately right to skirt the field. Cross a little stream and maintain your direction in the next field to reach the road.

4 Turn left, then left again for Little Rollright. After visiting the church, retrace your steps to the D'Arcy Dalton Way on the left. Follow the path up the field slope to the road. Cross over and continue on the way between fields. Head for some trees and approach a stile. Don't cross it; instead, turn left and skirt the field, passing close to the Whispering Knights.

5 On reaching the road, turn left and visit the site of the Rollright Stones. Return to the Whispering Knights, head down the field to the stile and cross it to an immediate second stile. Walk ahead along a grassy path and turn right at the next stile towards Brighthill Farm. Pass alongside the buildings to a stile, head diagonally right down the field to a further stile, keep the boundary on your right and head for a stile in the bottom right corner of the field. Make for the bottom right corner of the next field, go through a gate and skirt the field, turning left at the road.

6 Keep right at the next fork and head towards the village of Over Norton. Walk through the village to the T-junction. Turn right and, when the road swings to the left by Cleeves Corner, join a track signposted 'Salford'. When the hedges give way, look for a waymark on the left. Follow the path down the slope, make for two kissing gates and then follow the path alongside a stone wall to reach the parish church. Join Church Lane and follow it as far as the T-junction. Turn right and return to the town centre.

Commanding a splendid position overlooking the rolling hills and valleys of the north east Cotswolds, the Rollright Stones comprise the Whispering Knights, the King's Men and the King Stone. These intriguing stones are steeped in myth and legend.

It seems a king was leading his army in this quiet corner of Oxfordshire while five of his knights stood together conspiring against him. The king met a witch near by who told him he would be King of England if he could see the settlement of Long Compton in seven long strides. As he approached the top of the ridge a mound of earth suddenly rose up before him, preventing him from seeing the village and so the king, his soldiers and his knights were all turned to stone.

In reality the Rollright Stones form a group of megalithic monuments created from large natural boulders found near the site. The stones are naturally pitted, giving them astonishing and highly unusual shapes. The five Whispering Knights are the remains of a Portal Dolmen burial chamber, probably constructed around 3800-3000 bc, long before the stone circle. It is the easternmost burial chamber of this kind in Britain. The King Stone stands alone and apart from the others, just across the county boundary in Warwickshire. The 8ft (2.4m) tall single standing stone was almost certainly erected to mark the site of a Bronze-Age cemetery which was in use around 1800-1500 bc.

Finally, you come to the King's Men Stone Circle - a ceremonial monument thought to have been built around 2500-2000 bc. There are over 70 stones here, but it has been said they are impossible to count. Originally there were about 105 stones forming a continuous wall except for one narrow entrance. The King's Men Stones are arranged in an unditched circle about 100ft (30m) across and ranging in size from just a few inches to 7ft (2m). Here and there the stones are so close they almost touch.

It is not clear what the stone circle was used for but it may well have had some significance in religious and secular ceremonies. Between 200 and 300 people can fit within the circle, though it is not known how many people would attend these ceremonies or what form they took. Most mysterious of all is why this particular site was chosen. Many visitors to the Rollright Stones have questioned their origin over the years but they remain a mystery. Appropriate for such a legend as this, the remote hilltop setting of these timeless stones has more than a hint of the supernatural about it.

Where to eat and drink

Chipping Norton offers a variety of pubs, hotels and tea rooms. Try the rambling old Blue Boar with its views of the Market Place and the town's many historic buildings and a good choice of dishes, including Gloucestershire sausages and baked rabbit. The Black Horse at Salford offers the chance to stop off for refreshment during the walk.

While you're there

Have a look at Chipping Norton, or 'Chippy' as the locals call it. One of the gateways to the Cotswolds, the town prospered as a result of the wool trade. The church, though not prominently situated in the town, is impressive.

What to look for

The manor house at Little Rollright was once important. It was the home of William Blower who gave St Philip's Church its pinnacled tower in 1617. The church, which dates mostly from the 15th century, has two 17th-century monuments to the local Dixon and Blower families.

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