This Strange, Evocative Site
An article by Martin Palmer, Director of the Sacred Land Project
(This article was written in September 1997 before the establishment of the Rollright Trust. At this time the future of the Rollrights was unclear and it seemed that the efforts of the Oxfordshire-based Rollright Stones Appeal were going to be scuppered by backstabbing, over inflated egos, ambition and jealousy. As it turned out they weren’t and it was all worth it! - JA)
Ever since I was a child, I have heard tell of the Rollright Stones. I grew up close to the wonderful circles of Stanton Drew in Somerset and in my teenage years I lived within cycling distance of Avebury. These great sites were a part of my very upbringing. Places which said to me the spiritual quest is worth the effort. And always I heard of the Rollrights. Perhaps it was their evocative name conjuring up images of great monoliths which somehow had rolled into a circle. Or the graphic description of them as wormholed stones of antiquity. I cannot put my finger upon what it is that has always created a sense of excitement in me when I hear their name.
Like so many, I finally found them and was startled by their simplicity. Today, so may special places have lost their charm because they have been “discovered” or “developed”. Stonehenge must stand as an awful warning of how such spaces can be destroyed spiritually and atmospherically. I fear Avebury is swiftly going that way. Long may Stanton Drew remain stuck in the middle of a somewhat obdurate farmer’s field!
I love the simplicity of the Rollrights. The tiny lay-by, the fence and lack of “interpretation” boards. So often it seems to me that in “discovering our heritage” we lose our sacred spaces. Try attending a service in one of our great cathedrals and you will soon find out how uncomfortable it is to be either viewed as part of the tourist trip or resented because tour groups cannot enter where you are worshipping.
So, whatever the future may hold for the Rollrights, I hope it is minimalist, simple and open for that is so rare today and must be treasured.
But what of the future? The last six months have been a troubling time for those who love the Stones. The decision of the owner to sell unleashed waves of idealism, optimism and excitement. Great promises were made and empires of the air floated (I wonder who that’s referring to? - John A). Everyone seemed to want to be part of the action.
My group, the Sacred Land Project - established to assist environmental improvements to ancient sacred sites and help create new ones - became involved early on. Our interest was in enhancing the natural environment within which the Stones are set and we have said we are happy to work with any group so long as it fulfils our three basic criteria - it must be run by the local community, be open to all and have disabled access.
The Local Community
We were delighted therefore when the local community created its own group and gave what help we could. Through the hard work of local people it has become impossible to think of any future for the Rollrights which will not include local people and local communities. In this way alone the Rollright Stones Appeal has changed the way forward. By stressing the ecumenical and interfaith nature of the site, some of the sillier notions of some groups have been thoroughly cast aside. By stressing the openness of the site, the fears of the Rollrights being “heritised” have been assuaged.
The future of the Rollrights is still somewhat unclear (not anymore! - JA). What is clear is that it will be community based: locally accountable; environmentally sensitive and open. I don’t think this could have been the case were it not for the trials and tribulations of the struggles of the last six months.
Now is the time for all who love this strange, evocative site to work together to ensure the Rollrights continue to weave their own brand of wonder for centuries to come.
Martin Palmer Director of the Sacred Land Project, September 1997