The following is our view of the top ten stone circles in Britain, covering the neolithic and bronze age. During this period, 1,300 stone circles were constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BC.
1 : Avebury
Avebury is a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles, around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, in southwest England. Unique amongst megalithic monuments, Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe, and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain.
Constructed around 2600 BC, during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises a large henge(that is a bank and a ditch) with a large outer stone circle and two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is unknown, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremony. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.
2 : Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Amesbury and 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthworks. It is in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.
Archaeologists believe it was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. Radiocarbon dating in 2008 suggested that the first stones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC, whilst another theory suggests that bluestones may have been raised at the site as early as 3000 BC.
The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury Henge. It is a national legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge is owned bythe Crown and managed by English Heritage, while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.
3 : The Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic henge and stone circle in Orkney, Scotland. Most henges do not contain stone circles; Brodgar is a striking exception, ranking with Avebury (and to a lesser extent Stonehenge) among the greatest of such sites. The ring of stones stands on a small isthmus between theLochs of Stenness and Harray.
These are the northernmost examples of circle henges in Britain. Unlike similar structures such as Avebury, there are no obvious stones inside the circle, but since the interior of the circle has never been excavated by archaeologists, the possibility remains that wooden structures, for example, may be present. It is generally thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, and was, therefore, the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness.
4 : The Callanish Stone
The Callanish Stones, are situated near the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (Western Isles of Scotland). Construction of the site took place between 2900 and 2600 BC, though there were possibly earlier buildings before 3000 BC.
The tallest of the stones marks the entrance to a burial cairn where human remains have been discovered. An excavation campaign in 1980 and 1981 showed that the burial chamber was a late addition to the site, and that it had been modified a number of times. Pottery finds suggested a date of 2200 BC for the erection of the circle.
5 : Castlerigg Stone Circle
The stone circle at Castlerigg is situated near Keswick inCumbria, North West England. One of around 1,300 stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany, it was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BC, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages.
Various archaeologists have commented positively on the beauty and romance of the Castlerigg ring and its natural environment. Current thinking has linked Castlerigg with the Neolithic Langdale axe industry in the nearby Langdale fells, with the circle acting as a meeting place where these axes were traded or exchanged.
Ritually deposited stone axes are frequently found all over Britain, suggesting that their use went far beyond their mundane practical capabilities. Because of this, any exchange or trading of stone axes may not have been possible without first taking part in a ritual or ceremony. Castlerigg stone circle could have been the space in which these rituals and ceremonies were enacted.
6 : Swinside Stone Circle
Swinside, which is also known as Sunkenkirk and Swineshead, is a stone circle lying beside Swinside Fell, part ofBlack Combe in southern Cumbria, North West England. it was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BC.
The stones used in the construction of Swinside were porphyritic slate collected from the adjacent fells, and are of the type that was known locally as ‘grey cobbles’ by the 20th century. The ring has a diameter of about 93 ft 8ins (26.8m), and currently contains 55 stones, although when originally constructed there probably would have been around 60.
7 : Rollright Stones
The Rollright Stones are a complex of three Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monuments located near to the village ofLong Compton on the borders of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire in the English Midlands.
Constructed from local oolitic limestone, the three separate monuments, now known as The King’s Men, The King Stone and The Whispering Knights, are each distinct in their design and purpose, and were each built at different periods in late prehistory. The stretch of time during which the three monuments were erected here bears witness to a continuous tradition of ritual behaviour on sacred ground, from the 4th to the 2nd millennium BC.
8 : Mitchell’s Fold
Mitchell’s Fold (sometimes called Medgel’s Fold or Madges Pinfold) is a Bronze Age stone circle in South-West Shropshire, located near the small village of White Grit on dry heathland at the south-west end of Stapeley Hill in the civil parish of Chirbury with Brompton, at a height of 1083 ft (330m)
As with most sites of this type, its true history is unknown. The name of the circle may derive from ‘micel’ or ‘mycel’, Old English for ‘big’, referring to the size of this large circle.
Its doleritic stones came from nearby Stapeley Hill. Many of them are now missing and others are fallen. In the beginning there may have been some thirty stone pillars. The survivors that still stand range in height from 10ins to 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m), and stand in an ellipse 89 ft (27 m) NW-SE by 82 ft (25 m) The tallest is at the south-east end of the major axis, standing, perhaps by coincidence or design, close to the line of the southern moonrise. This pillar and a companion have been taken to flank an entrance about 6 ft (1.8 m) wide.
9 : Long Meg and Her Daughters
Long Meg and Her Daughters is a Bronze Age stone circle near Penrith in Cumbria, North West England. One of around 1,300 stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany, it was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BC. The stone circle is the sixth-biggest example known from this part of north-western Europe, being slightly smaller than the rings at Stanton Drew in Somerset, the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney and Newgrange in County Meath.
It primarily consists of 59 stones (of which 27 remain upright) set in an oval shape measuring 100 m on its long axis. There may originally have been as many as 70 stones. Long Meg herself is a 3.6 m high monolith of red sandstone 25 m to the southwest of the circle made by her Daughters. Long Meg is marked with examples of megalithic art including acup and ring mark, a spiral and rings of concentric circles.
10 : Stanton Drew stone circles
The Stanton Drew stone circles are just outside the village of Stanton Drew in the English county of Somerset. The largest stone circle is the Great Circle, 113 metres (371 ft) in diameter and the second largest stone circle in Britain (after Avebury); it is considered to be one of the largest Neolithic monuments to have been built. It was made a scheduled monument in 1982.
The Great Circle was surrounded by a ditch and is accompanied by smaller stone circles to the north east and south west.There is also a group of three stones, known as The Cove in the garden of the local pub. Slightly further from the Great Circle is a single stone, known as Hautville’s Quoit. Some of the stones are still vertical, however the majority are now recumbent and some are no longer present.