We visited Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle, situated high in the beautiful Shropshire hills close to the border between England and Wales, on another showery day. This is the county's best prehistoric stone circle and can be found near the small village of White Grit, just off the A458 approximately 15 miles south west of Shrewsbury.
Under our umbrella, we started the short walk from the car park up on to open moorland with terrific views over the surrounding countryside. In June, the land was very green with lots of heather and ferns growing. And as usual, our discussions touched on the reasons why these ancient people would have spent their valuable time and resources building stone circles. We often think about prehistoric times as times of hardship and survival, but the simple fact that our forebears made the effort to build monuments that weren't shelter shows that they weren't living on the edge of starvation. That they had the knowledge, means and manpower to undertake such tasks.
Stone circles can tell us many things, even if we're not completely sure what purpose they served. Dotted around the landscape seemingly at random, stone circles have long fascinated people for both scientific and mystical reasons. We're no exception and the stones played along.
As we approached the circle the rain stopped and the sky brightened. It was as if this mystical place wanted us to see it at its best, all freshly washed, with angry clouds piled up in impressive configurations, before they dropped the next rain.
Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle is a bronze age ritual or ceremonial site that is approximately 80 feet in diameter and is thought to have been made from up to 30 stones. The stones are dolerite and come from Stapeley Hill, just a short distance away. The largest surviving stone is believed to be one of a pair that would have been part of an impressive doorway 3000 years ago.
This is a landscape with a large concentration of prehistoric activity including other stone circles, cairns, and barrows. A nearby outcrop of hard igneous picrite is believed to be an important stone axe factory where axe-hammers were made.
The Clwd-Powys Archaeological Trust have produced a well described walk (5-6 miles long) that navigates its way between a number of these sites and can be found on their website here. Select the walk CORNDON.
A word of caution:
Be aware that the weather can change very quickly, so if you're planning to hike further afield and explore other prehistoric sites or the landscape ensure that you are prepared for sudden weather changes.
Legends grew up around many prehistoric stone circles, a popular way to explain their existence. The local legend is from a time of prolonged famine when a fairy gave a magical cow to the people. The cow was able to produce large quantities of fresh milk and the people were nourished. However, one night a wicked witch called Mitchell milked the cow through a sieve. The cow was very disappointed with this waste of her precious life saving milk and disappeared. Mitchell's hurtful behaviour resulted in her being turned to stone and the stone circle was built around her to prevent her escaping.
Apparently, this story has been carved into one of the sandstone pillars of a nearby Middleton-in-Chirbury Church, maybe as a cautionary tale of warning not to disrespect gifts.
And of course there has to be local folklore that Arthur drew Excalibur from one of the stones to become the King of Britain!
The whole time we spent up on the hillside to explore the stores, the weather held. But no sooner had we returned to the car, than the heavens opened again. Do stone circles have magic that controls the weather? This one seemed to - and gave us the perfect visit.
Shropshire is a marvellous place for history and food lovers! There's so much to see and do and taste, that you'll need more than just a short visit. If food is your thing, head to Ludlow and start exploring from there. For history lovers, Shrewsbury makes a great base with many historical sites in very easy reach.
Here are a few places that should go on your must-see list:
If you enjoyed reading about Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle and would like to read more on Shropshire historic sites then please click here.
If you would like to know more about stone circles and other prehistoric sites, please click here to read about prehistoric England.