The Devil’s Quoits

Having visited a fake cave, I was intrigued to visit a fake stone circle.

In its early bronze age heyday, Devil’s Quoits comprised of 36 standing stones in a ring with a 79m diameter. Between the middle ages and the present all but one went missing. Today most of them have been relocated, rounded up and rounded off with 20 brand new quoits.

There are no rock paintings, no visible engraving and, as on the overcast days we visited, merely grey stone with little to see.

In the RPG franchise Assassin’s Creed, we come across a fantastical henge known as Devil’s Quoits.

Thunder threatens, fragments of tribal design glow from the rock. As our avatar says upon completing a puzzle, there is a “strange energy here”.

In search of their secrets, the Quoits have been energetically excavated several times since 1940. Many of the stones have been returned from their medieval berths and some twenty are brand new contemporary reconstructions.

These blocks of conglomerate, unworn by age they retain an industrial pebble-dash quality which sets them apart from the remaining stones with their solid appearance and lichen coat.

Wandering in and out of the stones, in a mode of spectatorship I had learned in art galleries and museums, I could not quite taste a full neolithic feast or hear the sound of collective percussion bounce off the surrounding ring of rock.

I could however place my hand on the mossy stone. I imagined I could feel warmth. Perhaps even a pulse. I felt myself to be in the presence of sentience. Or at least that’s what I wanted to believe.

I should have exercised a similar trial of faith with one of the twenty unlovely, more recent aggregations of small round stone and sandy clay.

These too must have carried an exciting psychic charge: each one remains a vessel for the good intentions of a unified group of stakeholders from the local parish council to Oxford University.

Our contemporary rituals comprise form filling and fund raising, aerial reconnaissance and the operation of a crane, sling and hoist. Who’s to say these energies are any less powerful than those of 4,000 years ago.

To get here I navigated rural B-roads and defied the arrival of rain. I asked my young daughter to count the quoits. which bought me enough time to observe my fellow stone watchers. Photos were taken. Hikes were resumed.

As a rambler like any other, I made a holiday destination of this monumental structure. But like a baffled viking avatar running back and forth I was also trying in vain to read the scene before me.

Those new quoits, the sand-coloured replicas on all sides, appeared to insist that a stone is a stone is a stone.

Meaning, in both cases, may reside in configuration rather than any inherent properties of the original quoits. The circle is a detail on an OS map now rather than a scene of gathering for purposes unknown.

Devil’s Quoits can be found near Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire.

Further reading:

Devil’s Quoits on Wikipedia // Devil’s Quoits on Heritage Gateway // Devil’s Quoits on Archaeology UK

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