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One of the lesser known attractions in Oxfordshire is the amazing ancient site of the Rollright Stones Cotswolds.
Although many people think that it’s just a stone circle, there are actually three ancient megalithic sites on the complex.
They are called the King’s Stone, The King’s Men and the Whispering Knight due to a famous legend!
It’s also connected to J. R. R. Tolkien who is thought to have used this place as inspiration for the Lord of the Rings legendarium.
Here is a complete guide for visiting the Rollright Stones Cotswolds and the top things to do here!
What are the Rollright Stones in the Cotswolds?
The Rollright Stones are an ancient site and complex that contains three Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments near the village of Long Compton. This is tucked away on the borderline between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire in the Cotswolds.
The site dates back to over 5,000 years ago but the monuments were all built at different points in history over the course of 2,000 years. Many say all three ancient sites are connected.
Antiquarians have been uncovering their mysteries for centuries. Nowadays, it’s a popular attraction in the Cotswolds which draws thousands of visitors each year.
Rollright Stones history
You’re probably wondering, how old are the Rollright Stones? Well, each of the megalithic sites has different origins.
This area which used to be a sacred ritual grounds for prehistoric humans dates back to over 6,000 years ago to the late Mesolithic period.
But, the Jurassic limestone monuments were constructed much later. The first stones to be constructed were the Whispering Knights in the Neolithic period over 5,000 years ago in 3,500BC.
Next, was the King’s Men stone circle that was constructed in the early Bronze Age in 2,500BC.
The last was the King’s Stone but this has not been officially dated. The best guess is that it was constructed in the Bronze Age as well in 1,500 BC.
Although they are prehistoric, these stones are now known as the King’s Stone, the King’s Men, and the Whispering Knight due to a local legend from the middle ages.
The Rollright Stones legend
Of course, a stone circle that’s been around for this long is sure to have a wealth of legends surrounding it. Some say the stones leave to go for a drink at night, others claim these have fertility sources and act as oracles.
However, the main legend is of the Rollright Stones Witch. The story goes that a king was marching on The Cotswolds with his army when they met a witch called Mother Shipton, a famous prophetess. She challenged the king and said;
“Seven long strides thou shalt take, says she, And if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!”
So, the King accepted the challenge and on his seventh stride, a mound suddenly appeared that obscured his view. The witch cackled and said:
“As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be! Rise up stick and stand still stone, For King of England thou shalt be none; Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, And I myself an elder tree!”
The witch then turned them all into stone! That’s why there is a King’s Stone that stands alone on the other side of the road.
There are also the King’s men which is the petrified army as a stone circle and the Whispering Knights who looked like they were plotting treachery.
So, what happened to this witch? Well, apparently she became an elder tree that is perched in the hedges nearby. If it’s ever cut down, the spell will be broken and the stones will come back to life!
But, there is also a legend that says when the church clock strikes midnight the king comes alive once again. So, maybe you could find out if this is true?
Can you count all the stones?
The is also a legend that it is actually impossible to count all the Rollright stones at the King’s Men stone circle.
In fact, it is said that the person who counts the stones three times and gets the same number will never live!
But, on the other hand, it’s said that anyone who counts the stones three times and gets the same number can get their heart’s desires fulfilled. So, who knows.
Apparently, a baker tried this once and placed a number of loaves on each of the stones in order to keep count.
But, each time he tried to pick them up, loaves mysteriously went missing. Many people blamed the devil or prankish fairies.
Removing and taking pieces of the stones
The last legend comes from those people who were unfortunate enough to remove some of the stones from this site.
Apparently a local farmer tried to remove a large stone to build a bridge in order to cross a small stream.
It was no easy feat and it took 24 horses in order to drag it down the hill and a man ended up getting killed on the way!
They eventually placed it over the stream, but it would always end up flipping back over the bank.
The last straw was when the crops failed and then the farmer decided it was cursed. So, he placed the stone back in its place. But, this time, it only took one horse to take it back up the hill.
The warning also goes for those who try to chip pieces off the stones. Apparently, it will end badly for you. Legend has it anyone who tries will get their cartwheels permanently locked.
What is the Rollright Stones Tolkien Connection?
As J. R. R. Tolkien was a professor at Oxford University there is no doubt that the Oxfordshire landscape inspired much of his legendarium.
Many fans and Tolkien societies are always on the lookout for places that may have inspired towns or sites in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
For example, the Yew Tree Door in Stow-on-the-Wold looks like a real life Door of Moria and The Bell Inn Moreton-in-Marsh is The Prancing Pony! Even the Broadway Tower has been compared to Amon Hen and the Seat of Seeing.
The Rollright Stones are supposedly the inspiration for the Barrow-Downs in Lord of the Rings. In the books, this was an ancient site that marked the resting place for the men of Dunedain and the Northern Kingdom.
This is where the hobbits meet an evil Barrow-Wight and it makes sense as these stones are supposedly the King and the King’s Men.
But, many people say that this location is also Wayland’s Smithy in the Berkshire Downs near Uffington White Horse.
This ancient site is just a short walking distance from Dragon Hill. This is the site that Tolkien’s son believed was the inspiration for Weathertop or Amon Sûl of Eriador. Where Frodo Baggins is stabbed by the Ringwraith.
Are the Rollright Stones worth visiting?
Yes, definitely. Beyond learning about all the history, legends and connections, nothing can compare to seeing these amazing ancient stones for yourself.
They are tucked away in the remote Oxfordshire countryside and sit on a Cotswold hillside which is a world away from busy towns and crowds.
You can lose yourself here on a short scenic walk over the ancient site. Explore the stone circles and ancient monuments from thousands of years ago and imagine a time of legends and magic.
Things to do at the Rollright Stones
So, once you get here, what are the best things to do at the Rollright Stones?
As well as the three megalithic sites, there are some more amazing activities like spotting wildlife and stargazing in this Dark Sky Reserve!
Here are the best things to do at the Rollright Stones in the Cotswolds.
1. Take the Rollright Stones Walk
Each of the three historic sites that make up the Rollright Stones can be accessed on a short flat walk on the ancient ritual grounds.
You’ll enter through a kissing gate where you pay your donation then head into the main site. Eventually, you’ll reach a fork in the path.
If you turn right, you’ll find the King’s Men Stone Circle. If you go left you’ll walk down towards the Whispering Knights.
You’ll access the King’s Stone separately over the road from the main site. There are signs that will point you to each of them.
The walk is flat and has some gripping but it can be uneven as it’s on grassland and muddy when it’s been raining.
There are also some benches at each of the locations. It’s really peaceful and you could rest a while and take in the countryside views.
2. Count the stones at The King’s Men Stone Circle
The most impressive megalithic site here is the King’s Men Stone Circle that is made of jagged and eroded pieces of limestone.
Their name comes from the famous legend and supposedly these are the petrified king’s army. It is rumoured to have 70 odd stones that form the circle but legends say these are uncountable stones!
The number has changed throughout the centuries and in various antiquarian reports. But, that could be because many were taken away by locals as building materials in the medieval era. That’s why the site was protected in 1884 and why there are gaps in the circle.
People have lots of fun trying to count them these today. Maybe you can try and you’ll be granted a wish?
As well as the stone circle, you’ll see two fallen stones nearby. These used to act as the ‘portal’ entrance to the ritual site!
Today, this stone circle plays host to many events throughout the year particularly the Pagan festivals of the summer and winter solstices.
3. Visit The Whispering Knights
The Whispering Knights are believed to be the earliest members of the Rollright Stones. It’s a Neolithic portal dolmen chamber with four standing stones that survive.
It is called a portal as the stones used to act as a doorway. It used to form a chamber with a fifth stone as a capstone roof but it has since collapsed. It would have taken great strength to build.
The reason why they are called the Whispering Knights is from the legend where the King was outwitted by the Rollright Stones Witch.
As they lean in together, it appears as if the knights are conspiring treachery against the king. Other people claim that they are praying whilst they are being petrified into stone!
Either way, it’s an incredible monument and you can see it has been fenced off to protect them. You can access them on a five-minute walk from the King’s Men.
4. See the King’s Stone
Over the road from the main site, you can enter a small field that is home to the King’s Stone. According to the legend, this is the petrified king that was outwitted by the witch.
It’s a single, weathered monolith that’s 2.4 metres tall and 1.5 metres wide. It stands some 75 metres away from the King’s Men.
You may be surprised to know that it doesn’t get its unusual shape from weathering at all. It’s actually like that due to people cutting pieces off the stone over time!
Locals would chip pieces off for building tools and it is estimated that originally it would have weighed over 4.7 tonnes.
Many ladies used to visit these stones to help with fertility rituals. They would rub their breasts on the stone in the hope of conceiving a child. Also, many girls would come here on Midsummer’s Eve naked to see the man they were meant to marry.
Today, The King’s Stone stands alone in a field overlooking Long Compton and has been barred off to protect it.
Note: You’ll need to cross the National Speed limit road to access this site and there is no official pedestrian crossing. So, be careful and watch out for cars coming from both directions!
5. Stargazing in the Rollright Stones Dark Sky!
As well as the stones, you can enjoy some incredible stargazing here as there is no artificial lighting for miles around. It’s been a Dark Sky Discovery Site since 2014.
It’s regularly supported by the Chipping Norton Amateur Astronomy Group (CNAAG) and they regularly use this site as an observation venue.
You are welcome to come here anytime as the Rollright stones are open throughout the night. But, regular events happen throughout the year.
Make sure to check this website for the light pollution forecast and how many stars you can expect to see before you go. It’s best to go on a moonless night or when it’s waning during the lunar calendar. Also, it definitely helps when there are no clouds in the sky.
6. Go Dowsing
Dowsing is something that’s really popular at ancient monuments. It’s been a type of divination for centuries and is now seen as an ancient art.
The practice usually involves using a tool such as L or Y-shaped metal rods or twigs. These allow you to pick up earthly vibrations and seek out water, metals, gemstones and even gravesites.
The Rollright Stones are based on a powerful energetic Ley line and the area has strong earth energies. So, many people who Dowse here say they pick up a lot of vibrations at all three sites.
Amazing Rollright Stones facts
- It’s said that if you can count these stones correctly three times you’re entitled to one wish
- The name Rollright is believed to derive from ‘Hrolla-landriht’ which in Old English means the land of Hrolla
- Many women in the medieval era used to believe these stones would help them with fertility and would touch the King’s stone with their breasts
- These stones perfectly align with Uffington White Horse on a North-South Ley Line
- The Kings Stone is in its current shape due to locals chipping pieces off the stone, not down to weathering! Today, it has a barrier around it to protect it.
- The 1978 Dr Who episode of ‘The Stones Blood’ was filmed here. Tom Baker is attacked by the blood sucking rocks and in keeping with the legend the Doctor couldn’t count the number of stones!
- The benches here have Latin carved on the front “Ore Stabit Fortis Arare Placet Ore Stat” in Latin this means “O Rest a Bit for ’tis a Rare Place to Rest At”
Where to eat at the Rollright stones & facilities
There are no facilities at the Rollright Stones themselves. This site is left very much untouched to its ancient origins.
The nearest place to pop to the loo and grab something to eat is the Wyatts Garden Centre and Farm Shop which is just a mile away from the site.
There is a tearoom that provides panoramic views over the Cotswolds plus you could treat yourself to some Wyatts Ice Cream!
There is also the Greedy Goose pub in Chastleton and the Red Lion at Long Compton. You’re only 4 miles away from Chipping Norton which has lots of cafés and restaurants.
How to get to the Rollright Stones
The Rollright stones are located on the borderline of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire on the crest of the Cotswolds Hills.
The easiest way to access the stones would be to drive. Rollright Stones Post Code is OX7 5QB.
You’ll find the stones between the A44 and the A3400 road just north of Chipping Norton and Long Compton. You’ll be driving down lots of single track roads which are unnamed.
But, when you drive towards Long Compton there will be signs directing you towards the Great Rollright where the stones are.
There are no buses that pass by the stones, the nearest stop is Long Compton Hill on the Stagecoach Warwickshire service. The nearest train station is Kingham or Moreton-in-Marsh (5 miles away).
You can walk to the Rollright stones on the D’Arcy Dalton Way or Shakespeare’s Way which are national trails with permissive pathways through the Oxfordshire and Warwickshire countryside;
- Latitude/Longitude: Lat 51deg 58’ 32.68” N, Long 1deg 34’ 14.11” W
- National Grid Reference: SP 2963 3089
Rollright Stones Parking
There is a limited amount of parking right outside the Rollright Stones site which is completely free.
There are some lay-bys and many cars parked at the side of the road here in order to visit the stones.
It does fill up quickly and appears full all the time but don’t panic about crowds. Many people park up here to go on long walks in the area although the sites does not allow it.
Whenever I’ve been, the parking area always makes it seem like the stones will be rammed but I find there is never that many people actually visiting the site itself.
To make sure you avoid crowds, I’d head here early morning or evening. Also, opt for a weekday rather than a weekend!
Rollright stones ticket prices & opening times
The Rollright Stone Trust asks for a small £1 donation per adult and 50 per child. Your donation helps towards the upkeep of this ancient site.
They are a private trust and don’t receive any public subsidiaries so any donations are much appreciated.
There is no ticket booth, you just put your money in the box at the entry gate. It runs on an honesty system and £1 is not much to pay when you think that stone circles like Stonehenge costs nearly £20.
There is no closing time at the Rollright Stones, it’s open from dawn until dusk and 24 hours a day. This is perfect if you wanted to visit at night and go stargazing in the Dark Sky area!
FAQs about the Rollright Stones
- How old are the Rollright stones? They date back to 5,000 years ago in the Neolithic period and are made of Jurassic limestone!
- How many Rollright stones are there? There are rumoured to be 72 stones at the site. But, it’s not confirmed as a legend says no one counts them and gets the same number.
- Can you count the Rollright stones? Yes, but there is a legend that says they are uncountable! Many say the person who counts them three times and gets the same number will not live! Also, there is another one that says if you count them three times and get the same number your wish will come true.
- Who owns the Rollright stones today? They are privately owned, managed, and protected by the Rollright Stones Trust. Your donation contributes to their important work to preserve the site!
- Can you go Rollright Stones camping? No, it’s not permitted for overnight camping. The nearest campsites can be found in Chipping Norton. There are also no fires allowed to be lit up here.
- How far are the Rollright stones from Chipping Norton? It’s 4 miles away from Chipping Norton which is a 7-10 minute drive.
- Is Rollright stones dog friendly? Dogs are allowed but are to be kept on a lead at all times.
- Drones at Rollright Stones are not allowed unless you have permission from English Heritage.
Where to next in the Cotswolds?
So, if you’re heading to the North Cotswolds there are plenty of amazing places that you can head to next.
If you haven’t already, I would visit the historic town of Chipping Norton with its iconic Bliss Tweed Mill.
Chipping Campden is often called the prettiest town in the Cotswolds and you can visit the majestic Hidecote Gardens.
Drive even further and you’ll eventually reach Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold. These are both busy market towns with lots of shops!
Bourton on the Water is incredibly popular and known as the Venice of the Cotswolds with the River Windrush and model village.