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Tucked away in the ancient and mystical Vale of the White Horse, is The Blowing Stone of Kingston Lisle.
This curious perforated Sarsen stone has amazed travellers for centuries due to the sound it makes when you blow threw it.
However, it draws national attention from the fact that there is a romantic legend attached to it involving King Alfred the Great.
It’s truly one of Oxfordshire’s hidden gems that you could easily miss if you weren’t looking out for it. Mainly due to the fact its location is in someone’s front garden!
But, visitors are more than welcome to pull up in the village and have a go at sounding the stone themselves. Here’s a complete guide to visiting The Blowing Stone in Kingston Lisle.
What is The Blowing Stone?
The Blowing Stone is an ancient perforated Sarsen Stone that is thought to have many magical and mythical properties to it.
Although you could mistake it for a just big lump of rock, many believe that the holes were created naturally over 2.4 million years ago during the Ice Age. They could possibly have been formed from ancient tree roots or fossilised plants.
But, others say that this stone may have been discarded when early humans were building ancient Neolithic temples. It is well known that other ancient sites such as Avebury and Stonehenge have dolmen like chambers that were created by carving the stones to connect them.
However, The Blowing Stone is quite unique as it has holes that pierce straight through it and when you blow through the biggest hole, it makes a loud noise.
Some say, it can even be heard from 3 miles away to the likes of Uffington White Horse Hill!
The history and legends of The Blowing Stone
According to archaeologists and antiquarians, this is not the original location of The Blowing Stone.
It is thought to have been formed up at the nearby Uffington Castle along the Ridgeway Trail with the rest of the Ice Age mounds and crevices. These are known as The Manger, Dragon Hill and the Giant’s Steps.
How the stone came to be in its current location we may never know. But, it’s not too farfetched to think that early man may have moved it here.
Others believe that the local Atkins family moved it, who owned the Kingstone Lisle estate in the 18th century.
King Alfred the Great and The Blowing Stone
There is a local legend attached to this Sarsen Stone that the Saxon King Alfred the Great used it to call his men.
His army were camped nearby on top of White Horse Hill and when they heard the call, they marched down to follow him. They went on to win a Saxon victory against the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown in 871.
However, the stone wasn’t recorded anywhere until the 18th century when John Rocque’ made a map of the local area (which would also further prove the Atkins theory).
So, the story is thought to be more of a romanticised legend by the Victorian’s. They were, in a word, obsessed with this ancient king who wanted to unite England.
It has even been compared to a cult-like appreciation. During the Victorian era they built two statues of him. They placed one in Wantage, where he was born and another in Winchester, the capital of the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex.
Winston Churchill even opposed someone when they commented that he was the greatest Englishmen of all time. “No..”, Churchill corrected, “..the greatest is King Alfred”.
An attraction at the local inn
In the 1800s, The Blowing Stone was placed near a small public house and would often be sounded during the local scouring festival.
This would involve hundreds of villagers heading up to the Uffington White Horse to clean it. A tradition that has been going on for the last three millennia and largely the reason why it has miraculously survived today.
After, there would have been a big celebration back at the inn. Apparently, the landlord would sound the stone to entertain for a small price.
Tom Hughe’s mentions the stone in his ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ as “some three feet and a half high, perforated with two or three queer holes, like petrified antediluvian ratholes”.
He later comments on the noise it produced as “a gruesome sound between a moan and a roar which spread away over the valley, and up the hillside and into the woods at the back of the house, a ghost-like awful voice!”.
How to visit The Blowing Stone in Kingston Lisle today
Nowadays, the stone is located in the front garden of a local’s house in Kingstone Lisle. The old pub is long gone and a new one called ‘The Blowing Stone Inn’ is located just a few metres away.
Although it is on private land, it’s placed in an open area that has been fenced off. It allows anyone to visit at any time of day.
There is another lore that says if you can make the sound, you have what it takes to be the next King or Queen of England. So, why not try and make the sound yourself?!
A tip I had from a local said that you need to place your mouth entirely around the hole in order to make the sound. You also need to blow really hard – so take a deep breath!
Although the Sarsen stone is free of charge, donations are encouraged and go to charity. There is a small pamphlet you can pick up to read more about the stone as well.
It’s open 24 hours a day but remember that this is a local residence. Use common sense and don’t sound The Blowing Stone late or in the early hours!
How to get there
The Blowing Stone is located on the aptly name Blowing Stone Hill in the village of Kingstone Lisle in Oxfordshire.
This is just a few miles from the historic Uffington White Horse Hill and makes a great addition to a day trip if you’re visiting the landmark. It’s also only 4 miles from Wantage and 5 miles from Faringdon.
It’s easiest to drive to the stone as it’s in a remote area of the countryside where bus services are infrequent.
There is a small area where you can park your car outside of the stone. Make sure to pull in carefully as it’s on a country road that is national speed limit. If you cannot pull in next to the stone, there is a small lay-by located just a little up the hill side.
Other things to do in Kingston Lisle
This quaint village is also worth a look in if you have the time. It’s incredibly pretty and so quintessentially English!
The Civil Parish has a history dating back to the Domesday Books where it was recorded as ‘Kingeston‘. Tūn meaning the Old English word for fence. So, this could have been a royal enclosure. Back then it only had 30 or so households.
You could visit the parish church of Saint John the Baptist built in the year 1200 which is now a Grade II listed building. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style around the 14th century. Nearby is a gorgeous thatched church cottage dating back to the 16th century.
Why not pop inside the new Blowing Stone Inn? It’s a popular place for a drink or you could have lunch or dinner there.
Nearby is also the scenic Wilts & Berks Canal. It used to flow through here in 1807 but was abandoned in 1914. It’s now currently being restored with an accessible tow path.
On the fringes of the village you can find the Kingston Lisle Park which is a Grade II listed Georgian country home. Apparently, the current Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (i.e. Will and Kate) looked here to buy!
Places to visit in the Vale of the White Horse
Once you’ve had your fill of The Blowing Stone, there are plenty of places to visit around the beautiful Vale of the White Horse.
If you do see yourself as bit of a modern day antiquarian, there are many ancient sites around the area. Plus, some amazing hikes along the Ridgeway Trail which is in easy access from the village.
White Horse Hill
No visit to the vale would be complete without a trip up to Uffington White Horse Hill. This amazing area was formed in the ice age over 2.4 millions years ago.
Today, it has many landmarks to visit including the famous white horse which was scarred onto the hillside over 3,000 years ago.
You can also visit Dragon’s Hill, where St George killed the Dragon or take a walk around the impressive Iron Age Hill Fort of Uffington Castle.
Nearby is Uffington Village that featured in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. There is a small FREE museum that has a great display on the history of the area.
Wayland’s Smithy & The Ridgeway Trail
Just a mile away from the village is the England’s oldest national trail and the oldest road in Europe. The Ridgeway is a pre-historic road that travellers have used for over 5,000 years. It covers 87 miles from Overton Hill in Wiltshire to Ivanhoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.
It will take 6 days to complete, but you could experience a slice of it here. From Uffington Hill, you can take a walk along the ancient path and find Wayland’s Smithy.
This Neolithic Burial Chamber was used for ancient funerals and many skeletons have been found here dating back 5 millennia. The name comes from the Saxons who believed that Wayland, the Saxon god of metalwork, lived and made a smith here. Back in those days, smithing was seen as a magical practice.
Today, it’s completely free to visit and open 24 hours a day. You’re allowed to explore the tomb and the place has quite an atmosphere!
This historic market town was a delight to visit mainly due to its quirky and bizarre history. It’s most famous resident, Lord Berners, is known as the last true eccentric and he definitely left a legacy of the surreal around the place.
You’ll find pointless notices that he put up just for fun and a curious Dali Diver memorial bench that references his connections to Salvador Dali.
He would hold legendary parties in Faringdon House with the most notable glitterati artists of the age. Berners famously painted his pigeons pink, had a giraffe as a pet and even invite horses for tea!
Faringdon’s icon of the Folly Tower was also built by the Baron. He constructed it with no purpose whatsoever and said he made simply it to tease the residents. Now, it’s a delightful walk with a sculpture trail and incredible views.