Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Circular henges, ancient megaliths, round barrows, kingship stones and sacred springs...the ancient heritage of Cherry Hinton rediscovered.
At the base of the Gog Magog Hills in Cherry Hinton, a village next to Cambridge is ‘The Giants Grave’, a natural spring (also called Springhead, Springfield and Robin Hood dip), that possibly once had a round barrow next to it (M.Bullivant 2007). Three ring-ditches that are possibly Neolithic, but more likely Bronze Age, were discovered just over the other side of Fulbourn Road in 1983. Neolithic flint artefacts and Early Bronze Age pottery were found and at the centres of the constructions along with evidence of large wooden post-holes. Smaller than nearby Wandlebury maybe, but as significant as we shall soon see.
In the car park of the Robin Hood and Little John pub, lies a mysterious lonely megalith. The dark sarsen stone is about three feet across and has an unusual human-sized ‘footprint’ deeply embedded into it. It is about size 10, as my shoe size nearly fitted. Rather than a natural formation, the stone looks like it has been carved, a widespread tradition that local author Nigel Pennick says, could date back to the Neolithic era (Celtic Sacred Landscapes,1996 p.40).
Other examples include a long barrow on the crest of the hill of Petit-Mont Arzon in Brittany, France that contains a stone with a pair of feet with toes pointing upwards cut into it. Similarly, the incredible megalithic temple of Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland, has a large carved ‘bowl’, in one of the chambers that exhibits two subtle foot holes on its far end, as though it was a birthing crucible. The double footprinted Calderstones (image left), preserved in Liverpool, may come from an unknown Lancashire Long Barrow and the Ladykirk stone, at St. Mary’s Church, Barwick, Orkney is a classic two-footed affair (image below right).

A tradition in Roman times was to carve pairs of footprints in a stone with the inscription pro itu et reditu, meaning ‘for the journey and return’, a protective rite for someone heading out on a long journey. The feet would be placed in the footprints at the very beginning of the journey, and again upon their return. Celtic and Pictish traditions of ancient Britain revere such stones as kingship or installation stones, where tribal chiefs would place their foot or feet in it and, and as with crowning in modern times, then become the tribes or nations leader. Saxo notes, ‘The ancients, when they were to choose a king, stood on stones planted in the ground to proclaim their votes, signifying from the steadfastness of the stones that the deed would be lasting’ (Pennick 1996). Royal footprints can still be seen in other ancient Pictish power places, although only a few remain. For example, in the Isle of Man, a possible relic of the local Manx royalty was discovered at Castleward mound, again a large single footprint embedded in a stone (Michell 1994 p.105).

On Islay (Strathclyde) there was a ‘stone of inauguration’ or ‘stone of the footmarks’ by Loch Finlaggan. It was seven feet square with two footprints. When a chief of Clan Donald was installed as ‘King of the Isles’ he stood barefoot on the imprints, and with his father’s sword in his hand he was anointed king by the Bishop of Argyll and seven priests. During the ceremony an orator recited a catalogue of his ancestors, and he was pronounced ‘MacDonald high prince of the Seed of Conn’. But nothing remains of this king stone, because it was deliberately destroyed in the early seventeenth century (The Secret Country, Janet & Colin Bord 1976 p.67). There was once a stone at Templemore in County Londonderry, latterly called St. Columbkille’s Stone, which had two feet of 10 inches long, carved upon its surface. Traditionally it was an inauguration stone of the Irish Chieftains, and used in a similar way to the Islay stone.

A pair of footprints are carved into a slab in a causeway at the Broch (stone tower) of Clickhimin in Shetland, whilst at Dunadd, erstwhile capital of Dalriada, a stone has a footprint facing a boar. This footprint is reputed to be that of Fergus, eighth century King of the Picts. In the centuries following the Celtic church continued a similar tradition, but now the footprints were those of saints, commemorating certain holy acts they are said to have carried out. However, it is not only footprints carved in stone that would inaugurate a king. Flat slabs of rock have been used for millennia for this purpose, such as the Coronation stone at Kingston-upon-Thames and the Stone of Scone that in 1297 was stolen from the ancient kingship traditions in Scotland where 34 Scottish kings were crowned, and is still used to this day in Westminster Abbey.

Depressions in rocks can have other meanings too. Folk beliefs say that healing waters collect in such stones and were used to treat sickness, wounds and sores, and to prevent cattle and livestock from falling ill. Water that seems to appear in such stone containers is said to possess curative powers. The diamagnetic rock and telluric earth energies combined with the high mineral value of certain rocks could support this hypothesis from a modern scientific viewpoint. Interestingly, whenever I have visited the stone in the Robin Hood car park, it is always full of water, which I always thought was just the rain collecting…but you never know. Natural springs are also said to have healing and curative powers and just across the road we have the spring at Giants Grave. In recent months archaeologists have suggested that Stonehenge was an ancient healing sanctuary and that the crystalline stone rearranged the energies there and helped cure the sick

Another ancient looking stone sits embedded in the front driveway of a house next to Gladstone Way in Cherry Hinton, which is just behind the Robin Hood pub. Street names often give away clues to ancient traditions. The depth it goes into the ground is unknown, although to have a megalith, a kingship stone, circular henges, a possible round barrow and a natural spring all within a few hundred yards from one another deserves archaeological attention and another look at the folklore and prehistory of Cherry Hinton. Who were the Celtic tribes of this area and whose bloodline today still represents the long-lost royalty of Cherry Hinton?!

1 comment:

  1. The stone referred to at Cherry Hinton certainly appears to be ancient and is probably a glacial erratic (since there is no native stone in the area).

    The 'footprint' certainly looks to have been carved on purpose but the stone may have been merely the base or foundation stone of a building with a socket for a post.