Southern Site Pics
Northern Site Pics
|South Circle NT 89249 27793 (GPS 32min)||South circle Dia. 66 x 50m (Meas. SC)|
|North Circle NT 89301 27928 (GPS 15min, see text)||North circle Dia. 47m N-S (Meas., see text)|
|Visited Sept 2003||No magnetic anomalies (visible stones only checked)|
The Hethpool rings are located at the head of the College valley on a small terrace with a steep bank up to the west, and to the east, the College Burn with the imposing heights of the Newton Tors rising behind. This is a confusing and unusual site, much ruined and victim to the plough, in 1935 this was thought to be a huge horseshoe shaped arrangement of stones (1). More recent investigations (2) have led to the suggestion that these are probably the remains of two large diameter stone circles, something totally unique in Northumberland.
The southern circle is the most intact and is shown in the photo above, we measured this ring at 66m NE-SW and 50m NNW-SSE, the axes being determined by the presence of available opposing stones. We counted 8 stones remaining, but some of these were barely peeping out above the soil. 4 large stones were fallen but obvious, and the only erect stone stood leaning near the south, this was 1.5m high and had what seemed to be chock stone remains at its base. A sixth large stone lies 30m SSE from the circle edge by the road side, given the obvious destruction wreaked upon this site it is impossible to tell if this is an outlier, a displaced circle stone, or the component of yet another megalithic structure.
It is by no means certain that the stones
at the north are actually the remains of a circle, but everything we
observed would fit with this theory. We found 6 observable stones that would
fall on a roughly circular layout, these ranged from the tallest standing near south, to a
large stone at the north that was actually marginally below ground level, but
was substantially exposed. The spread of the visible stones is reduced as there
are two instances of stones being very close to each other, this would have made
the tracing of a possible circular arrangement difficult, but luckily nature
lent a hand. The grass at the site had been cut or
grazed very close and the weather had been quite dry for a while before our
visit, consequently the locations of several possible buried stones were visible to us as
large parch marks. We probed the the parched areas with a thin rod about 15cm
long to in an attempt to determine if there were stones beneath. Only large areas with constant
solid contact over the entire mark were counted, some stones (or parts of
stones), may have lain below the 15cm range of our probe, giving partial or no
contact, these were not counted. We found four probable large buried stones in
locations that would fit in a ring with the observable stones. Most of the
visible stones were contained in the S-W quadrant, the single N-S diameter
measurement that we took was from the standing stone at the south to the sunken
stone at the north mentioned above, we resisted the temptation to measure
diameters using parch marks. The GPS measurement for the northern ring was taken
halfway along the 47m N-S diameter.
There is also a large stone visible 32m NW of the northern stone mentioned above, this could not conceivably fit into the northern ring. Once again, the considerable damage sustained by the site makes the significance of this outlying stone unclear.
We were pretty convinced that the southern stones were indeed the remains of a stone circle. Close up to the stones, the size of the ring makes an overall visualisation difficult, but a quick stroll up the hill provides the view shown in the photo above, even though there are few stones this really does look like a circle. As for the northern site, we would have been very skeptical about this if it had not been for the parch marks and the probed buried stones beneath, these extra stones "fillled in the blanks" and pushed the balance of probability over for us. If all of the low and buried stones in the northern site were as visible as the those of the southern, then we suspect a quick trip up the hill would dispel doubts as effectively as it does for the southern ring.
The southern ring on its own would be exceptional for Northumberland, at 66 x 50m it dwarfs the next biggest definite stone circle in the county, which is Threestones Burn measuring a mere 36 x 29m. When the prospect of this being a pair of circles, both of huge diameter is considered, it puts the site into a whole class of its own.
Burl (3) seems to look favourably at the large paired circle theory, pointing out the proximity of the rings to the Milfield henge group only 6km to the west. Barnatt (4) however, is very skeptical of even the southern site writing that " the similarity to a stone circle may be fortuitous". As for the stones of the northern site, he dismisses these as "unlikely as their arrangement appears random", we might have agreed with him if it were not for the possible buried stones we probed beneath the parch marks.
The site is very easy to visit as there is a car park immediately adjacent and we have to say that the scenery, both at the site and also further along the College valley, is reason to visit by itself. There is the site of a prehistoric hill fort 500m to the west of the rings, at the top of the rise, and another 800m to the SW on the peak of Great Hetha. The supposed site of the Yeavering Bell stone circle lies just 3km to the east over the peak of Newton Tors, but the actual existence of this elusive ring is doubtful.
1. Honeyman H.L. Proc. Soc. Antiquaries of
Newcastle upon Tyne, 6, p116-7, 1935
2. Topping P. Northern Archaeology, 2, p3-10, 1981
3. Burl A. A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. Site 86,1995 Yale University Press
4. Barnatt J. Stone Circles of Britain, B.A.R. 215(ii) Site 10:15, 1989, Oxford