Stannon Stone Circle, Stannon Moor, St Breward, Cornwall. SX 1257 8002 (PastScape). Visit date: 5 October 2013. A guest feature by Roy Goutté. Text and images © Roy Goutté.
 
Standing on the edge of open moorland to the south of the Stannon china clay works, Stannon circle is easily accessed by the road that leads to the clay works from Harpur’s Downs to the west. Two other stone circles lie close by: Louden is some 800m to the south-east, while Fernacre is 2km away, due east of Stannon and south of the Roughtor summit. Stannon appears to have much in common with these other two circles which are all very large by Cornish standards and all are surprisingly made up of a large number of small upright stones. Stannon has around 70 stones laid out in an irregular ring but originally there may have been as many as 82+. Fernacre also has a large number of stones in its make-up, Louden fewer, yet the three circles are the largest in Cornwall and could have been amongst the first to be built possibly from the late Neolithic where many of the other smaller circles are regarded to be more likely to have been early Bronze-Age, although a lack of dating evidence in Cornish circles is a problem. All three are irregular in shape and may have been laid out by eye rather than using a central peg and rope to mark out an accurate circle. 
 
 
 
Roughtor on the skyline viewed through the far north-east sector of Stannon Stone Circle. Note the somewhat indifferent stones and spacings used within the ring setting on this sector compared to those to the north-west
 
This was my second visit to Stannon Stone Circle, the first being in May 2012 when it was a dull, over-cast and windy day. I’d come back for one main reason if truth be told, and that was to see if the negativity I felt there the first time around would still be with me, but this time it was a reasonably sunny day with a light wind so I was hoping for better things. This is, in part, what I wrote at the time:-
 
I don’t know if it was the presence of the huge china clay works immediately to the north, but I couldn’t get a ‘feel’ for the place once I was actually in the circle. I found the stones too small for such a large circle, almost like it was a token circle rather than one of major importance/significance if that makes sense. For me, what it once must have had, had gone, and I left the stones still feeling that this was a circle built for a different reason to others. I could be completely wrong of course but don’t feel the need to return there which is another first for me! Sorry to be so negative but that’s just how I felt. 
 
Stannon Circle, in common with Louden circle to the south-east and Fernacre circle directly to the east nestling beneath the southern slopes of Roughtor, has been termed a ‘ceremonial’ circle. This appears to be mainly because of their size, being the three largest circles in Cornwall and not based on any actual tangible evidence that they were used for this purpose. Stannon Circle, although not strictly circular, being a mixture of curves and a selection of short straighter segments, is officially 139’-8” x 132’-10” (PastScape) in diameter but that depends entirely on where exactly you take the measurements from, and has between 70-80 stones in its setting in various shapes and sizes and either standing or fallen, but mainly on the smaller size and gives the circle an almost unimpressive look to it for one so large. There is a flattened, well bedded stone, lying off-centre within the circle which may or may not be part of the original build. The locally sourced granite stones to the south-west sector would appear to be the tallest at about a metre high with the remaining standing stones around 0.5 metres with the exception of a large magnificent leaning triangular stone directly west. Those in the north-west quadrant seem to be the most regular in height, type and spacing, with the north and south-east quadrants being rather flattened, small and unevenly spaced. I got the impression that a lot of the stones in these last named areas have suffered the most over the years and possibly been damaged/moved by farm vehicles and replaced randomly closing up many of the more regular spacings.
 
Because of my principal interest in them, the magnificent triangular stone within the setting was the first stone I concentrated on as both Louden and Fernacre circles boast the same such singular flagship stone. I carefully, as best I could taking into consideration that the circle is not truly circular, calculated the exact centre of the monument and took a compass reading. The stone is exactly due west and not slightly NW as I had previously poorly recorded due to me not marking out the centre of the circle more accurately, another reason I felt the need to return.
 
What hadn’t changed however from my previous field-notes or my thoughts, was the ‘ceremonial’ label that had been bestowed upon this circle -and it troubles me. Why ceremonial… what evidence is there for it being that other than maybe its size? The term ceremonial to my mind indicates a circle that was built and used for special occasions and because of this on my previous visit was expecting a beautifully crafted true circle with specially selected or even dressed larger stones similar to those at the Hurlers for its setting… not a mish-mash of unregulated rough stones of all differing shapes and predominantly small, literally thrown together in a poor attempt at forming a true circle! Working northwards from the triangular stone it started well, but midway along the west to east northern sectors it sort of fell apart! Why? What happened to the grandeur that one would (today) normally expect of a ceremonial monument?
 
 
Looking northwards through the circle from the flagship triangular stone. Note the more regular looking stones and spacing’s, so different to that of those in many parts of the remaining circle
 
It wasn’t like there was a shortage of larger stones on the moor as they lie everywhere. The transportation of heavy and bulky stones doesn’t appear to have been much of a hindrance to our Late Neolithic/Early Bronze-Age ancestors as seen elsewhere, so why the totally unimpressive array of random small stones instead of those that would have made a statement of the importance of the monument? It is this that puzzles me the most. Looking around the circle I was drawn to a section to the south-west where the setting looked somewhat different to the rest with those previously mentioned taller stones seemingly purposely erected closer together and more ‘group’ like with some smaller random stones lying around the base of them. My first thought was that ‘something’ took place in this area which seemed to be at the juncture of two straighter sections… but what?
 
 
An unexpected ‘look’ to the south-west part of the ring setting with more stones, both upright and prostrate, than would normally be expected and in closer contact than elsewhere and apparently ‘out of position’
 
In common with most Bodmin Moor circles, although on this occasion somewhat masked due to the build-up of the china clay banking, Roughtor is in the background overseeing all before it and I won’t be alone in thinking that it was likely to have once been revered by our great ancestors who built these circles. As for the negativity I felt here last time, well it was more of a bereft feeling this time, but there was more. I still felt that whatever the circle had once stood for was now gone along with its builders and that saddened me, but I still felt that this circle was not understood and it was erected as part of something else and not as a ‘stand alone’ circle.
 
It was only when I got back home and reflected on what I’d seen and thought at the time that I began to look at things differently. Prior to my initial visit to Stannon, I’d never before left a stone circle behind feeling unsatisfied with what I’d seen and never have again since. One of my reasons for returning, as I have already mentioned, was to check out the triangular stone and it was this that set me thinking again. What special significance could the triangular stones have held to be featured so prominently in the three large circles on this part of Bodmin Moor and what could their separate positions within each circle reveal? Stannon’s triangular stone is due west in its setting, Fernacre’s due east and Louden’s due south. Oddly enough, Stannon circle itself is to the west, Fernacre is to the east and Louden to the south on this section of the moor, so their triangular stones are all on their outermost perimeters of West/East/South… and linked up, the three circles form a triangle themselves! Could this be significant or pure speculation?
 
The similarities the three circles share could well tell a story. Similar in size, all irregular circles, all built of mainly small stones and all within close sight of Roughtor. This suggests to me that they were built by the same people and part of a much greater plan and all at the same time. Were they built to interact with each other and not so important as individual circles after all? In fact why would you require three ‘Ceremonial’ circles within a short distance of each other? Why was one not enough to serve such a small area? Is that why I felt the negativity with Stannon circle because it really was built for a different reason and was not a ‘stand-alone’ circle with a separate function after all? That could possibly explain the three circles apparent lack of quality construction and only roughly circular shapes, but I think I ought to stop there as I’m in danger of over-speculating again… something I can get very good at, but will nevertheless no doubt try to expand on in time! Questions, questions!  
 
 
The wonderful triangular stone in the Stannon Circle setting with Roughtor visible on the skyline
 
 
 
Louden tri stone
 
 
 
Fernacre tri stone