Back From The Brink: The re-exposure of the buried ring stones at Louden Stone Circle. Part I. Text and images © Roy Goutté.

The iconic tri-stone of Louden circle overlooked by the magnificent Rough Tor

Seeking out the antiquities to be found over Bodmin’s many moors seems to have been my principal interest since moving to Cornwall some twenty years ago and I find the challenge irresistibly pleasurable. But, compared to others, I have only scratched the surface of what still lies out there and learn something new on every visit.

Stone circles really do it for me and it was after one of my more recent visits to the north- western part of the moor that I noted that Louden circle, one of three large circles in that area, the others being Stannon and Fernacre circles, was badly in need of remedial attention. As the photograph above shows, other than the circles iconic tri-stone, very little can be seen as nearly all the stones have fallen and were either buried beneath the surface or just visible on it. For many walkers it was no longer a circle worth visiting as there was little to see so virtually overlooked. Considering the three circles were labelled as being ‘ceremonial’ to certain writers and some of the moor’s very earliest, I felt something should be done if possible to ‘bring it back to life’ and to the public’s gaze once again.

I approached English Heritage’s HAR (Heritage at Risk) officer for the area, Ann Preston-Jones, to see if anything could be done to remedy the situation and if so, could I and some friends from the TimeSeekers amateur archaeology group under the watchful eye of a qualified person, take an active part in its partial restoration so that funding wouldn’t be an issue as we were prepared to give up our time if it meant salvaging even just a small part of our heritage? After consultation, in a word, the answer was yes, we could!
So, on the 3rd December 2014 after gaining all the required permissions from English Heritage, Natural England, the Landowner and the Chairman of the Hamatethy Commoners and with the much appreciated help and guidance from Ann, we commenced work on the circle.

Louden Hill Circle as it is officially known is a Scheduled Monument number 1008331 and believed to be Late Neolithic and never previously excavated.

Although not strictly speaking on Louden Hill itself but on the top of a broad ridge extension to the south-west of it at SX132794 and over the track-way leading from Middlemoor Cross to Fernacre, it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and we felt privileged, as amateurs, to have been trusted to carry out the work here. We were under the wing and supervision of Ann who ensured we commenced and continued the work in a proper and approved manner and in keeping with accepted practice. My fellow co-workers were Susan Hockey and Peter Castle.

The aim basically was to clear the growth off the partly covered standing and fallen granite stones and to search out for and reveal the buried stones…providing they were still there and had not been previously removed that was!

All of the ring stones bar five had fallen with a total number of 24 showing at the commencement of our work, but we knew by our previous spiking of the ground that there were many more. Previous estimates had been put at 33 – 39 with others claiming many stones would have been removed at some point during the circles history. In 1979 John Barnatt showed just 17 on his ground plan which can be seen later.

We had an understanding that we would only remove the turf covering the stones if they were no more than around 2 inches deep into the peaty soil due to dangerous holes being left to fill with water and becoming dangerous for stock, ponies and walkers alike. Some were a little deeper so I took it upon myself to venture slightly beyond this if we were uncertain as to the validity of a stone being in the original setting but ensured that the stone was completely covered back on completion. Consequently, eight deep stones have now been completely re-covered but have been identified and recorded on the new ground plan. I believe it was important that we did this to get a clearer picture of what we have there. No buried stones were excavated beneath their revealed top surfaces.

And so we began.

In the presence of Ann who walked the circle with me, the team marked out the known and partly buried stones considered to be part of the ring setting and placed small markers over the buried stones we had previously detected by spiking the ground and noted other stones in the immediate area. (All stones are numbered in their correct positions and shown on a plan following these field-notes).

Commencing in a clockwise direction from the circles iconic tri-stone (Stone 1) we firstly cleared the matting of turf from the three stones in a little group (2,3 & 4). It soon became obvious we felt that one of the stones was part of the ring setting (Stone 2) and the other two possibly a separate construct. We wondered if the small tri-stone (3) was the marker to a capstone (4) of a possible cist lying immediately to the outside of the main circle. That was our first impression but without it being investigated further that is pure speculation on our part. What we do know however by spiking around the perimeter of this large flat prostrate stone is that it rests on a stone slab lying beneath the long south-east side of it by about six inches over its full length. We detected nothing on the opposite side of the stone and left it at that.

The leaning iconic tri-stone (Stone 1) with the all but buried Stones 2, 3, 4 and 5 in the background

Stones 2, 3, 4 and 5 after being cleared of a turf layer over much of their surface areas

Stone 5 was all but covered with just its top edge showing but stones 6 and 7 were well down and once exposed, measured and recorded, were returned to darkness. I wondered if they would ever see the light of day again?

Stone 5 undergoing some heavy weeding!

Stone 5 looking resplendent after a wash and brush-up, while Stones 6 & 7 lie beneath ground level. Note Stone 8 lying outside of the main ring setting

Stones 6 & 7 show how peaty soil can ‘drag’ a stone under. Stone 6 (partly exposed) was nearly 6ft long x 3ft wide and extended beyond the marker pole to the right and to my spike stick shown

Stone 7, another partly exposed stone was 4ft long x 3ft wide

Setting aside Stone 4 for the moment as it could well have been an outlying stone, Stone 8 was the first stone to be visibly spotted outside of the ring setting, so at first I just assumed it was ‘just a stone’ with no connection with the circle whatsoever, but had a change of mind when we found others that were also stationed about three to four feet out from the main ring stones. It was also when reaching Stone 8 that we looked back at the stones we had exposed and realised that they were in a straight line and not in an arc at all and the following six were also in a straight section and we were actually beginning to form a circle possibly made up of straight independent sections. Of course it depends a great deal on how stones fall before you can truly judge whether they were erected in an arc or in straight sections but at Louden circle I felt the latter applied. I had previously noted this at Stannon circle away to the north-west so it really came as no surprise to me!

Stones 9 and 10 were somewhat of a puzzle as 10 appeared to be the obvious ring stone because it was on the surface and in line, but 9 was discovered adjacent to it but under the surface and was later backfilled because of its depth. It may be that Stone 9 is in fact a naturally occurring granite stone of which there are many in the immediate surrounding area of the circles location…but then again maybe not!

Stones 9 & 10. Was 10 the true ring stone by virtue of being above ground?

Stone 11 (3ft-6” long x 3ft wide) was under the surface and Stone 12 (partly covered and 3ft-6” long x 2ft-6” wide) was another to be discovered again just outside of the circle. Stone 13 was back in line and 4ft-9” long x 3ft-3” wide but again too far under the surface so was backfilled. We didn’t like having to backfill any of these wonderful stones as they were there for a purpose and meant to be seen, but had no option because of safety considerations. It would be nice to think that in years to come funding may be found to enable our fast disappearing circles such as Louden, the twin circles on Emblance Down, Craddock Moor circle and the flagship henged Stripple Stones to be re-erected. I live in hope!

The first day: Susan and Peter making early inroads while ‘Magic’ looks on

Ann lending Peter a helping hand clearing Stone 5


To read the Official Field Report by Roy Goutté, with added photographs etc, click here (pdf).