Fernacre Stone Circle
Fernacre stone circle
NGR: SX 14473 79979
Fernacre stone circle is sited on a gentle east facing moorland slope surrounded by three hills which mark the cardinal points of the compass, giving the impression that this location was very carefully chosen. Brown Willy stands due east, Rough Tor is due north, and Garrow Tor lies south. Louden Hill is also just visible to the west-north-west while to the west, though not intervisible, lies the stone circle at Stannon. The wider area includes three large prehistoric settlements; to the west on the slopes of Louden Hill, on slopes to the east, and to the north, the earlier Neolithic tor enclosure on Rough Tor.
Along with the Stripple Stones and the stone circle on Louden Hill, Fernacre is one of the largest stone rings in Cornwall with a diameter of approximately 44m by 46m, and is distinctive in the number of stones used and their close irregular spacing. The height of the stones falls into two ranges and the tops and inner faces of the stones are also irregular. This is unusual as most of the stone circles in Cornwall have stones with smooth inner surfaces. The overall plan of the circle is sub circular, being slightly irregularly shaped with a somewhat flattened side to the south-east. Only about 61 stones survive, the possible total originally being between 77 and 95. Some of these are still upright but many lean markedly or have fallen and lie partly concealed beneath the turf. A small recumbent slab lies off centre within the circle and a 1906 survey indicates that this was formerly accompanied by another one, three metres to its west. Slight traces of an earthen bank are visible along the outer side of the circle to the south-south-east but it is not certain what its function was or whether it is contemporary with the circle. There are two outlying stones to the east and south-south-east which are prominent within an otherwise stone free area and may be connected with the circle.
It is not fully understood what function these stone monuments served, although excavation of some monuments has shown an association with burials and accompanying ritual practices. The antiquarian William Stukeley held the theory that the stone circles were associated with the Druids, but this was before more accurate dating technologies showed their true chronology. Where excavated they have been found to date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c2400-1000 BC). Some circles also appear to have a calendrical function which helps mark the passage of time and seasons; this is indicated by the alignment of stones in order to mark important solar or lunar events such as the sunrise and sunset at the winter or summer solstice. In the case of Fernacre it has been shown that the position of Brown Willy marks the equinox sunrise.
It does appear that stone circles are located within the landscape in relation to other foci with sacred or spiritual significance, not all of which are necessarily visible today. The spacing of individual circles throughout the landscape has also been thought by some to represent a tribal gathering point for specific social groups and Fernacre, being set as it is within a landscape rich in contemporary ritual monuments, settlements and field patterns, demonstrates the complex integration of ritual practice with domestic and agricultural organisation of the landscape during the later Neolithic and Bronze Ages.
Fernacre lies within a large area of common land with open access. It is most easily reached from the car park at Roughtor Ford (SX 1388 8186) from which it is a hike of about a mile and a half over rough moorland.
Barnatt, J, 1982. Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments. Turnstone Press Limited. ISBN 0 85500 129 1
Johnson, R. and Rose, P, 1994. Bodmin Moor: An Archaeological Survey. Vol.1: The human landscape to c1800. English Heritage. ISBN 0953 3796.
Payne, R. 1999. The Romance of the Stones: Cornwall’s Pagan Past. Alexander Associates. ISBN 899526 66 8