Connecting to the Land. The Ancient Ritual Landscape of Mansfield

The tribe of the Corieltauvi covered much of what we now call the East Midlands. A vast territory that today, we do not clearly know the boundaries of. Of all the Iron Age tribes of Briton, the Corieltauvi are one of the ones we know the least about. And what we do know places most of the activity in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. As a resident of west Nottinghamshire living less that a mile from the Derbyshire border, it is debatable whether where I live would have been part of the territory of the Corieltauvi or the Brigantes. Maps produced to show the boundaries between the Iron Age tribes are not to be taken as 100% accurate and there is a logical argument to say that Trisantona (the river Trent) would have been the border between the two tribes, which is south of me. The truth might lie somewhere in-between, local smaller groups will likely have had relationships with other small groups in their vicinity, regardless of the wider tribal affiliation. We simply cannot know for sure at this time.

Druidry of today teaches us to seek connection with our local landscape and the ancestors of place and of the land. Over the last few years I have sought out whatever information I can find regarding the ancient history of the landscape I grew up in, and now live in. It is a very small corner of the territory of the Corieltauvi and Brigantes, and an even smaller corner of the world. But it is my corner. The corner where I have spent most of my life and continue to develop my druid practice.

My parents moved to the Mansfield area when I was very young from Birmingham, in part to be closer to my Mother’s Family who had lived in the vicinity for generations. As an adult, having had my DNA tested, I appreciate just how rooted in this area my Mother’s family truly are, with a number of lines clearly gravitating around the area I now live in, and off into north Derbyshire. On My Father’s side, I have rather humble north Welsh origins. But what this means to me is that my ancestors genuinely are rooted in the landscape I now live in, which encourages me all the more to learn as much as I can about the history.

I grew up in the villages of Rainworth and Blidworth. They are only a mile apart and the same secondary school encompasses both villages. As a child, I would regularly cycle or walk between the villages as Blidworth had shops and activities Rainworth did not. When I moved out of my parents’ house, I spent just over a decade north of Mansfield in Pleasley, before moving to Sutton-In-Ashfield where I live now.

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In this satellite image, you can see the immediate area where I live, and some of the local land marks I will be discussing in this article. The area is situated right in the centre of England, in west Nottinghamshire.

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At first, it seems there is little ancient history to be found in the area. Nottinghamshire has been notably neglected on the archeologically front. It doesn’t have the stone circles of Derbyshire, and there we no major Roman settlements. But it is far from true to say there is nothing. Peeling back the surface, and getting past the Robin Hood connections, there is actually a fair amount to discover about the local landscape.

Blidworth

Blidworth is a very old village. It was mentioned in the Dooms Day book compiled after the Norman invasion of 1066.  The church there at the top of the hill in “old Blidworth” dates from at the 10th century and is said to be built on the site of a former pagan shrine to Brigid, the patron Goddess of the Brigantes. It is known that the Romans camped there on the “Rain Water”, the stream now known as Rainworth Water which flows past the north side of the hill on which Blidworth sits.

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About a quarter of a mile down the hill is a large standing stone known as the Druid Stone. Historically this stone was known as the “Alter”, and there were other stones nearby too. However, many of them were destroyed with gun powder. The stone is not a good-looking stone, and is said to be a conglomerate stone, like a large block of naturally occurring concrete that was deposited here after the Ice Age. The stone acquired the name Druid Stone during the Victorian era after the fashion of marking any would be pre-historic monument as “druidical remains” on maps. The validity of the stone as representing anything meaningful has therefore been in question by many for a long time. However, I believe this article will once and for all help the stone reclaim its rightful place as an important marker in the Iron and Stone Age ritual landscapes.

Harlow Wood, and Friar Tuck’s well

When I first began practicing druidry, it was Harlow Wood that I gravitated towards. I kind of instinctively chose it. I had walked there on occasion as a child with my parents, but it was not a wood I was overly familiar with. My childhood had been spent in the parts of the wood known as Sherwood Pines that were accessible to the north of Rainworth beyond “The Bogs” and Rainworth Nature reserve, as well as on the paths and roads between Rainworth and Blidworth. Harlow Wood is roughly half way between where I grew up, and where I live now. When I was young it was a short car ride away, or a day out walking with a packed lunch. Although there are other woodlands closer to my home now they are not quite as big, are more heavily used, or simply younger plantations on what used to be coal mines. In truth, I do not know all the reasons why I picked Harlow wood at the time but I did. Over the years since I have performed many rituals there and developed a relationship with the spirit of the place. It was here that I performed my initiation into OBOD, and it is here several years later that I had my true initiation and first experience with a deity. I try to take my dog here as often as I can and perform at least two overnight rituals per year here.

It is among these trees that the stream known as Rainworth Water rises, which after passing Blidworth and filling up “L” Lake at Rainworth, continues and runs along the scrub land known as “The Bogs” outside Rainworth, upon which much of my youth was spent playing and walking our dog with my Mother. Not far away from the Druid Stone at Blidworth, and among the trees of Harlow Wood is Friar Tuck’s well. It is said that Friar Tuck’s well used to be a pagan shrine, and that the priest that attended it took the idols and sacred objects and buried them nearby to protect them from invading Vikings. These treasures have never been found. Later it is said that Friar Tuck of Robin Hood legend attended a Christian shrine here too.

Mansfield, the Maun and Hamilton Hill.

Closer to where I live now, on the border of the parishes of Ashfield, Mansfield and Kirkby, stands Hamilton Hill. It is visible from the entrance of Kings Mill Hospital as you look across Kings Mill reservoir. There is no consensus on the origin of the hill. Some claim it is a natural out crop. Others say it is the spoil from digging the reservoir, and some that it is an iron-age hill fort or burial mound. There is a roughly triangular depression on the top of the hill around two meters deep, and in the centre, is a circular mound around 26 meters at its base, and rising 2 meters so that it is level with the rest of the hill top. A path has developed up the hill leading to the depression.

http_www.kings-mill.co.ukHamiltonHill

Despite the lack of consensus regarding its origin, there are a number of factors that I feel give it away as truly ancient. Firstly, it is of a comparable size to other burial mounds found elsewhere in the country and it is also perfectly aligned East and West (equinox alignment). We also know that Roman coins have been found at the base during the construction of the railway in the 1800s, and later the road in the picture. It is believed that Hamilton Hill was once known as “The Mam”, which is Brythonic for “mother”, “breast”, or “hill”. Around the base of the hill rise three of the tributaries that feed the river Maun, so the hill can be considered the source of the Maun. It is from the Mam that the Maun derives its name, and it is from the Maun or Mam that Mansfield derives its name, meaning the field by the Maun or Mam. We know that rivers were an important part of Brythonic/Celtic culture, and so I have no doubt that the Maun would be associated with a river goddess, especially given that it rises around this hill. I suspect that Hamilton Hill may have been a shrine, temple or other ritual site dedicated the goddess of the Maun. But there is also another important overlooked clue.

Oxton Iron age settlement and burial.

Oxton, although very close to Blidworth, is a place I never visited as a child. It lies a little further to the Southeast, but it is not on a major road, or particularly on the way to anywhere. It is a lovely little village that has an excellent firework display each year.

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Just outside Oxton is the remains of an Iron age settlement. To the left in this picture you can see Robin Hood Hill, to the right Loath hill which is believed to be a roman fortification. The settlement is in the middle foreground and dates to 3000-1000 BC.

Back to the Druid Stone

As previously stated there has long been debate over the antiquity of the Druid Stone, and if in fact it had any significance in pre-history at all. The first thing to be understood, is that the druid stone did not stand alone in the landscape. Just the other side of the hedge to the west of the stone is the remains of another equally big stone. The remains can still be seen, and it now has a hawthorn tree growing on it.

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When it still stood, it might have looked something like this

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There are also other features in the landscape that are important. First there is a natural spring in the field, just to the left from the perspective of the last pictures. Springs, like all rivers were considered sacred in ancient times, so this is another clue as to the nature of this site. Just beyond the spring is a rock which was marked as boulder on old maps.

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With a little more knowledge we can now start to look at the evidence that the druid stone is indeed an ancient stone observatory or calendar in the same way that other more famous monuments are.

First here is an image of the Beltane sunrise / Samhain sunset alignment

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As you can see, the alignment matches the location of the boulder exactly. This means that if you are stood at the Druid Stone at sunrise on the first of May, you will see the sun rise over the boulder. Or, if you stand at the boulder at sunset on the 31st of October, the sun will set behind the Druid Stone.

Next let us re-introduce the missing stone on the other side of the hedge and consider the equinoxes.

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With the inclusion of the missing stone and the equinox alignment, we can see that the two stones would have cast shadows on each other, which is very interesting considering the hole in the Middle of the druid stone. This means that during the sun rise on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the Druid Stone may have cast a shadow on the missing stone, and a beam of light would have shone through the hole in the druid stone illuminating some part of the missing stone or the ground in-between. It is not hard to speculate that this may have illuminated some special feature, in the same way as New Grange in Ireland and other ancient monuments play with the light. Equally, at sunset on the equinoxes, the sun would have set behind the missing stone casting a shadow on the Druid Stone, and that may too have had a hole or some other interplay of the light. It is true however, that the hole in the stone seems better placed to align with the Beltane sunrise / Samhain sunset than the equinoxes. I have been unable to get into the field with the stone to check this properly as it is on private property and surrounded by an electric fence.

But the clincher for me is the Samhain sunrise / Beltane sunset alignment that proves that this is a genuine monument with true alignments. There are no remaining stones in the landscape to mark this alignment, but if you stand at the Druid Stone at sun rise on the 31st of October, you will see the sunrise over the church on top of the hill in Blidworth. The same church that was previously a shrine to Brigid. If this were the only evidence, it might still be easy to dismiss this theory, however, it is not. If we extend this line further East-Southeast just a few miles, we arrive at Robin Hood Hill and the Iron Age Settlement at Oxton. In other words, if you watch the sun rise on the 31st of October from the church yard on top of the hill at Blidworth, the sun will rise over Robin Hood Hill in Oxton.

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What is even more interesting is that when we extend the same line to the East-Northeast, we hit Hamilton Hill, and we miss Friar Tuck’s well by only a couple of hundred feet.

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So here we have at least five ancient monuments all in a line along the Samhain sunrise / Beltane sunset alignment. I propose that this is no coincidence and confirms both Hamilton Hill and the Druid Stone as genuine ancient monuments that make up part of the wider west Nottinghamshire ritual landscape. And for me personally this is a true revelation. It connects up my landscape in a way I never could have dreamed of. Directly linking the area I grew up with the area I live now, and connecting them directly via the woodland that makes up a big part of my ritual practice.

Naturally, I now want to investigate this a little further, and an initial extension of the line to the East-Northeast passes a number of other hills, including Silver Hill and Hardwick Hall (both places I walk a lot), as well as an intriguing “Ladywell” that I do not know, before eventually hitting Mam Tor near Castleton in Derbyshire. One of the highest peaks with burial mounds and other ancient features. Yet another place I have visited a number of times, camped on and practiced my druidry.

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This of course immediately connects back to Hamilton Hill or “The Mam” and Mansfield, truly connecting the local ritual land scape I believe I have just discovered to the wider landscape throughout the country.

I have done a lot of online research and visits to the locations to arrive at this conclusion, and it is an ongoing subject of interest I will no doubt peruse further. Much of the work regarding the alignments of the druid stone with the boulder and the missing stone is the work of the Nottingham Hidden History Team, but they are easy to verify using http://suncalc.net . The connection of the Druid Stone to other features in the landscape is my own work, and I have not been able to find a reference to the alignment of these particular features anywhere else. I am hopeful that others might find this interesting, and have further insights to contribute, so that we can begin to build a better picture of the history of west Nottinghamshire.

Sources and references:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corieltauvi

http://www.kings-mill.co.uk/hamilton.html

https://www.scribd.com/document/307331957/Hamilton-Hill-Nottinghamshire

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1100422

https://myoxton.org/about-oxton/oxton-history/oxton-archaeology/

https://nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/the-three-stones-of-nottinghamshire/

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2 thoughts on “Connecting to the Land. The Ancient Ritual Landscape of Mansfield

  1. Really enjoyed reading this bit of historical detective work… Well done. Always thought there was something around here which had more ancient origins, but it’s good to see someone using their skills to be able to make us think deeper about the land we tread upon. Thank you!

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