Arbor Low: the finest henge in northern England.
Most people think Stonehenge is the only prehistoric 'stone circle' in the UK. This is not true, of course.......there were many of them all over the country (new ones are still being discovered).
But most have been destroyed over the millennia, their stones buried, or used for buiding, or desroyed because they represented 'pagan' practices. The 'henge' earthworks remain, but in many of them the stones are no longer visible.
Arbor Low is unusual in that both earthworks and stones can be seen, although the stones are now recumbent (lying down) and some are missing. Consequently it is considered to be the best henge monument in northern England, and is worth a visit if you are in the area.
Arbor Low sits at 375 m above sea-level, on a hill which (whilst not particularly impressive in itself) has fantastic long-distance views on a clear day. It's a bleak spot otherwise.
Dating from around 2500BC it is 76m in diameter, with a ditch and 2m-high bank surrounding it. There are two opposite entrances, 46 large stones and 13 smaller ones (some are in a group in the centre). No-one knows whether the stones were originally standing and laid down in later centuries, or whether they were intended to be recumbent. there is no archaeological evidence to suggest that they once stood. It is probably that the stones replaced a wooden circle (usually the case): perhaps it was found that there was not sufficent soil to stand such huge stones upright?
No-one knows either why such henges were built. There is archaeological evidence of feasting on other such sites and it is obvious that they were focal points for local communities.
All henges are associated with tumuli (tombs) nearby, and it is assumed that these were for important members of the community. Arbor Low is unusual in that one such barrow is actually built into the surrounding bank. The barrow dates from the Bronze Age (around 1500BC onwards) and, when excavated in 1845, was found to contain several burials.
Another Bronze age burial mound, Gib Hill, lies 200 metres away. It is thought that an earthen bank may once have joined this barrow to the henge; it is built on top of a much older barrow.
The whole area is full of prehistoric monuments: stone circles, tumuli, barrows. It may seem a bleak landscape now, especially when the weather is drizzly and overcast (as is often the way) but the climate was probably more clement during prehistoric times.
Clearly many communities lived successfully in the area for millennia, and had the time and energy to spend on was not essential to their survival. What is left for us to see is testament to that.
In the very centre of the circle, 'The Cove', you may see flowers (crocuses when I visited). Pretty though these are, they have been planted there by modern 'pagans'. Do not be misled into thinking they are appropriate to the site (crocuses are not indigenous to England).
Arbor Low is easy to get to by car but will need a bit of a walk if you get the bus from Ashbourne to Buxton (or vice versa). It lies off the main A515 road, along the minor road which leads from Parsley Hay to Youlgrave (get off the bus at Parsley Hay).
You can park on the lane, or possibly in the little spot just up the farm (Upper Oldhams) drive which the farmer has created; there's room for about 4 cars. There is a small fee (1GBP) which you can leave in the honesty box by the farm entrance.