Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle, Shropshire
OS Ref: SO 305 983 Type: Flattened, 26-28 m diameter
Access: Good but parking is limited down an unmetalled track
Disabled: Difficult A long walk across moorland is involved
This ring is mostly ruined but still recognisable and with impressive views across Stapely Common. There is a fine view to the east as the sun rises and the centre stone, angled into a triangle, appears to align with the winter solstice sunrise as well as one of the stones behind it. There is an alignment of a further stone at this sunrise. Interestingly, there are two holes filled with water (the common is very damp!) which also appear to be aligned; I do not know if these holes are where other stones stood or later. There are medieval ridges surrounding and through the site.
The circle is one of the "Whetstone" group of stones, although the others are not in as good a condition. The circle could have been visible for miles on the west side as there is a break in the nearby hills with views to forever. Even in a forested area, it is likely the circle was conspicuous.
It's early in the morning - really early - and outside the cold air caresses the windows whilst frost turns the world to an eerie and silent white. The temptation to roll over and go back to sleep in the nice warm bed is overpowering but, nevertheless, I get out. Double glazing is wonderful stuff, and the house is reasonably warm as I wash and dress.
Bleary eyed, I make myself some tea and set about defrosting the car before setting off to the other side of Shropshire to see the Sun rise over these ancient monoliths. In the dark, the journey is quick to Shrewsbury; after there the road winds and turns and much care is taken to avoid slipping on the icy surface.
Eventually I reach the sign; "Stone Circle" is all it says and I turn into a narrow lane. A short distance along and snow lies on the ground at this high elevation. Taking extreme care, I drive up a dark, unmade track which will take me closer to the circle and park in the parking bay. I open the car door. I close it again and decide to retrieve my walking boots from the inside of the car; it's warmer...
Having put on the right clothes, I get out and start walking up the track leading across Stapely Common as the first glow of morning appears in the eastern sky. I expected some friends to be there, but I am alone as I approach the circle. It is difficult to tell distances in the dark and silhouetted against the dim glow appear to be the pointed hats of giant sorcerers. Momentarily I stop, then reason to myself that they can't be. Could they? The dim glow gets a little brighter and I see the magicians are small fir trees - but were they when it WAS dark?
I reach the stones, standing rigid in the snow-covered ground and wait. I stop waiting and start walking as my feet get cold and hear, in the distance, other vehicles arrive. Before long there is a group of us with snacks, hot coffee and other liquid refreshments.
The sky gets brighter and brighter and everyone is now facing to where the Sun will rise and, as the first rays shine in our faces a celebration is held with drums, singing and even a bagpipe!
The energy of the Sun can be felt and the light casts long shadows across the white ground. Before long the Sun is higher in the sky and the Solstice is, for another year, over. We can now look forward to longer days and summer's warmth as we tread our way back to normal life
Back in our cars, we leave the sacred site and disperse, leaving the stones to stand sentinel and guard their ancient stories. If only they could talk....
There is a story about this circle which explains the stones as being an evil woman called Mitchell, who milked a cow dry which formerly miraculously provided unlimited supplies. The people of nearby Priest Weston were saved from starvation by this magic cow's milk. The witch fooled the cow by draining the milk into a sieve, explaining why the common is so wet. What the witch did with this huge amount of milk is, as usual, unrecorded!
Nearby (depending how fast you walk!) are the Hoarstones. Once the site of another circle, it is pretty much unrecognisable as such now, though many large stones are to be found there.
A small twin-peaked hill links two recent cairns. A stone axe has been found here.
Rocks are strewn around and, round the back, there is this arrangement. The size and hollow centre makes me wonder if this was once a grave.
Of course, there's always Shaun!
A raised footpath runs across the moor - probably one of many
And, of course, no standing stone is complete without the Sun breaking through! (Even if only momentarily.....)
That's all about Mitchell's Fold! Winter pictures were taken on the 2003 Winter Solstice and others on March 28th 2005.