Drive up past Ephraim’s Pinch and you will arrive at what must be the most accessible Bronze Age relic on Dartmoor, it is literally 20 yards from the road. In the summer the small stone circle becomes a favourite picnic spot but in winter it is a magical place to visit. On really cold, windy days you will often find some of the moor ponies sheltering beneath the conifers. Sadly, the circle is like Bellever and Lake Hill, another example of the total disregard for the archaeology shown by the foresters of the early 1900’s. The 1946 plantation must have covered up a great deal of the Bronze Age landscape features, a fact born out by the clearing left around the Red Barrows which lies about a mile to the North. Butler mentions that a triple stone row which once ran from the northern end of Soussons Down, 1978, p. 38. Not only have the trees obliterated Bronze Age features they have also covered the remains of an old rabbit warren and some old tin mining relics. The map extract from the 1888 Ordnance Survey gives some idea what the area looked like before the coming of the plantation – see ill. 9 here.
The small circle is located right on the very southern edge of the Soussons Plantation see ill. 2 here, and is known by various names: Soussons Common Circle, Ephraim’s Pinch Circle, Soussons Field Circle, these being a few of its modern names. However, go way back in history and you will find a few more: the Ring of Stones, Ringastan, and Seven Stones. These reflect the usage of prehistoric sites as ancient boundary markers. Probably, as Brewer notes, the earliest mention being that of the Saxon ‘Peadington Landscore‘ which could date to between the 8th and 10th centuries. The document is thought to refer to a Saxon Estate and in it records the following boundary points: “Of Cealfa dune on Sufen stanas“, from the cold down to the seven stones. Then, “Of Sufon stanum on Hyfan treow“, – from Seven Stones to the Hive Tree. Saxon boundaries quite often used such sites as markers, Hooke, 2001, p.98 notes how, “In their boundary clauses the Anglo Saxons frequently referred to features of an earlier period and were obviously familiar with there use“. In this light, Brewer, p. 303, considers that in the case of the term ‘Seven Stones’ it refers to any pre-Christian burial site regardless of the number of stones present. It is thought that the place-names of the area such as Soussons Common, Down, Farm, Plantation, and Warren all allude to the Saxon name – ‘Seven Stones’. Gover et al, 1998, p. 482, state that in Birch’s Cartularium Saxonicum of 1323, the Sufen Stanas as mentioned above would have been the root of Soussons, meaning ‘at the seven stones’.
The other name, ‘Ringastan’ or Ring of Stones’ comes from the boundary of Spitchwick where once again the circle was a maker point. In 1752 the bounds for the manor of Spitchwick stated: “and is lineable to a place called Ring of Stones otherwise Ringastan…”.
As previously mentioned the circle is in fact a cairn circle dating to the Bronze Age. Butler, 1991, p.19. describes the circle as consisting of 22 visible stones with a diameter of 8.6m., at the centre of which are the remains of a kist, – see ill. 3 here. When the Dartmoor Exploration Committee excavated the kist in 1903 they discovered that there was a false paved floor under which was hidden two large coils of human hair. It was thought at the time that they were evidence for some recent activities that involved witchcraft of some kind. The kist has often had fires lit in its cavity, so much so that the D.N.P.A. filled it in 1994. This was to prevent the heat from the fire splitting the side slabs of the kist. But, as always this has not stopped the problem as can be seen from the photograph taken in 2005 – see ill. 9 here. Having visited the stone circle again in August 2006 it was obvious that nothing had changed – see figure 10 here. In fact on this occasion there were signs that other fires had been lit outside the circle.
However, it is a magical site to visit and I must confess I always pop in whenever passing as the changing year adds numerous facets to the place. A while ago when I was there the place was deserted apart from a chaffinch who quite clearly was had no fear of humans – see ill. 11 here. I will warn you now, that on a hot, muggy day you will pay dearly for your visit as the site is notorious for its local midge population. I have just visited again and the whole area is tinted with the hues of early autumn and the flies were in a particularly vicious mood.
Brewer, D. 2002 Dartmoor Boundary Markers, Halsgrove Pub., Tiverton.
Butler, J. 1997 Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Vol. V, Devon Books, Exeter.
Butler, J. 1991 Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Vol. II, Devon Books, Exeter.
Gover, J. E. B., Mawer, A. & Stenton, F. M. 1992 The Place Names of Devon, English Place-Name Society, Nottingham.
Hooke, D. 2001 The Landscape of Anglo Saxon England, Leicester Univ. Press, London