Stonehenge is a well-known World Heritage site, visited by thousands of people from across the globe each year.
The reasons for visiting the prehistoric monument in the heart of Wiltshire are as diverse as the visitors themselves.
But very few tourists realise that an equally impressive site exists in north Northumberland. The Duddo Stone Circle is a prehistoric collection of stones just four miles south of the Scottish Border.
The circle next to the small village of Duddo was created in the Neolithic period and is made up of five large blocks of stone. An excavation in the 19th century revealed the roots of two additional stones – making the original total seven. It’s surmised that the missing stones were removed in the mid 1800s.
Duddo Stone Circle is more mysterious and beautiful compared to Stonehenge. The quiet, unspoilt location on a hill, the strangeness of the stones and the stunning views from the circle are all reasons for favouring Duddo.
The quiet, narrow road to the circle passes through the village of Duddo, and follows a small track to the fields adjacent to the stones. There is parking on the roadside and the stones are on private land, but access is granted by Duddo Farm and the circle is well signposted.
You can’t see the stones from the road, but after a few hundred metres or so they become visible like a crown on a foothill of the Cheviots.
Occasionally other people are about, taking photos, absorbing the setting, studying the stones or taking in the views across to the Cheviots and the Scottish Border. You may, though, find yourself completely alone in this ancient place, and feel a sense of peace and sanctuary that’s hard to find in the modern world.
Each stone is two to three meters high and the circle is about 10 meters in diameter, with rough grass and an elevated point in the centre. The stones themselves are unusual. They are flat and then taper to the ground. And unlike the unmarked monoliths at Stonehenge, Duddo’s stones display unique and intriguing patterns.
The lines, circles and indentations are very distinct and will have you guessing about their origin and purpose. There is an ongoing debate about the origin of these markings. Northumberland has a great deal of original Bronze Age stone art known as cup and ring marks. Are the Duddo Stone markings the remnants of ancient carvings or the result of more than 4,000 years of weathering on an exposed hill? Current thought is that they are the result of the erosion, but no-one will ever really know.
Duddo Stone Circle’s purpose has been lost in the mists of time. Was it a meeting place or a religious centre? Experts tend to discount these things, saying that the circle is too small in circumference and that more than likely it was a place for cremations. An excavation at the end of the 18th century revealed some ash and bone fragments.
Locally, the stones are known as The Singing Stones, which describes the strange whistling sound they make when the wind blows from a certain direction. Because the lower part of each stone is narrow and smooth another local name is The Women. This describing the fact they look like a woman’s waist. Years ago they were called the Four Stones, until a fifth was restored to its original place in the late 1800s or early 20th century.
This is a place that, although less than 100 metres above sea level, can make you feel as though you are on top of the world. The views are unfettered and the plants and ground wild and natural. The landscape is quiet, rural and unspoilt. There are a few farms and villages, and in the distance wide open land and the rolling hills of the border between England and Scotland.
In contrast Stonehenge has almost lost its sense of mystery due sadly to the crowds that descend on it every week and the constant sound of traffic from the nearby A303 – the main link between London and the south west.
The stones are out of necessity watched over by English Heritage and the main site is cordoned off.
Duddo is one of the best natural works of art in the UK. It acknowledges the forces of the wind and rain and pushes back against time to claim its place as a wonderful, intriguing and very special place.