A rendezvous with the bad boys of rock

Weekend walk: on Midsummer's Eve, the Rollrights are a suitably pixified destination.
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The Independent Culture
THE SCENT of cow parsley, elder and ripening crops is almost overpowering as midsummer approaches. But there are other energies at work around this time, particularly if you make for some of Britain's ancient sites. Take the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, for instance. A fairly strenuous walk here takes you across a landscape steeped in folklore and superstition.

Start in Long Compton, a pleasant village sadly divided by a busy main road. From the Red Lion Hotel walk northwards towards the church and turn left through a couple of gates beside the school. Follow the cow tracks across the field, through another gate and cross a further field through a metal gate beside a noisy smallholding full of chickens and barking dogs.

Jink left and right following a road until it peters into a well-marked track which climbs slowly towards the ridge. Go over the stile at the top and follow the arrows marked Macmillan Way, continuing in the same direction across pastures grazed by a spectacular herd of Jersey cows.

Head towards the farm in the distance and take the higher gate out of the field, skirting around the barns before taking a well-worn path straight across a field in the direction of a water tower. This will bring you on to a road where you turn left. There are lovely views from here as the little hedged fields, copses and rolling hills fade into the distance.

Continue down the road until you hit a T-junction where you go straight across and join the farm track descending into the valley. As the track veers right follow the footpath through a lush field of wheat to the hamlet of Little Rollright. The simple square bell-tower of the enchanting 15th- century church dominates this group of medieval houses.

Follow the track past the Old Rectory and the Manor House with terraced lawns. As the track bends left follow the signed footpath back up the hill through more waist-high corn.

As the path meets the road you can choose to continue across the fields towards Great Rollright, following the well- worn path opposite: this will give you a view of the Rollright Stones. However, for the only entrance to the stones you must turn left then right along the road, adding an extra mile to the walk.

The stones are steeped in mystery. No one really knows why they are here but they definitely date back to the Bronze Age. They are situated on strong ley lines and are regularly visited by healers and dowsers. They provide a forum for pagan, mystic, occult and other celebrations throughout the year.

The legend is that a king and his men were turned to stone by a witch. A group of knights conspiring in the background met the same fate. The result is the three main sites known as the King's Men, the King Stone and the Whispering Knights.

Start at the King's Men, a ceremonial stone circle dated c2500-2000 BC. There are around 70 gnarled and pitted stones in this circle but try to count them and you will be unlikely to come up with the same number twice; touch them and some are warm, some cold. Hire a dowser for 30p and search for the pull of the ley lines or simply re-energise yourself for the rest of the walk. If you drop in on Midsummer's Eve, rumour has it you may find a group of witches around a bonfire in the middle.

Across the road is the large misshapen King's Stone. There are so many legends surrounding this, they make Midsummer's Eve sound like quite a party. Young girls who press their breasts against the stone at midnight will be guaranteed fertility and if they listen to the stone they will learn their future. If anyone dares to cut the elder in the hedgerows the King will move his head as the elder begins to bleed. At midnight the King joins his men for a dance and a drink until petrified once more by the morning sun.

A little further down the road, turn right into a field and follow the path to the Whispering Knights, a group of five large stones set on the edge of a cornfield.

Picking up the trail of the walk again, head back to the road and continue along it until you meet the busy main road. Turn right and then left after 50 yards up some steep steps carved out of the bank.

From here, follow the overgrown path through fields of rape and wheat. The track eventually meets the road into Great Rollright; turn right and after quarter of a mile turn left through a mature spinney of beech trees, following the bridleway around the right hand edge of the field.

Bear right across the road (or turn left here if you need refreshments at Wyatts Farm shop 400 yds away) and walk across the rich pastureland ahead. Beyond the patchwork of fields and hedges of the valley you will see Long Compton.

Keep going through a couple of gates and straight down following the bridleway signs. This is a glorious walk past magnificent milking herds chewing the cud. A small brook follows the course of the hedgerow encouraging a splash of colourful fauna along its banks.

Zig-zagging along the edge of the field the track takes you right and then left over a little footbridge and back uphill past some ageing oak trees to a farm track. Turn left and follow this for one and a half miles into Long Compton. Follow the road past pretty rose-clad cottages and impressive houses to the church, if only to admire the thatched lychgate. Return southwards through the village back to the Red Lion.

Length about nine miles over gentle hills along some fairly overgrown footpaths. Ordnance Survey Maps: Landranger 151 and Pathfinder 1044. SP 23/33

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