The Whispering Knights Long Barrow, Rodmarton, Gloucestershire
Text by Tim Darvill
Not a long barrow but the remains of a portal dolmen set on a hillslope east of the Rollright Stones. At the Whispering Knights, four stones stand upright, while a fifth, probably the capstone, lies fallen. The stones would never have been covered by a mound: rather they projected out of a low flat-topped platform that surrounded the setting. At the southeast side there is a perfectly formed H-shaped setting of stones characteristic of portal dolmens.
The Rollright Stones comprise three elements which are all of different date: the King Stone (a standing stone probably erected around 1500 BC), King’s Men (a stone circle probably built about 2200 BC) and the Whispering Knights. Folklore has it that the stones are the petrified remains of a king and his followers. The tale behind this calamity, which was already circulating by the late 1600s, recalled how a king and his company were marching across the Cotswolds when they were confronted by a witch (sometimes said to be Mother Shipton) who posed a challenge for the king:
Seven long strides shah thou take,
and If Long Compton thou canst see,
King of England shall thou be.
On his seventh stride, however, there rose before him a ridge in the hillslope which prevented him from seeing Long Compton (some say it was a long barrow, but there is no firm evidence (or this). The witch then said:
As Long Compton thou canst not see,
King of England thou shall not be.
Rise up, stick, and stand still, stone,
For King of England thou shalt be none,
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be,
And I myself an eldern tree.
SP 2992 3084. On upland ridge 6km N of Chipping Norton, SW of the A3400 and NE of the A44. Access along minor road towards Little Rollright between the A3400 and the A44. Parking is available in the lay-by at the Rollright Stones.
Further reading: Crawford 1925, 165-6 (C69); Grinsell 1976, 146-8; 1977; Lambrick 1988.