Stonehenge is world famous, while the monoliths of Avebury are also well known and often visited, but the third largest collection of ancient stones in the UK is much less publicised. Located at the edge of the small, north Somerset village of Stanton Drew, the site contains three circles plus a detached group of three stones and the remains of two avenues; around 70 stones in total, in a quiet, rural setting surrounded by grassy fields.
Like the other two sites, Stanton Drew Circles and Cove is managed by English Heritage, though unlike them it is free to enter, and has no facilities. Perhaps only a dozen or so people visit on a typical day - due to the general lack of publicity, the limited number of signs from neighbouring places, the absence of any recent archaeological investigations and the rather remote location, not beside any major roads.
Another reason for the low number of visitors might be that, although the site is large and historically very important, the stones are rather less spectacular than those at either Stonehenge or Avebury. In the largest group, the 370 foot-diameter Great Circle, most stones are quite well separated and some are lying rather than standing so it is difficult to obtain a good perspective of the circular outline. Likewise the stones of the Southwest Circle (150 foot diameter) are also low-lying, irregular in shape and partly buried. The best group is the 100 foot-diameter Northwest Circle as most of stones here are large and upright; this is the easiest to recognise as having a circular arrangement.
The separate group of three large stones, The Cove, is also impressive despite its rather incongruous location in the garden of the local pub. One other component of the site is a detached, recumbent stone known as Hautville's Quoit, next to a farm half a mile northeast, though apparently not accessible to the public. This stone is aligned with the centres of the Great and Southwest circles.
Stanton Drew lies on the south side of the River Chew, half a mile south of the B3130 between Chew Magna and Belluton, near Pensford. A few parking spaces are available at the end of a short residential street on the east side of the village, at the closest point to the circles, though better is a larger area along the main road at the south edge of town, just south of the Druid Arms pub. This is right next to the Cove; the fields containing the three circles are then a quarter of a mile walk away.
The three large stones of the Cove are now just inside the back garden of the pub, above a slope right next to the parking area. One, rectangular stone is lying while the other two are upright, and one of these has an unusual shape, narrow at the base then abruptly wider towards the top. Originally, it is believed that the recumbent stone was resting against the other two, and that the site was associated with a burial chamber, or barrow, identified during excavations. The stones of the Cove were placed sometime between 4000 and 3000 BC, so are contemporary with Stonehenge, and about 1000 years older than the three adjacent stone circles. All the Cove stones are composed of dolomitic conglomerate, pinkish-grey in colour, a rock that is also used in the circles, along with pennant sandstone and oolitic limestone.
The Great and Northeast circles are located in a field at the east edge of the village, while the Southwest Circle is a little way south, in a smaller field. An English Heritage information leaflet is available at the main field entrance. The larger field is usually used by cows or sheep, hence no dogs are allowed. The Great Circle is second in size only to that at Avebury, and contains 26 stones; up to four are believed to be missing. Recent magnetometry investigations have revealed nine concentric rings of post holes within the circle and an enclosing ditch on the outside, indicating that the original structure was much more elaborate than initially appears. The best section of the site, the Northeast Circle, today consists of eight stones, with one or two missing. Other stones define two avenues leaving approximately in an easterly direction, from both these circles. The Southwest Circle is slightly larger than that in the northeast, and contains 12 visible stones.