The Bull Tor triangle

There’s a part of us that likes patterns, and this can be played out in the landscape through alignments marked by ley lines or more complex arrangements like the Glastonbury zodiac. Significant places are linked together in a pattern, which amplifies their significance.

In the Peak District of Derbyshire, there is a triangle formed by three ancient sites: in the northwest, the Neolithic henge circle called The Bull Ring, in the northeast, the Eyam Moor stone circle called Wet Withens, and in the south the Arbor Low stone circle.

The triangle is not quite equal-sided. The distance between The Bull Ring and Wet Withens is about nine miles, compared to more than ten miles for the other two sides. 

This triangle is a central theme in a recently published book called The Dancing Circles, by Andy Leaver Davies. I really enjoyed the book, which describes a tradition of journeying between the circles, and performing particular exercises at each of them. So here’s a bit about the circles and how they are described in the book.

The Bull Ring

The Bull ring, photo credit Dave Dunford, via Wikimedia

The Bull Ring is located on the edge of the village of Dove Holes, by the Cricket Club and Football field. It may have been a stone circle once, but now all that is left is a round circular earthwork with a mound in the middle. In the book, The Bull Ring is used as a place to bring the body into balance, using a simple circle dance.

Arbor Low

Arbor Low, photo credit Wikimedia

The 50+ stones which make up Arbor Low are all on their sides now, on a raised mound surrounded by a ditch and earthen bank. It’s located on high moorland, with long sight-lines to the horizon. In the book, Arbor Low is a place to learn how to open up and apply the mind.

Wet Withens

Wet Withens Chair Stone

For me, Wet Withens is the most elusive of the three circles – it took me three trips before I found it! Located on a gentle slope overlooking the River Derwent, the stones are mostly hidden in the heather, but there are a few large ones. The photo shows the largest stone, called the ‘Chair Stone’ (because of the ledge cut out of its face). Notice the similarity in shape of the top of the stone with the outline of Higger Tor on the horizon behind it. In the book, Wet Withens is linked to the development of feelings.

Bull Tor

Roughly at the centre of the triangle is a hilltop by the river Wye called Bull Tor, and in The Dancing Circles, this is the central place of the triangle, where the journey leads after building strength in the body, opening the mind, and developing the feelings. In the book, Andy’s teacher Tom talks about the people who started the journey and built the stone circles:

“For them, life was hard, dealing with pain, death and suffering. They had to look to their bodies to stop them getting ill. They had to learn about time and how to use it, because life was short. They had to learn to see through pain and suffering to the meaning behind it all. So they learned to join themselves to the land, to what came before and to what was to come. They learned to make themselves part of something, to see their short lives as a part of something bigger so that no matter how short, each life was part of the big plan. And they had to pass this down to the next generations so that each knew of their part in that bigger world. Their feelings of anger, hate, and love meant nothing by themselves. They just come and go like life comes and goes. If it’s not joined to something bigger, it means nothing at all. But if those feelings can be joined to something bigger, it can make them grow so someone can have feelings bigger than themselves. When that happens, all the pain and suffering can be put up against the bigger feelings and can have a meaning. The meaning in everything becomes clearer. There is still and always will be pain, but like life, it will come and go. The world can be faced.”

The Dancing Circles, p.148

Notes and Links:

The Dancing Circles: An extraordinary journey to a different way of living, Andy Leaver Davies, ISBN Dancing Circles Publishing (6 April 2021), 978-1838487515. Available on Amazon:

The Bull Ring on

Arbor Low at English Heritage

Wet Withens at

Standing Stone

This is Mayburgh Henge.

It survives as a single standing stone within a circular depression, around which is an impressive bank made of river pebbles culled from the nearby river. When you see the scale of the embankment, you realise just how much effort has gone into dragging that tonnage of river pebbles to the site. The site dates to the end of the Neolithic period or the beginning of the Bronze Age, which makes it about 4,500 years old.

Aerial view via English Heritage

No one knows exactly what this site was for. We can only look and imagine. But from historical records we know there were more standing stones here, and that the site was built near a spring and the confluence of the rivers Eamont and Lowther.

Map of 1769

The single remaining stone is like a spindle at the centre – and the large depression forms a navel in the landscape, which curves in towards the site on all sides. The stone is taller than a man, and is exactly at the centre of the circular boundary.

It is single, embedded in the earth, yet pointing up to the sky.

The stars have turned around this axis over millennia.

It occurs to me that this is like the thoughts that are always circling around us, ready to take root.

The thoughts don’t belong to us, though sometimes we mistake them for ours. But we can let them pass, just the way this standing stone lets the turning of the stars pass. Lifespan after lifespan, it has been a witness to the ever-changing sky.

One of the attractions of this standing stone is its aloneness, its stillness and its silence.

The stone cannot speak.

Yet it stands for something.

Working with the Abstract

Nowadays people often favour working with the complexity and variety of nature, rather than the simplicity of the abstract, but in our work we need both.

Mind strives for simplicity. It transforms our complex experience into simpler but perhaps less tangible mental images, thoughts and feelings.

At its deeper levels, beyond the rational and verbal levels, mind works with symbols and archetypes. Rich with meaning and significance, these archetypes are in some sense the pillars of mind, the building blocks of meaning.

Beyond even this, the mind works with the pure abstract – with number and pattern.

One way of working with the abstract is what we now call sacred geometry. Some of the oldest examples of this activity are the 5000-year-old stone balls found in Scotland.

Stone balls, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow (via Wikimedia)

Hundreds of carved stone spheres, roughly three inches in diameter have been found over the years in Scotland. Many form regular polyhedra, and some depict platonic solids, long before the Greeks wrote about them. As to the purpose of the stone balls – no one knows. Perhaps they were used as weights, as dice for oracles, in ball games, or just as ‘prestige objects’. Or maybe the Neolithic people used them as objects of contemplation.

Stone ball from Towie in Aberdeenshire, dated from 3200–2500 BC. (via Wikimedia).

I have a replica of the Towie stone. It has four large knobs on it, each decorated with a different pattern. It forms a tetradedron – a triangular-based pyramid.

All of the stone balls are of a size to fit comfortably in the hands. I sit in the dark with the replica, feeling the shape with my fingertips. After a while it warms from my body heat. I sense the fine patterns of decoration. There is nothing to say about it, except that something in me responds to its shape. I wonder if our ancestors made a similar use of the stone.