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The holey stone that captures the solstice sunset in Northumberland National Park UK News

A walk in the Simonside Hills of Northumberland is a lovely way to spend the day, whatever the time of year.

The hills, which lie southwest of the town of Rothbury and just inside Northumberland National Park, are a popular place for walkers, partly because of the scenery, but also because of the many historic features of the region. However, there is one particularly compelling reason to visit them at this time of year: the Solstice Stone.

Officially known as Thompson’s Rock, the stone stands on the lower slopes of Simonside’s most easterly hill, The Beacon, and is said to line up perfectly with the midsummer sunset. summer on the longest day of the year, June 21. starts on the Simonside Ridge Walk linking Beacon, Dove Crag and Simonside itself – and there are several ways to get there.

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One of the most popular is to do the Simonside Ridge loop from the Simonside parking lot. However, this remains closed due to damage from Storm Arwen in November last year, with hundreds of trees felled and the area still deemed unsafe.

You can also start from Rothbury, but for the top of the Beacon (which isn’t even the tallest hill) it’s more or less a 360 meter climb. It takes between an hour and a half and two hours, but that’s without stopping for photos. I started the walk at the nearest car park, Lordenshaw, and from there you can find the Solstice Stone in 15 minutes.

Thompson's Rock, also known as Solstice Stone
Thompson’s Rock, also known as Solstice Stone

But it’s tricky to find. The stone is unmarked and although there is a narrow path-like track leading directly to it, it is not obvious unless you know what you are looking for.

The penny dropped what a ‘hidden gem’ it was when I asked a local walking her dog for directions, and she had never heard of either Thompson’s Rock or the Solstice Stone or holed stone. Following Google Maps is also not recommended, as the app will take you to the top of The Beacon and then encourage you to walk to the side – don’t do this, the Northumberland Mountain Rescue Teams are busy enough.

Instead, look for the track mentioned above that veers right just before the climb gets really steep. It’s a few hundred yards away and the plants will graze your legs, so if you’re afraid of ticks, long pants are recommended.

Keep right on the grass to get to the stone rather than taking the path to the top of The Beacon
Keep right on the grass to get to the stone rather than taking the path to the top of The Beacon

The stone is the largest of a group, and there is a hole about 2-3 inches in diameter running through the whole rock, which is estimated to be around 4-5 tons. It is unclear whether the hole is natural or man-made, as it has never been investigated by a qualified archaeologist.

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And this is not the only mysterious stone in the national park. The Drake Stone near Harbottle is a huge boulder of stone said to have special healing powers.

According to the Countryside Charity CPRE, the rock was discovered in 1987 by David Thompson, hence the name Thompson’s Rock. It is recorded as being directly aligned with the midsummer sunset in Paul Frodsham’s book In the Valley of the Sacred Mountain, who studies Upper Coquetdale prehistory.

Thompson's Rock, also known as Solstice Stone, in Northumberland National Park
Thompson’s Rock, also known as Solstice Stone, in Northumberland National Park

It’s only 700 yards from the parking lot to the stone (it’s less than a mile round trip), and for the majority of people going to the national park, it’s probably not worth it.

After finding the stone, I recommend following the path and climbing The Beacon, which runs along a wall of a 13th-century deer park – a piece of the area’s rich history. There is also Bronze Age rock art which dates to between 6,000 and 3,500 years ago on the hill, while in the opposite direction from the car park you can explore the Lordenshaw Iron Age Fort Hill about 2000 years old.

Knowing that the nearby forest is still closed due to high winds from Storm Arwen, it is terrifying to think of what it would have been like on the hill last November. However, when I visited, there was nothing more than a light breeze – strong enough to spin two of the six nearby wind turbines lazily.

Many trees in Simonside Forest were felled during Storm Arwen
Many trees in Simonside Forest were felled during Storm Arwen

Although the views are spectacular at any point during the climb and you can stop several times to take photos, whether to take a photo of a red admiral butterfly or a wide shot of a landscape, the summit from the hill is the best place to admire all that is posed…

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This notice was published: 2022-06-21 05:00:00

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