The Origin of Hell

Dorset is well provided with ancient hill forts, tombs and other archaeology. Here is a description of one of the most spectacular. I love the  fact that it provides  shelter for shepherds:

“On the next height on the Portisham side of the monument [to Thomas Hardy, Nelson’s captain] is a cromlech called the Hell Stone. Hel in the Northern mythology is, I believe, the Goddess of the Dead, and this spot was no doubt the burying place of some chieftain of the late Stone Age. It consists of 9 upright stones supporting, for a roof, a single flat rock of great size. Thus was formed a small cabin or hut, which because the habitation of the dead man until such time as he could join his kinsmen in the other world. The door of the stone sepulchre opens towards the sea, towards the sun at high noon. Originally the stones were buried under a long barrow, the earth of which has been washed away by centuries of rain. For years the place was a shelter for shepherds, who might well have blessed the spirit of the unknown king from whose tomb they looked out upon the storm.

To the west of the Hel Stone, at the entrance of the Valley of Stones, is another dolmen with the inappropriate name of “The Grey Mare and Her Colts.” The Valley of Stones is a mysterious glen among the downs, on whose grassy slopes many huge grey stones are scattered. Lower down the hollow are clumps of trees, under the cover of which the strange valley curves out of sight. It it was along this vale that the dead were borne for burial, then no processional road could have been more awe-inspiring. The tribesmen might have gathered on the lonely heights and watched the shadows below the trees for the first sight of the slowly-moving company. It is said that the stones were once covered by a barrow 54 feet long, 25 feet broad, and 5.5 feet in height, and that the sepulchre was rifled and broken up years ago by men incontinently searching for treasure. The stones are in a poor field entirely overgrown and choked with thistles – a bitter, heartless garden of Gethsemane. The boulders themselves are on a mound, where they are almost hidden from sight by nettles.”

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