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1 March 2004
Nine Ladies under threat

The Nine Ladies stone circle at Stanton Lees, Derbyshire (England) is threatened by plans to extract 3.2 million tons of millstone grit from just 100m away. The company, Stancliffe Stone, has legally binding development rights to a dormant quarry just below the Nine Ladies site, owned by Lord Edward Manners of nearby Haddon Hall. Stanton Lees, between Matlock and Bakewell, is at the heart of the Peak District National Park, the first National Park to be established in the UK. Attracting some 22 million visitors each year, the ‘Peak’ is a magnet for walkers and rock climbers. A landscape of dales, high moors and millstone and limestone crags, the Peak is rich in Neolithic and Bronze Age sites – cairns, burial mounds, stone circles and hillforts. Now locals and visitors alike are coming together to protect ancient heritage and modern tourism.
     The Nine Ladies comprise nine truncated stones dated to between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. The circle was probably constructed for rituals connected to sun and moon worship. Surrounding the stones are burial mounds and other ruins that still await investigation. Local legend has it that the Nine Ladies were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath – the ‘King Stone’, just a few yards away, was said to have been their fiddler. But the site obviously predates Christianity by several thousand years and is something of a centre for modern pagans, who have added their voice to the protests. Pagan ceremonies performed at the site include ‘handfasting’ (marriage) wicca and other forms of meditation.
     Jenny Blain, researching “how people relate to landscapes” at Sheffield Hallam University, emphasises the academic value of the site: “This is important to archaeologists with an interest in prehistory, who study the cairns and cist graves. Then there are archaeologists of the early modern period, as well as scientists who come to study the bats here – there are two protected species.” Jenny adds: “The special feel of the Nine Ladies comes from the fact that they are part of a wider landscape. This means so much to so many people – and locals join in at festivals like Imbolc (ewe’s milk, for when sheep lactate in spring).”
     There has been conflict between the extraction industry and other interests in the National Park for many years. Physical damage to the landscape and wildlife aside, local villagers are concerned about the increase in heavy traffic that will result from the re-development of the quarry. Protesters are constructing ramparts to prevent Stancliffe Stones’ diggers from approaching the quarry face.

Source: Guardian Unlimited (28 February 2003)

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