©Presence Photography, Boroughbridge
The three huge standing stones on the western outskirts of Boroughbridge are among the least understood and most neglected historic monuments in Britain.
Where they came from, how many there were originally, what their purpose is, and who placed them and when, have been for hundreds of years – and are still today – matters of conjecture.
They are 18ft, 22ft and 22ft 6in tall, the last of these being taller than anything at Stonehenge. The smallest of the stones is rectangular – about 8ft 6in by 4ft 6in. The 22ft stone is 5ft by 4ft in girth and the third and tallest 4ft 6in by 4ft. This last and tallest stands by the roadside among trees immediately on the west side of Roecliffe Lane, the other two are across the road in a field which is flanked by the lane which leads to Boddy’s timber yard and the Boroughbridge Marina.
What’s in a name?
They have been variously known as The Devil’s Bolts, The Three Greyhounds and The Three Sisters but are generally referred to today as either The Three Arrows or The Devil’s Arrows. The story which led to the latter name is thought to date from the end of the 17th century: Old Nick, irritated by some slight from Aldborough, threw the stones at the village from his stance on How Hill (south of Fountains Abbey). His aim, or his strength, being below par the “arrows’ fell short by a good mile. It was also claimed, and perhaps still is, that walking 12 times around the stones anti-clockwise will raise the Devil.
There have been suggestions that the stones were part of (or perhaps were intended to be part of) an immense henge a mile in diameter. But the most likely conjecture so far is that the stones date from around 2000 BC and that they are probably part of an isolated single row of stones – one of a large number of such megalithic monuments scattered through Western Europe.
Stone rows vary in complexity, starting with a pair of standing stones and going on to short rows and then longer rows. The long rows, of which the Arrows would seem to have been an early example, are found in south west England and Northern Ireland and seem to follow on from the earlier long double rows or avenues (such as that at Avebury). The stones of these rows do not compare in size with the Arrows.