The Amazing Buckstone

Situated 891 feet above sea level, just within the boundary of Monmouthshire is a well known curiosity that can be reached by a footpath leading west from Staunton which is 2 1⁄2 miles east of Monmouth on the A4136. Your walk will be rewarded with excellent views to the north-west, but of special interest is a large rock, known as the Buckstone.

it is a large mass of Old Red Sandstone conglomerate or ‘Pudding Stone’, and as a geological feature it is older than the grey cliffs of carboniferous limestone which are such impressive features in the Lower Wye Valley.

It is about 13 feet high, 12 feet wide and 57 feet in circumference. At one time it actually lived up to its name and could be rocked on its base by one person, providing he or she knew just where to apply pressure. People from far and wide used to see this amazing rocking stone. A popular legend claiming that it was of Druidic origin was even woven by romantic writers of the period and this made it even more mysterious.

Such delicately balanced boulders are known as Logan Stones and they can be found throughout the world. The word ‘logan’ is probably derived from ‘log’, an old English word which means to rock. In Welsh, such stones were known as ‘Y Maen Chwyf’.

Geologists offer the explanation that they are natural rocks which have been weathered along the joints and become separated from the underlying rock on which they are now balanced. Alternatively, in glaciated areas they can be perched rocks which have been carried by ice, and finally come to rest on another rock.

In the nineteenth century Reverend D. Booker writing about the Buckstone commented: ‘So exactly does this gigantic insulated rock seem to equilibrate that a spectator would almost suppose he could dislodge it from its narrow base with the force of his single arm, and send it headlong down the steep declivity on which it stands. Such attempts had often been made by the united efforts of a number of stout young rustics and I have perceived it to gently move in a kind of rocking motion but invariably settling on its ancient pivot.’

Charles Heath, a local writer, claimed that in order to contest this statement, ‘a large party of workmen employed at Redbrook went there avowedly to overturn the stone, yet in spite of all their efforts, aided as they were by crows and other levers, they were not able to make the least impression on the gravity.’

This all changed on Wednesday 10 June 1885 when a party of six strolling acrobats, from the London Star Company, on visiting Monmouth, were taken to visit the Buckstone by the landlord of the Agincourt Inn. It would seem that they had more energy than sense and two of the company (Mr H. Zero and Mr J. Goddard) climbed to the top of it, and while in this position, the other members of the group, Mr H.W. Willoughby, Mr Beck, Mr T. McNatty and the publican, Mr Philpotts) started to push the stone. Suddenly, they were surprised to see it turn half round and the next moment it toppled and descended for about ten yards down the hillside to break into three pieces.. The two men on top saved themselves from being crushed to death by jumping clear.

Local people were aghast and took up the matter with their MP who raised it in the House of Commons. The London daily newspapers took the matter very seriously and Mr C.H. Crompton Roberts of Highbridge House, Monmouth, on hearing of the catastrophe, offered £100 towards its restoration.

In due course it was decided to replace this important tourist attraction and the following plan of action was drawn up by HM Commissioners of Woods and Forests:

‘Two cranes will be placed on the hill above where the rock originally stood and two cranes on the lower level. The chief mass weighs about 40 tons and lies from 20 feet to 30 feet down the hill. The top slab has slipped off, and fallen just beyond the rock, right side up, while the rock itself is upside down. The projecting corner has been broken off and this is of triangular shape, about 10 feet wide and lies but a short distance from its original position. The pivot upon which it is rocked is still on the foundation.

Chains for the tower cranes will be first attached to the chief mass, which will then by ‘skidded’ up baulks of timber to a position near where the broken corner lies. The corner will be affixed by means of a special kind of concrete; on which glue and wax are used, the ordinary cement being liable to burst in frosty weather. The stone and corner will then be bound with iron; which will however be removed when the concrete has set. While the latter process is going on; a key stone will be let into the original base which will then be placed in the original position.’

Messrs Payne and Son of Lambsquay House, Coleford were the contractors chosen to carry out this work at a cost of £500. The above procedure was undoubtedly carried out, but unfortunately the Buckstone no longer rocks!

It used to be suggested that Buckstone was used by Druid priests who would demonstrate how they could make it vibrate with very little force and this phenomenon would have been utilised when they wished to impress an important duty or observation on the minds of their audience. It would have given the impression that they possessed a supernatural energy, delegated to them exclusively by the gods!

Just above the Buckstone is another interesting rock which appears to have a hollowed out basin which has resulted in it being called the ‘Sacrificial Stone’ with the suggestion that it was used by the Druids for blood sacrifices! It even has a channel, seemingly carved to let the blood out after it had risen to a certain height. It is hard to accept that it is a work of nature and it is possible that someone carved it in this manner, to give evidence for the supposed Druidical connection with this site!

An alternative explanation is that the rock may have been a beacon stone and the basin made to hold oil for burning. Such rock basins have been found in Cornwall.