In the Neolithic period the inhabitants of the South Dorset Ridgeway had built linear monuments, but in the middle of the third millennium BC a new type of earthwork was built - the ‘henge'. An external, circular bank and ditch (or series of pits) enclosed a variety of structures in either stone or wood. The most famous example of this is Stonehenge.
The largest henge monuments are interestingly focussed in and around what is now Dorchester. The best example is at Mount Pleasant (SY 70998992), south east of the town. This large site (around 370 metres in diameter) a huge timber palisade, and inside smaller timber circles about 43 metres across. Other henges in Dorchester are at Maumbury Rings and beneath what is now the Waitrose supermarket car park.
On the Ridgeway itself three stone circles survive, The Nine Stones, Kingston Russell and Hampton Down. All date from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age period.
This large irregular stone circle consists of eighteen fallen sarsen stones. The circle appears to retain its full number of stones, although many of them may not be in their original positions.
Located to the west of Winterbourne Abbas this small circle lies beside the winterbourne stream that gives the village its name. It is a small oval built around 4000 years ago. The sarsen stones are of differing heights, probably chosen deliberately for some symbolic value. Its location in a valley bottom, beside a winterbourne is unusual, stone circles such as the ones nearby at Kingston Russell and Hampton are more likely to be found on a hilltop. The circle is looked after by English Heritage and is situated alongside the busy A35. Parking is possible at the Little Chef close by and you can reach the stones by way of a permissive path. In local folklore the stones are also known as the Devil's Nine Stones - representing the Devil, his wife and family. There are also tales of local children who were turned to stone after playing the game five stones on a Sunday and stones that ‘dance at 3.00pm on certain days'.
A small circle of sarsen stones that appears incomplete and cut across by a hedge. It has been suggested that the original circle may have been demolished in the late 17th century. After an excavation in 1965 the circle was restored and the stones were placed into old sockets.