MELISSA ELBORN follows in the Devil’s footsteps in Bedfordshire village, Marston Moretaine.
Ancient standing stones such as Stonehenge attract visitors from all over the world – but despite extensive research, we still do not fully understand their purpose.
Believed to be used for ceremonial or religious acts, the majority of the world’s standing stones are found in the British Isles and Brittany.
And with the secrecy surrounding the Neolithic stones, it’s perhaps not surprising that local folklore and legends have evolved around them.
One such tale can be found in Bedfordshire.
Standing stones in Bedfordshire
The majority of Britain’s standing stones are in the Celtic nations so it is far less common to find them in other parts of the country.
There is just one small Neolithic standing stone in Bedfordshire, hidden in the village of Marston Moretaine.
Not far from this standing stone is the 14th century St Mary’s Church which unusually has a separate bell tower from the main church building.
These two unusual village features have been the subject of local folktales with the Devil being named as being responsible for both.
The Devil tried to steal church tower in Marston Mortaine
It is said that the Devil tried to steal the church tower but finding it too heavy, dropped it a few feet away.
When he returned for a second attempt, on a Sunday, he noticed that three young men were playing leapfrog instead of observing the holy day in a more conservative manner.
Recognizing the chance to add to his stock of souls, the Devil sprang down to join their game, landing on the stone itself.
The men were tricked into jumping over the Devil’s back.
But instead of landing on the earth, they found that a gaping hole leading straight to hell had opened up, and all three plunged down it to eternal damnation.
The hole closed above them, and all that was left to tell the tale was the Devil’s toenail.
Like other folktales, there have been variations of this story with one version saying that three stones sprung up from where the Devil landed.
And there may be some truth to this, as local historians believe that there may have been three of these ancient stones at some point in the site’s history.
The Three Jumps
The earliest Ordnance Survey map, compiled in the late 18th century and printed in the early 19th century, shows buildings opposite the stone with the words ‘The Three Jumps’ alongside.
The stone itself gives no clues as to its origin, other than it seems to be octagonal in shape and may well be the broken remains of a taller structure.
To this day, one of these ancient standing stones can be seen in the grounds of the Forest Centre County Park.
The rare megalith stands at around half a metre high, the stone was hidden by overgrowth for many years but now the area has been cleared and the stone is visible once more.
It is possible that the local tale may relate to a forgotten connection between the church and the standing stone, but if you happen to come across this stone then you may want to avoid jumping over it!