|In late March 2004 CE, my friend Jeff Hoke and I traveled to England for a week among the ancient mystical sites of Cornwall and the West Country. Here are some notes and links to photos from our trip.
Another version of this journal can be found at http://www.wonderella.org/articles/england2004
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"The North Inn"
After landing at Heathrow, Jeff and I rented a car and drove six hours to get to the far Western tip of Southern England—Land's End peninsula in Cornwall. We stayed at The North Inn in Pendeen. As an inn, The North has a bar, food, and rooms upstairs. Two brothers (John and Andrew Coak) operated the inn, which won the 2003 Pub of the Year Award from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). The ale was a welcome reward after all that traveling. In fact, I think one of my happiest moments from the entire trip was when Jeff and I sat down with our pints and finally relaxed. Tinner's and Tribute were two of three cask ales on offer at The North Inn. I liked Tribute the best. After a few pints and dinner, we went for a stroll outside. Within a few minutes we were walking down a pitch-black country lane. If we kept walking I'm sure we would have met the Cornish version of the Phooka and been offered a ride home.
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Our first full day in England was spent exploring several of Cornwall's mystery sites. Before setting out we discussed local lore with Andrew as we ingested our first English breakfast, a delicious monstrosity I will describe later. Our first stop was at Chûn Quoit, a seven-foot-tall stone hut situated on a hilltop near Trehyllys Farm. We drove in through the barnyard and parked the car before hiking up the hillside. We met a woman on the trail, and she guided us to the site and talked with us briefly before leaving. I snapped a few photos before getting an awesome urge to crawl inside this intriguing formation. It wasn't easy going, what with the opening less than two feet across. Inside, I sat and wondered how and why Chûn came to be, and who would have cobbled together this stone mushroom. Was it built by a group of astronomers seeking to make a calendar? A local shaman or wizard who needed a home? Spriggans (Cornish giants) playing a game of stone tossing?
After ten minutes of speculation I was no closer to an answer than when I'd started, so I decided to leave the Quoit. This too proved difficult, requiring me to lie on my back and kick and drag myself out. I paused about a third of the way out and stared up at the fifteen-ton stone above me. It was then and there, with each of my arms holding on to the massive thigh-like stones on either side of my, that the meaning of Chûn hit me. This was a birth experience! I called Jeff over to tell him, then pulled and kicked the rest of my body into the sunlight. Jeff clambered in for his go-round, and I stood staring at the stones. One minute later I was bawling my head off, overwhelmed by the full force of Mother Chûn. I cried for a good five minutes, paused, then cried some more. I felt nothing but Connectedness and Love and it was then that I believe my journey truly began.
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It would take a lot of doing for the next (or any) site to top what happened at Chûn Quoit, so perhaps I didn't approach Men-an-Tol with enough openmindedness. Located a few minutes' drive from where we parked to visit Chûn, Men-an-Tol is an arrangement of three stones—two uprights on either side of an amazing holed stone. The holed stone has a seam near the top that makes me think of the alchemical tail-devouring dragon Ouroboros. The stones are all about three feet tall.
What do they mean? The formation said something to me about transitions and changes, about moving from one state to the next through an experience. That and sex. Men-an-Tol is like a stony threesome, and playing with the etymology I called it "Men and the Hole" while we were there. Jeff took a photo of he and me shaking hands through the center stone and then we left to let a pair of lovers enjoy the site with their blanket and bottle of wine.
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Lanyon Quoit just sort of jumped out at us as we were driving away from Men-an-Tol. It's right next to the roadside in a tiny field. The formation is similar to Chûn in that it is a roofed stone structure, but Lanyon is much more open, resembling a walking beast or a table more than a hut. Apparently Lanyon used to be fourteen feet tall, although one of the stones fell apart in a storm in 1812, so it was rebuilt at its current height of about seven feet. The capstone hangs off as if to point toward something on the horizon, what it could be Jeff and I couldn't figure out. While we were there we met a sprightly young woman who told us tales of a Pagan wishing well and stone church just up the road, so after paying our respects to Lanyon we made for that site.
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"Hankies at the Wishing Well"
One short drive and a muddy hike later Jeff and I were standing at one of the most peculiar sites we would visit. Moss-coated trees and rocks created a small, rich forest above clear streams and pools, and there were bits of clothing on the ground and hanging from tree branches.
According to the woman who directed us here, the pools have healing qualities. If a person is suffering from aches and pains they can tear a portion of their clothing from the area that hurts and hang it from the tree in hopes of a magical cure. If that's true, then there must be one hell of a sinusitis epidemic in Land's End, because most of the scraps seemed to come from people's handkerchiefs, although I did see a few single shoes on the ground nearby, nearly engulfed completely by the rapidly growing moss. I spent a little contemplative time in the nearby stone church, a roofless structure about fifteen-by-eight feet with a low stone altar at one end and a baptismal font with naturally flowing water on the other. Peaceful.
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"Reflections of Home"
Before we left the small forest surrounding the wishing well, I asked Jeff to take a photo of me on this green little bridge above the water. The bent trees and the streams and tiny waterfalls here reminded me of childhood romps through my family's woods in Iowa.
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"Voices at Merrivale"
Our final stop before dinner was at Merrivale near the beach at Dartmoor. It was very foggy and even a bit rainy here, surprisingly so after the morning's sunshine. Even in such miserable weather, we bought ice cream cones from a truck on the beach before driving up to Merrivale. The site is huge, made of two very long double rows of small stones, a number of monoliths, and at least one stone circle, all spread out over several hundred yards. Jeff trekked out to the far end of the formation and I stayed behind to walk the rows and have an invigorating puff of my pipe.
As I began to smoke, I noticed a number of voices around me—the babbling of a stream that cut between the stone rows, the bleats of dozens of sheep wandering around the site, the sizzling gurgle of my pipe, and the lost murmurings of ancient ghosts who were once men, women, and children gathered at this site. The stone rows here were named "The Plague Market" in the seventeenth century, when locals brought food here for the banished victims of the Black Death. But this wasn't just a hospital. Merrivale must have been a meeting place of great vivacity and life. I pictured processions, dancing, and children running in circles and laughing while their parents talked of weightier matters.
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"The Cott Inn"
After leaving Land's End, we made for Totnes, the town where Jeff went to art school thirty years ago. He was itching to stay at the nearby Cott Inn (est.1320), which he remembered as being a bit out of his price range as a student. During our time at the Cott and some other bars we visited in Totnes, Jeff commented on the death of the public bar. Traditionally, the public bar had a stone floor, darts, and no food. Women and wealthier patrons frequented the lounge bar with its carpeted floor and dinner options. Try as he might, Jeff couldn't find a proper public bar in all our many visits to pubs and inns during the trip. Cott Inn proprietor Dave Sorton (a voracious stamp collector with an acute fear of snakes) said that the public bars were phased out over the past twenty years. We also tried in vain to find a few pints of locally produced scrumpy, the smooth country cousin of hard cider. Where have all the best parts of England gone? It's all kind of sad, really.
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"Thatched Homes of the Stars"
Over the past year or so Jeff has gotten to know some associates of one of my personal heroes, the artist Brian Froud. Froud is best known for his work on the book Faeries with Alan Lee and his conceptual work for "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth." We were hoping to drop in for a visit with him and his wife Wendy at their home near Chagford on our way through Devonshire to Fernworthy Forest, but it turned out he was in the States that week. Maybe next time.
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Despite being a planned forest, Fernworthy is dark and mysterious, the trees and ground covered in a luxurious layer of moss. Brian Froud's art makes a lot more sense once you've seen this area, because it's easy to make out fairy faces in the stones. We passed these mounds on the way to Fernworthy stone ring, and they reminded me immensely of Sean Äaberg's drawings of forest trolls with their long noses jutting out from underneath shaggy manes of lichen. Perhaps these unlucky fellows were napping outdoors when the Ministry of Forestry came by and cut the canopy away, petrifying them with sunlight.
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I'll continue the photo album next month with notes from Fernworthy, Greywethers, and Glastonbury.
Posted by Clint Marsh
17th May 2004ce
Edited 8th February 2005ce