|On North Dartmoor, just off the A30 you will find the village of South Zeal.
Its quaint and its quiet and the village pub has a little secret.
The back room of the Oxenham Arms has a fine menhir built into one wall.
The inn is thought to have been built in the latter part of the 12th Century by lay monks, possibly as a type of wayside hospital for pilgrims or people wandering in the wool trade.
As mentioned in one of the essays in Mr Cope's book the early Christian Church often incorporated the old sacred sites into the fabric of their buildings, attempting to steal their thunder, as it were.
The limited archaeological work that has been performed at the Oxenham Arms shows that this is probably what happened here, that is to say the monks built around the stone.
A locally produced leaflet says the stone was "shaped by man 5 thousand years ago." That is the only reference to an age for the stone I have been able to find.
The stone reaches up into the ceiling of the room and according to the leaflet " Not withstanding deep digging its foundations have never been reached."
So he (its a Boy this one) is a big chap. Its a bit weird finding this marvelous thing stuck in a wall, wedged between a radiator and a television. Its hard to explain but he seemed quite ok there, or maybe it was just me, wankered on cider and whooping along to some local accordion players (ye gods, the madness that is in apple juice).
In the restaurant area is a smaller menhir , a little over six feet. The owner told me that this was added as a Victorian novelty. He couldn't say whether the stone had been carved specifically for the joke or if it was a genuine menhir pulled off the moors and re erected here. I got the feeling that it probably had been recovered from a ransacked site and taken to the pub. There is no shortage to pick from.
South Zeal sits at the foot of the whopping Cosdon Hill, the hill is packed with Neolithic monuments, burial mounds, a cracking circle (Nine Stones) and a triple stone, row which was one of my main reasons for being in the area in the first place.
The Oxenham arms makes a good base to explore this part of the Moor which was clearly of great importance to our ancestors. Please note this is deepest Devon, their definition of a vegetarian breakfast is offering you brown bread with your bacon.
Posted by KPH
18th February 2002ce