Archaeologists have discovered a previously unknown ancient settlement on a Westcountry island while carrying out a watching brief on the construction of a new playing field. Members of Cornwall County Council's environmental and heritage services made their exciting find on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly... continues...
Visited 16.6.2010 on a day-trip to Tresco on the Scillonian ferry. The boat across from St Marys dropped us off at Carn Near, the southern point of the island, which put us as far from Castle Down as it was possible to be.
It was a lovely walk under blue skies along the eastern edge of the island, and the views across to St Helen's, Round Island and Northwethel from Gimble Porth are beautiful. We climbed up to the Down from its eastern side (Tregarthen Hill) and a prehistoric landscape opens out. Unfortunately it's very heather-covered, making it difficult to see what's what. There are 78 cairns on the downs, but most are simply lumps in the heather. A nice prehistoric field boundary does break free of the vegetation and as we head northwest across the Down we do manage to find a decent cairn with surrounding kerb and then what looks like a small capstone protruding from another be-heathered cairn.
Unfortuately our time is rather limited and in going up to have a look around the 16th century King Charles's castle (which predates the monarch of the same name by the best part of a century), we don't have time to seek out the entrance grave up on the west side of Tregarthen Hill. Still, it's a great spot on a nice day and we'll have to come for longer another time.
As we head back towards New Grimsby, we pass another prominent cairn towards the southern end of the Down. New Grimsby has a rather lovely modern megalithic folly, with a kerbed quoit (mini-Chun) and several standing stones, overlooking the harbour. From there we headed off to Tresco Abbey Gardens, with its holed stone.
It seems that the majority of visitors to the island come to see the Gardens and the little town, so Castle Downs are a nice quiet spot even on a lovely sunny summer's day.
The Piper's Hole is at the north east of these cairns.
Under the cliffs of Peninnis Head on St Mary's there is a cavern, termed the Piper's Hole, which extends a long distance under ground, and is absurdly said to communicate with another cave of the same title, the entrance to which is in the island of Tresco. This legend would make the length of the cavern at least four miles; and the inhabitants of the locality tell you of dogs let in at the one entrance coming out, after a time, at the other with most of their hair off, so narrow are some parts of the cave. So there is a tradition in Scotland of a man getting through a similar cave, but paying the penalty in the loss of all his skin.
From 'Rambles in Western Cornwall' by J O Halliwell-Phillipps (1861).
"Close to the west of the church's north west corner, the scheduling includes a prehistoric ritual holed stone, visible as an upright slab 1m high and 0.5m wide, roughly shaped to give parallel sides and a flat upper edge; below the
top edge, the slab is perforated by two round holes, each approximately 0.08m in diameter and 0.1m apart, one above the other on the slab's midline. The slab was found on Tresco or Bryher at the beginning of the 20th century and was erected in its present location to serve as a feature in the Tresco Abbey Gardens."
The priory has an early Christian slab that is the earliest evidence for Christianity in the Scillies, and even after the dissolution of the Priory, people were buried in its grounds until the early 19th century.
"The holed stone near the church is one of four examples from Scilly of this very rare class of prehistoric ritual monument whose distribution is concentrated in the western tip of Cornwall and Scilly; although not in its original position, its present setting near the early Christian memorial slab and the upright gravestones in the church's post medieval cemetery gives a good illustration of the long period over which upright stone slabs have held a strong religious and funerary significance."
In the old abbey gardens at Tresco is a curious stone, about four feet long, two feet wide, and six inches in thickness, in an upright position. Near the top are two holes, one above the other (one being somewhat larger than the other), through which a man might pass his hand. It is supposed to be an old Druidical betrothal or wishing-stone, and used before the monks built the abbey at Tresco. Young people, engaged to be married, would pass their hands through the holes, and, joining them together, would so plight their troth. As a wishing-stone, or to break a spell, a ring woudl be passed through the holes with some incantations. - J.C. Tonkin's Guide to the Isles of Scilly.
M. A. Courtney
The Folk-Lore Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1. (1887), pp. 14-61.