Work to restore and repair one of West Penwith's well-known prehistoric stone circles has neared completion, in a joint project between the county council's Environment and Heritage Service, Defra and the Nine Maidens Commoners... continues...
Archaeologists are starting work to restore one of Cornwall's prehistoric stone circles.
Three of the stones at the Nine Maidens circle at Madron near Penzance which have fallen over will be re-erected in time for the summer... continues...
My quest this week was to visit the four West Penwithian stone circles, and the Boskednan Maidens were the last elusive stones to find. Our intention had been to park at the Men-an-Tol lay-by and walk from there to the circle. On arrival though our plans were foiled by due to a plethora of horse-boxes and 4x4’s disgorging the local hunt, and blocking up the pull in and nearby verges, and clogging the road with all the arrogance and inconsideration that only a bunch of red coated buffoons can exhibit.
Continuing up the lane we spot a place to pull in just on the left, opposite a track to a house called Dakota. A quick check of the O.S. map shows we can reach the stones from here, and then head via Ding Dong back down to Men-an-Tol, the engine house of the ruined mine providing a useful landmark with which to orient ourselves. We set off along the path onto the moors, and before long I’m delighted to spot the stones on the skyline.
Tramping across the moorland it’s a great walk, but very muddy, wellingtons again proving their worth. After walking for about twenty minutes, and fixedly gazing at either the stones on the horizon, or our feet lest we tread in a muddy bog, I look back and notice Men Scryfa some way behind us. I’m annoyed we missed it, but would rather spend more time at the circle than go back to visit it now, so as always, there’ll be another time to visit I’m sure, and it’s always a good excuse to return (as if I need one!).
We steadily climb up the ridge of the moorland, the circle temporarily hidden from view, before coming upon some stones, which I initially take for the circle, and am a bit taken aback, as it seems a lot smaller than I was expecting. It’s only when Ellen points out some more stones ahead, that I check the map and realise we are at Boskednan cairn, a nice bonus to stumble on as I didn’t even realise this place was here!
It’s been a walk of just under two miles, but the circle is soon reached, and what a lovely atmospheric place it is. The eleven stones (the nine maidens in this case coming from the magical symbolism of the number, rather than the extant number of stones), lean attractively in that romantic ruin type of way. The dun winter shades of the moor make it look as if the stones are sprouting organically from the ground. It’s still windy, but also seems surprisingly sheltered, and the circle has a warmth about it, a welcoming sheltering place atop the bleak moors.
The contrast between the Boskednan maidens and the Merry Maidens couldn’t be greater, for all the manicured perfection of the latter, here is a wild elemental place, raw, lonely and magnificent, and all the preferable for it. A truly wonderful circle.
And then it's on to the stone circle itself. Despite many, many visits over a dozen years, this circle never fails to bring a big grin to my face. It remains my favourite of all, lonely and windswept on its moorland ridge. This is my first visit since I watched the sun setting here on my birthday the previous autumn. But first, the bad weather.
Within seconds of arriving at the circle, the next band of rain has caught up with us and we spend five minutes trying to shelter in the excavation scoop of the round barrow that intrudes into the side of the circle – not the best place to get out of the rain. But don't you worry, it's only a shower. Blue skies return as quickly as they went and we spend a good while here.
In any weather, this circle delivers on its promise. The re-erection of the stones on the northern arc has greatly added to the feel of the site. The setting is wonderful, with Carn Galva the most obvious feature of the surrounding landscape. There are views eastwards to Mulfra Hill (where Mulfra Quoit is visible) and further to Castle-an-Dinas. On a clear day you can see beyond Penwith, upcountry towards Carn Brea. To the northwest, the twin summits of Watch Croft, the highest point in the peninsula, are close by. Further west Chun Castle sits, flattening the top of its hill. Only to the south are views obscured by rising ground – the top of the Ding Dong chimney peeks out.
Although over the years we've seen dog walkers, dowsers and horse riders up here, but in truth we rarely see anyone and today is no exception to that. Although close to Men-an-Tol, the circle remains a largely stone-head destination.
Boskednan circle, or Nine Maidens, is without doubt my favourite circle of all (and by extension my favourite site of all). It's not a perfect or pristine circle, many of the stones lean alarmingly or have fallen. It's not on a dramatic peak, or surrounded by a fairy ring of trees. Instead it sits on a bare moor, exposed to the elements and sticking its figures up at 'em. We've been here in dreadful weather, rain, mist (never snow though) and it's never less than brilliant. Today, under a cloudless cerulean sky, I think that there can't be a more perfect place to be.
Time passes and we reluctantly drag ourselves away, for the pub beckons but there's still a way to go.
From Men-An-Tol I took the advise from a couple of ramblers who directed me to the site via the derelict mine/chimney seen on the brow of the hill. This was not an obvious path and it took me 30 minutes to reach the stones. Basically, once you reach the chimney (worth a quick look), follow the path to the left - along the brow of the hill. As I walked along the hill I noticed what I thought was a remote weather station (I saw a small 'wind turbine' sticking out above the gorse). As I got closer I realised the 'wind turbine' was stuck on top of a camper van and was providing electricity for its inhabitants! How they got the camper van up there I don't know?!!
I hindsight I would suggest you approach the circle from the other direction - i.e. via the top of the path which runs past Men-An-Tol / Men Scryfa. Despite the effort it takes to visit this site I would certainly recommend it as it is both impressive and very atmospheric. This is certainly a wild, wonderful and ancient landscape.
** About 100 metres further on from the Nine Stones there appears to be another, smaller, circle amongst the gorse. I am certainly no expert and it may very well be something else, but to me it looked like a stone circle - what do you think?**
I recently received correspondence from local author Ian Cooke about a scheme proposed by Natural England's HEATH project to fence off parts of the Penwith Moors in West Cornwall in readiness to graze cattle. In imminent danger is Nine Maidens Common. I visited the site today, and here is my humble opinion on the sorry saga!
Save Nine Maidens Common
a report by Alex Langstone
Nine Maidens Common and other areas of significant archaeological importance are under threat from the Natural England HEATH project. The project has plans to manage the wild moorland of Penwith in West Cornwall. Whilst I have absolutely no objection to the management of the moors (they do need managing, otherwise they will become bracken and gorse thickets!) I am concerned that by putting up fencing and allowing cattle to graze areas such as the Nine Maidens common will be detrimental to the sensitive nature of the landscape. Cattle cannot eat much bracken, and as bracken is the main problem on the moors, I do not really understand why we need any more grazing than we already have? Land management by bracken clearing is one of the things that the HEATH project are already successfully implementing through education and the need to clear with traditional methods using hand tools and people. The Land's End peninsula is world famous for its archaeology and beauty, and whilst it is and should remain a working landscape, we need to strike a balance between the needs to the land, the needs of farmers and the needs of tourism. The HEATH project is a well meant project, and in some areas cattle grazing is a good idea. But, cattle around ancient sites of significant cultural importance can create muddy quagmires on open moorland. Damage to the stones and the fabric of these ancient monuments can be substantial when cattle are allowed to graze amongst them. Erecting fences with points of access through gates, will create damage and erosion to the landscape by funnelling people into small areas of entry. Cattle also congregate at these entry points, which can only make the problem worse. Nine maidens common does not need any grazing. I visited the site today, and it is well managed enough already. It is one of the most popular areas of open moorland in Penwith, with acess to such famous sites as the Men an Tol, Nine Maidens stone circle, Men Scryfa and Carn Galva. Plus loads of other bronze age barrows and standing stones, not well known, but equally important. Other areas such as Mulfra Common and Lanyon are also being considered for grazing. It is important to note that the Nine Maidens Common is a registered common, and as such, needs the permission of the Secretary of State for Environment before any changes can occur.
Most importantly, Nine Maidens Common contains some of the finest and most interesting prehistoric sites in Southern Britain. Boskednan stone circle (marked on OS map as Nine Maidens) is partly ruinous, but retains enough to be a dominating presence on the moor. When first viewed from the footpath, it stands out prominently almost on the top of the highest ridge. Eleven stones remain of the original twenty-two, one of which is remarkably tall for the stone circles of the region, standing at 2 metres. Other stones range from 1 to 1.3 metres in height. A slightly later round barrow touches the south side and can be clearly seen. About 40 metres north- north-west of the circle can be seen the remaining stump of an outlying menhir, and further to the north are the remains of three round barrows, one of which still has its large retaining stones, though the earthen mound has long since departed the scene! All in all this is a superb Bronze Age archaeological landscape, which needs to be protected and preserved.
In conclusion land management is vital to the conservation of our moors and heaths, but not by cattle grazing at the more sensitive archaeological sites please!
A dedicated website has been set up by local author Ian Cooke, please visit and sign the petition, write to local MP, Andrew George, write to the Secretary of State for Environment, The Rt. Hon. Hilary Benn MP, and above all, tell people about this. It is vital we all have our viewpoint put forward before it is too late.
A couple of holes in the ground, with stones laying beside them waiting to be raised. Not sure how many they'll be working on in total.
Information notices have been graffittied by the locals who are against the restoration. Had a quick chat with Cherryl Straffon in St Justs about the restoration. Her comment? It'll be good to see the big stones up again...
Visited on 24th June 2003 on a circular walk from Men-an-Tol. It was sunny and blustery up at Boskednan. Had the place to ourselves for the most part, fell asleep briefly in the centre of the circle while my other half dozed lying on one of the leaning stones. For some reason I had expected the atmosphere here to be darker but it wasn't at all and we felt very energised after our snooze.
After some torrential rain over night this really was a sodden trek for me! I parked at quite a big lay-by at the old Carn Galver Mine (SW421364) and walked up the road for a very short distance to get to a track that leads up past Carn Galver and on towards the Nine Maidens of Boskednan. The path up past Carn Galver is not a proper big track/4x4 road like the OS map suggests; it’s actually a small path that had become a fast running stream the day I visited!
It was worth it though. The Nine Maidens of Boskednan, and the surrounding antiquities, are lovely, but hiding in gorse and swamps. The view all around is pretty stunning. I actually counted 10 stones in the circle: 4 standing; 4 on an angle; and 2 on the ground including a very tiny one just sticking through near the two stones that are very close together on the North side.
It's wet here...always is! Wear good boots if you plan to visit. The stones may be scattered about, the circle incomplete but it holds a lovely feeling here, desolate yes, windswept and rain beaten, but I love the place. The stones are alive though, the walk from Men-an-Tol doesn't take long. I suggest a walk to Carn Galva if you have the time, a very powerful and evocative site. You can see both sides of Cornwall from the peaks of the carn.
These six remaining stones (out of a possible 22 according to Burl) are indeed a place of solitude. I had spared my family the trek and left them at our holiday caravan while I pressed on first to Madron Holy Well - a strange and mysterious place - via Lanyon Quoit (ironically while I was there my wife watched the Channel Four ñTime Teamî TV programme that delved into a nearby fougou). I too approached across the moorland from the Men-an-Tol via the Men Scryfa inscribed stone to the left of the track (the inscription is 6th century and dedicated to the Raven). This whole area is covered in sites and the circle itself is surrounded by cairns barrows and standing stones. Importantly the natural rock outcrop of Carn Galver is very prominent (and striking) within the landscape. Ding Dong Mine is visible from most sites, this relatively recent relic is a modern continuation of a prehistoric mine. The significance of the mineral deposits in the area are a likely indicator of its Neolithic importance. The local granite stones of the circle are worked with their smooth faces inward as at the nearby Boscawen-Un and Merry Maidens and it is suggested that a cut down stone just to the north west marks the setting mid summer sun viewed from the north-east of the circle. An outlying stone used to exist 400 meters to the west. The Nine Maidens are ruined and robbed but evocative and sky-born to my senses. Alone upon this landscape I could not help feel close to the infinite, I lay with my spine fused to one of the comfortably leaning stones and stared upwards into nothing but blue sky as if resting on a shaman's relining chair and was transported within and without. My reverie was disturbed by a skylarkÍs singing and I returned home happy. A lovely place in sunshine.
We walked on past the Men-an Tol waitng for the steady stream of people to die down. Up onto the moors to find the Nine Maidens. As Julian says in TMA they are haphazard and incomplete but stand and lie on a windswept ridge from which you can see forever. A great place to find some isolation.
An interesting trail of possible etymological corruption was noted by the Lamorna resident and surrealist painter Ithell Colqhuhoun in her "Living Stones of Cornwall" (1952)...
"Searching the Boskednan region for another circle called the 'Nine Maidens' as they all are, irrespective of the number of stones composing them, I asked some road-menders where it was.
"Ah, the Ni-Maen, " answered one, and I wondered if these Cornish words had been corrupted..."
We went from this place over very disagreeable heaths to Morva. About the middle of the downs we came to the foot of a hill, where I observed a small oblong enclosure about 15ft by 10ft, made by granite stones set up an end. From this I observed stones set up an end in a winding form, and if I mistake not, extending from the four corners, which I thought might relate to an ancient serpent worship. About 100 yards to the west, and nearer the foot ot the hill, I observed a circle made of stones laid flat and filled with stones.
We ascended the hill and came to a circle called the Nine Maidens, it is about 23 yards in diameter and consists of 20 stones from 2 to 3 ft broard and 4 to 7 ft high, and 3 yards apart, except that there is an opening to the west 8 yards wide.
About 100 near north there is another stone....it may be supposed these were called the Nine Maidens from so many of them being higher than the rest.