I made this flying visit back to Zennor for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to see it and the surrounding landscape without a blanket of fog surrounding it, and secondly, I had read of the Borlase account of the farmer being paid 5 shillings to stop breaking up the stones to use as a cow shed or field shelter, so thought I would check this out.
I wasn't to be disappointed on both accounts. On a clear day this time the landscape was, as one would expect in a moorland setting, remote, haunting but with a feeling of peace in the air. After yet another look around the quoit but this time taking full measurements, orientations etc I had a very close look at the right-hand side front facade stone. Narrower in width to its partner on the left it is also, today, short in height compared to it. The reason, because this is one of the stones to be desecrated by the said farmer. As the photos show, a close look at the top of this stone shows the drill holes made either side of this facade stone where the steel wedges were inserted to split the stone and coincidentally, in the background, the very stones that were split off as if cocking a snoop at us set amongst others!
As the holes are randomly drilled it will be an easy task to seek out the two? sections of stone removed off the top of the facade stone by measuring the gaps between the semi-circular drill holes on both the facade stone and the ones used as uprights to the shelter. This I will do on my next visit after I have made a 'sliding template' to make life easier for myself.
Site visit 4th September 2012
Well I couldn’t have chosen a better day if my intention was to not find this iconic Penwith site as it was completely fog/mist bound!
I had approached the area via the B3306 road from the east (St Ives end) heading for the Eagle’s Nest house which thesweetcheat had mentioned was in the area marked as Higher Tregarthen on the OS 1:25 map (102). It was so foggy that I drove past the house three times looking for its name and never did see it, even when I walked by after parking up.
So, coming from the east, I parked in a small parking place on the left about a hundred yards prior to the house which is on the right on the very brow of the hill. As you climb the hill you will notice an outcrop of rock not unlike a small tor on the left very close to the parking spot https://picasaweb.google.com/100525707086862773355/ZennorLandmarks?authkey=Gv1sRgCPar6of71Z_COQ#5785902295554289986
Walking from there with my two dogs Chief and Indy, I stood near a building to the right-hand side of the house https://picasaweb.google.com/100525707086862773355/ZennorLandmarks2?authkey=Gv1sRgCKz4vK2l1-3D3QE#5785903498007072818
and looked directly across the road. It was so foggy I could barely see across to the other side, although when I took the photos on my return it was much clearer! Across the road was a collection of boulders that had been placed across a ‘path’ that went off into the distance. https://picasaweb.google.com/100525707086862773355/Zennor3?authkey=Gv1sRgCL2fy5_i9LLVKg#5785905121013105186
It wasn’t even a track as such as it was so overgrown but I felt I ought to try it as I could see nothing else remotely like a track due to the fog. As we ventured into the mist the thought went through my head that I must be nuts to even consider venturing out into unknown territory in such conditions…but we did! After about two hundred yards the track came to an ‘entrance’ flanked by two stone posts which I passed through. So far so good. https://picasaweb.google.com/100525707086862773355/Zennor4?authkey=Gv1sRgCJSx8-y3xdPRyQE#5785906039772289314
On and on we went and it was noticeable that this tiny track only some 18” wide at best was bearing around to the right in a large curve. Other than that I could see zilch. The gorse is impenetrable so you just have to stick to the path and make sure you are wearing tough old jeans or leathers.
After about 20 minutes of pretty slow going we arrived at a derelict building called the Carne I believe. TSC suggested turning left south-east here and I took that to mean you walked alongside the building before turning, but I was wrong as it is just a dead end after the building. At this point I thought it too risky to carry on because only metres from the building it was lost in the fog and I felt a complete idiot for even attempting it.
So I decided to turn back but had only retreated about 40 yards back down the track when I saw Chief disappear off to the right. Aha I thought, is this the ‘left’ path? So, following close behind the dogs I ventured on and after another 2/3 hundred yards the track widened right out to something like 20ft wide with the tiny worn path still running down the middle of it. That cheered me up because I knew we were now on the right track but why it took so long to widen out was a bit of a mystery to me!
After about another two hundred yards the dogs suddenly shot off to the right again up another track. I saw them start but they soon disappeared into the fog so I decided to follow. Lucky I did, because within a few seconds Zennor Quoit loomed up out of the fog. Phew, we’d made it but what a journey. It wasn’t the distance so much but the tension of not really knowing where I was that slowed everything down and put me on edge.
But, we were here and it was magical and if as by magic, the fog suddenly began to lift and actually added to the experienced and I quickly got on taking pix and shooting a vid. https://picasaweb.google.com/100525707086862773355/Zennor5?authkey=Gv1sRgCKeUkKCcztKgFA#5785907009353388146
All sorts of questions were going through my mind about this quoit as I filmed and my first impression was that the capstone had only slid to the rear and to the right-hand side and not off a tall back-stone as shown in Borlase’s sketch of 1769. I wondered why they had gone to the effort of shaping huge side flanking stones if the slope on them was not to be accommodated by the capstone as it is now as such. Looking inside the chamber where bones or cremations would have been placed, there is a stone leaning the full width of the chamber that if raised fully would fit exactly where a back-stone should be as it would be level with the top of the sloping section at that point. But, if the lid was really up high then we have to accept that unless Borlase drew what he assumed it would have been like originally, then that’s how it really was…at that time at least! It does puzzle me somewhat though that he shows the now missing rear support as being almost needle-sharp and very slender for a stone that is supporting such a vast and heavy capstone that other than that only rested on the front closure at the opposite end. https://picasaweb.google.com/100525707086862773355/ZennorQuoit#5784957939740525794
Another puzzle is why he assumed it was completely covered at one stage seeing that there would have been such huge gaps that would allow the ingress of cairn material into the burial chamber. If it was to be covered then it would have been boxed in full height surely and not have sloping sides. Its complete covering had to be pure speculation on his part, possibly spurred on by the material he shows to the lower regions which to my mind (more speculation) would only be there to add rigidity to the base.
That apart, it is a wonderful sight to behold. Heaven alone knows how long it took them to shape those angled side flankers and prepare the front closure and raise the lid. The façade stones are just as big and you can only admire the tenacity of the builders for undertaking such a task without the benefit of the machinery at our disposal today. I assume the main orthostat is earth-fast otherwise it would have been down now for sure.
It was disappointing that the fog prevented me from observing the landscape surrounding the quoit but that’s how it is sometimes on the Cornish sites so close to the sea, but I will return. Getting there for me was a challenge when the fog blanked it all out but it tested and confirmed my great will to still defy the conditions in the quest to appreciate what our great ancestors left behind for us. I hope it never leaves me for what is life when your sense of adventure and thirst for knowledge is no more!
I have to concur with Carl on this one, it really was a trial to find. This was however confounded by a really thick mist that had been hanging around the peninsular for two days (in late July!) and I think if I hadn't had an OS map I might never have found it. Starting from the car park at Zennor I crossed the main road near the telephone box and took the footpath that runs along the bottom of the hill and I remember wondering at the time whether there were any snakes around? We'd already seen a number of very small lizards on the cliff path to Gurnards Head when just in time I stopped myself from stepping on an Adder at the side of the path! Usually when I've encountered them in the past they slither off as soon as they know they've been spotted, but this one stood its ground and even allowed me to get relatively close to take its portrait! Having jumped over it I carried on along the path when, blow me, I encountered another which, thankfully, disappeared into the undergrowth. Passing the farm buildings I then started to make my way up the hill towards the Logan Stone but having reached the top, encountering yet another adder, I found myself completely disorientated because I couldn't work out where the sun was due to the mist and wandered around for about half an hour becoming increasingly panicky. Then, just as I was about to despair and make my way back down, there was a very brief break in the mist across the moorland and I could just about discern what must surely be Zennor Quoit about 300m away. Rechecking the map as the mist rolled relentlessly back in I made a mad dash to get there and felt a huge relief as it came into view just the other side of a low stone wall through the ferns and gorse. My first reaction on coming up close to it was its sheer size, it had looked quite insubstantial from a distance, but this really is a whopper and quite beautifully constructed. I didn't realise the significance of the 5 pillars alongside it at the time so I was quite intrigued by them and also the tiny holes which appear all over the structure. I think the combination of it being hidden in the swirling mist and having had to really struggle to find it gave it a special kind of significance for me and it presented itself as a reward if you see what I mean. Well worth visiting but I would advise anyone attempting to find it in adverse weather conditions to have a map and a compass...... oh, and look out for snakes.
What a walk to get to this place!!!
Probably the worst 'path' I have ever had to follow to get to a site. Firstly, very difficult to park on the B3306 where the 'path' starts from - opposite a house. I eventually found a grass verge to pull over on about 100 metres down from the house. First the good news, the start of the path is easily seen. However, from there on things get worse! Follow the 'path' up the hill - heading towards the derelict farm buildings on the brow of the hill. The 'path' gets narrower and narrower and the bloody gorse gets higher and higher. As you near the farm buildings the path takes a sharp left and the 'path' is now about 8 inches wide, with gorse at chest height. No other option but to take a deep breath, hold your arms up out of the way and battle through it!! Painful. Things then improve a bit and you finally reach the quoit, the other side of a crumbling stone field wall. The site itself is clear and despite what I have said, well worth the effort and pain to visit if you are physically able to do so. There are 3 fairly large standing stones next to the quoit and the slant of the capstone is definitely worth seeing! I couldn't squeeze through the very small gap to get inside the quoit. It took me 25 minutes to walk from the road to the quoit.
This was to be our last site before heading home, but will be remembered most. This must be the biggest capstone round here. Just how did they get it up? Crazy. We parked on the B3306 and followed the path south (not easy going at all). It went this way, then that way, and I wondered if we were on the right one, but it got us there in there end. After the long hard walk I was surprised to find other people there. They sat on one side and we had the other.
After a while we went over to the rocks by Sperris Quoit (didn't go to it though 'cause it's unrecognisable as a quoit). The rock's were really stone island's in a sea of bracken and thorny gorse. Not wanting to retrace our steps, I decided to cut through it straight to the car. Big mistake! With a 7yr old on my shoulders and a 4 year old in my arms, it felt like an army yomp and I came last. Damn gorse cut me to shreds but I did see a smooth lizard for the first time ever. Karma's a funny thing isn't it.
I love this place! Came here with the wind blowing and heavy rain soaking me through. I sheltered in the old mine buildings on my way up from the 'Eagles Nest'... with night falling I sat with my back against the huge upright and sank into nothingness. Inside was where the ancients were laid to rest and in my thoughts I allowed myself to fall through that big piece of granite and sit with the old ones... with them I spoke and with them I knew all would be well...
How has the quoit changed in appearance since it was built?
Are Borlase's sketch and Craig Weatherhill's drawing in Cornovia anything like the original?
Why would people with not a lot of free time on their hands find or fashion tapered stones and then balance a 10 ton capstone on what in comparison is a needle?
Why take on a huge amount of work to get an inferior end product?
Where is the back support, the stone in-situ is to short to put the capstone any where near level.
What filled the gaps between a level capstone and the tapered side stones?
Besides the capstone sinking into the ground somewhat and maybe shifting to the north I feel the the quoit is as the builders wanted it.
We have to thank Borlase for saving this monster, imagine what it must have been like before the farmer got going with his tools.
Whats left of the capstone is massive, stretched myself up it but I am lost against it. Thought about climbing it then thought best not, respect.
For the first time today the helicopters have arrived, just when I was enjoying the peace.
This was our first site on our Cornish trip, and was an excellent start. The size of this monument is quite something - I'd certainly not imagined it to be so big. Luckily I had re-read the fieldnotes for this site and didn't mistake the posts for anything significant, and so was able to impress Ursula with my knowledge. She was a bit taken aback in fact, as she had also thought the semi-constructed cowshed was part of this ancient monument ;-)
We visited Zennor a little unprepared, not having re-read the info in TMA or any other publication. So, I was completely in awe of the semi-constructed cow shed (In 1861, a farmer started pulling Zennor apart to build a cow shed, the 3 posts in front of Zennor being as far as he got before Rev.W.Borlase bribed him out of it for 5 shillings) and unaware that Zennor had been tampered with at all, it could have meant to look like that for all I knew. We crawled inside and I put the 'Odin' CD on the crap little speakers I'd been carrying around. 45 minutes later, we were leaning against the South side, huddled up watching the sun fall, with 'Odin' still undulating quietly from inside. After our first day's walking it was a real treat to hang up there, completely undisturbed except for the rumblings of the Oldfather and the odd snatch of speech from people over at the Logan Stone. The view from Zennor towards the sunset had all the promise of a great cosmic event, but we were nervous about getting back to the hotel safely so we set off before the sun met the horizon. With 'Odin' continuing to ommm-out from my bag, we began the walk back down to Wicca.
It took me ages to find this one, but the description in The Modern Antiquarian intrigued me so I kept going, and I'm so glad I did. These stones are HUGE! It is extremely secluded and wildly atmospheric. Because it's such a lonely spot it's easy to sit down and imagine what it would have once been like. For anyone who goes in for meditating, this is a superb place to do it. The vibes are right, the atmosphere is right, and the stones still give off incredible energy. The Cornish quoits are all so incredible, and even though this one has fallen, it is no less incredible.
"I was in the neighbourhood of Zennor in 1859, and by accident came across the Zennor cromlech, and was struck with the mode of its construction (not having heard of its existence before), and thinking it bore some resemblance to the Druidical altars I had read of, I inquired of a group of persons who were gathered round the village smithery, whether any one could tell me anything respecting the heap of stones on the top of the hill. Several were in total ignorance of their existence.
One said, 'Tes caal'd the gient's kite; thas all I knaw.' At last, one more thoughtful, and one who, I found out, was considered the wiseacre and oracle of the village, looked up and gave me this important piece of information,
--'Them ere rocks were put there afore you nor me was boern or thoft ov; but who don it es a puzler to everybody in Sunnur (Zennor). I de bleve theze put up theer wen thes ere wurld was maade; but wether they was or no don't very much mattur by hal akounts. Thes I'd knaw, that nobody caant take car em awa; if anybody was too, they'd be brot there agin. Hees an ef they wus tuk'd awa wone nite, theys shur to be hal rite up top o' th hil fust thing in morenin. But I caant tel ee s' much as Passen can; ef you 'd zea he, he 'd tel he hal about et.'"
From Robert Hunt's "Popular Romances of the West of England. Volume 1". 1903.
Said to have been erected by a giant (hence the local name of the ‘Giant’s Quoit’) and also to be immovable. if the stones of the quoit are taken away they will come back by themselves. The area of Zennor also has the almost obligatory Arthurian tradition. When this stretch of coast was invaded by the Danes, the King and his men defeated the invaders at Vellan, west of Pendeen.
This is a quote from J O Halliwell's 'Rambles in Western Cornwall' (1861):
Zennor Cromlech was lately very nearly being transformed into another and very different kind of habitation to that intended by its original constructors. The following paragraph appeared in the Cornish Telegraph of Sept. 4th, 1861: 'Zennor Quoit, one of our local antiquities, has recently had a narrow escape. It consists of seven stones, one of which is a large granite slab which lies in a slanting position against the tallest of the uprights. A farmer had removed a part of one of the upright pillars, and drilled a hole into the slanting quoit, in order to erect a cattle-shed, when news of the Vandalism reached the ears of the Rev. W. Borlase, vicar of Zennor, and for five shillings the work of destruction was stayed, -- the vicar having thus strengthened the legend that the quoit cannot be removed.
From Zennor Quoit you see that of Mulfra, and from Mulfra you behold the Chun and Zennor quoits. [..]
Of the six supporters mentioned by [Borlase], three only remain quite upright, two others nearly so, while the sixth has been broken into two pieces, and the covering stone has fallen down on one end. [..] The whole monument is on a gigantic scale. [..] This cromlech is also called by the country people the Giant's Quoit.
I actually took this from a review of the book in the 1862 'Archaelogia Cambriensis' journal, which is online at Google Books.
Grinsell notes (in 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain') that an attempt to remove the Quoit in 1861 was thwarted by the efforts of the Reverend W. Borlase, the then vicar of Zennor. Good for you, vicar. Perhaps this was the same incident as the "unsuccessful attempt to break open the tomb with gunpowder in the 19th century by a farmer who wanted to build a shed," mentioned by Castleden in his 'Neolithic Britain'. He also adds a comment from Borlase:
It is very unlikely that ever the cromlech should have been an altar for sacrifice, for the top of it is not easily to be got upon, much less a fire to be kindled on it, sufficient to consume the victim, without scorching the Priest that officiated, not to mention the horrid Rites which the Druid was attended, and which there is not proper room, nor footing to perform in so perilous a station. It is a Sepulchral Monument.
One can surely imagine the reverend hoiking himself up on top of the quoit and balancing precariously there before coming up with his theory.