Lots of sunshine. Cornwall shining like the jewel it is. The maidens are very pretty. Lots of Yanks, & maybe some Confederates too! Germans & Japanese. All being guided. Bloke talking about ley lines, dowsing & feeling the power whist standing on the omphalos. One of the Americans had Cherokee ancestry & stood quietly chanting a mantra . He was great.
At the top of the gently sloping field in an adjoining field there's a collection of stones grouped around a telegraph pole, with what I thought was a little mound/henge. Over imagination? Sunstroke? Field clearance probably.
Whilst searching for the Pipers we spotted the re erected menhir in the corner of the hedgerow over the road. We didn't find the Pipers; felt a bit narky about that, I mean they're huge! We are a pair of imbeciles, next time hopefully.
Tuesday 3rd of February 2015, a day off work and it had been a few months since I last went out to visit any sites. Merry Maidens is easy to access and is a place with a lot of charm (providing there aren't millions of other people about at the same time).
It was one heck of a cold morning (for this part of the country anyway) and the ground was frozen with sleet/hailstones, which added a clean and crisp feeling to my visit. A walk a few times around the stones and I decided to head off to take a look at Tregiffian just down the road before a quick peep at The Pipers (which I finally found!)
The Merry Maidens are almost too perfect. A perfect circle of perfect little stones, in a perfectly mowed field, you almost feel the need to check whether inscribed somewhere on a stone is ‘copyright Disney Co.’ Beautiful but somehow superficially lacking in atmosphere, they are like the supermodel of stone circles, very appealing to look at but somehow a little vacuous underneath.
However on a day like today, with blue skies, and no-one else around (one of the advantages of coming to Cornwall this early in the year) all is forgiven. In fact I’m being a bit harsh as this is a really lovely place, just after visiting the wilder locales of West Penwith’s other circles, it all seems a bit too manicured here.
We wander around the ring though enjoying the sun, now warm on my back, and the gentle cawing of the crows in the next field, and I can see why this place is such a magnet for people, and it’s nice that after 4,000 years it draws folk still.
After a quick but damp stop at The Pipers (24.6.2011), Merry Maidens will be our last hurrah of the holiday. As we approach, the noise of tractors gets increasingly loud. The northern gate into the Merry Maidens field has been chained and padlocked, so we have to go round to the "main" entrance. Here the source of the noise becomes apparent, as two tractors are performing a series of complicated dance steps in a quest to mow the hay around the circle. Where's that one man and his dog, Spot, these days? Progress eh?
If that wasn't enough, a little party of Americans are being shown how to dowse by their local tour guide. No chance of a quiet wander here today. And it's raining.
I remain ambivalent about Merry Maidens. On the one hand it's a beautiful circle (albeit restored), with views of nearby Gun Rith and the rounded hills of SW Penwith. If you get it to yourself on a sunny day, it's an utter joy. On the other hand, its perfection is a bit too, well, perfect. And its roadside placing makes it a source of almost constant visitors, most of whom drive up, get out, take a few pics and leave. Today a couple of women arrive while we're there and almost immediately have a row about something.
So it's a somewhat sad experience today. The combination of tractors, dowsers, cars and rows makes this something of an anti-climatic end to this summer's Penwith stone-spotting.
But there are a couple of pluses. First, while we wait for the 300 bus, a cyclist arrives and we chat to him for a few minutes. He's trying to cram in as many places as he can and seeing the much-highlighted map asks if we've been to Sancreed Well and if it's worth going to see. Certainly is. And you might want to have a look at Carn Euny and fogou whilst there. I hope he made it there and enjoyed it.
Secondly, we get onto the bus and the sun comes out. We sit up top, in a pretty stiff wind it must be said, and enjoy the trip around the peninsular. There are few better ways to see West Penwith and it finishes the holiday on the hoped-for high that Merry Maidens sadly didn't manage to conjure today.
The fourth of the Penwithian circles, Merry Maidens usually leaves me a bit disappointed. Its easy access makes it busy and also takes away some of the atmosphere, for me. There's no moorland walk, no secluded space, just a field next to the road. That said, the circle itself is lovely and it is very pretty. Today, there are cars parked up and a couple dowsing in the circle. I walk around the circle and renew acquaintances with it, but don't linger.
This is a really fab place and so easy to visit. There is a layby right outside the field in which the circle stands. There is a very weathered abd battered sign post pointing the way to the site although the circle is easily sen from the B3315. When I visited it was a lovely, sunny Spring day and four people were sunbathing in the centre of the circle which ruined the atmosphere somewhat! This is an excellent site (in my opinion on par with Boskawen-Un circle - but much easier to access) and I would highly recommend a visit if in the area.
Being a grumpy bugger, the approach to Merry Maidens has a tendency to bring out the worst in me: "look at that, those lazy ****s in the 4x4/People Carrier who've just pulled up and parked right next to the gate, can't anyone walk anywhere, grumble, mutter, etc".
For some reason, our latest visit (19.6.09) saw me in a particularly chilled mood about the prospect of the circle being thronged with busloads of people. Perhaps the visit to Boscawen-Ros had got me in the right frame of mind? Anyway, for once there was no-one at the circle when we arrived, so we managed to have a lounge in the longer-than-usual grass under a beaming sun. When eventually people did arrive, they came over the stile from Lamorna direction and had obviously walked, which made me even happier. I must learn to be less of a fascist about drivers. At least until next time we're there when a mini-bus pulls up...
There is supposedly a second circle in the vicinity, known as 'Tregurnow circle', located roughly at SW 437 245. However, I was there last week, and could see no sign of it on the ground (last reported sighting was in the 1970s.)
Lots of interesting stones in the field boundary wall a few yards away, but that's not unusual around these parts.
This circle is so unbelievably circular, that it seems too good to be true. I stood in its centre and rotated 360 degrees (whilst Alfie the terrier ran round and round it!) and was amazed by the sheer ROUNDNESS of it!
A lovely site and we were completely alone, possibly due to the fact that it was a FREEZING cold day, blustery and grey, but all the more exhilarating for it.
This place is surrounded by stone - not only the standing stones in fields near by but huge pieces of stone which make up the field boundaries. I wish I understood more about landscape archaeology so I could fully appreciate some of the landscapes I spend my time gazing at!
From here, it is just a mere hop, skip and a jump into the field diagonally opposite (if you look down the road) to Gun Rith Menhir, which you can actually see from this field. Also, don't miss the lovely hole stone in the gateway just up the road.
I spent quite a while at the Maidens today, and had the place to myself for a change. The wind was blowing a gale, but at least the fog had lifted by the time we got here. I managed to take some nice photos, but nothing that isn't on TMA already, though I may try to stitch a panorama together at a later date.
I last visited here over a year ago, in late spring, and never felt I could gather enthusiasm for the site. Too close to the road, too perfect in its approach, it struck me as almost an exhibit in 'theme park Penwith', such is the nature of the location.
One thing I noticed this time was how it now seems a repose for partaking of 'the magic leaf'? Certainly our visit disturbed many 'toking' frantically in the late summer sun.
I am undecided about this place. Perfection, symmetry, and a certain...blandness, all conspire to make this a visit of conflicting emotions.
Access is easy - park at the side of the road and then a gate is the only obstacle. In the past this has been easily opened but yesterday it was tied shut with string. The stones are then inside a gently sloping field. The ground is good and firm, with only the droppings of a bovine beauty to be wary of.
The stones are too perfect, especially when compared with the primitive beauty of nearby Boskawen Un. If I were to 'have a smoke' it would certainly be in the sacred confines of Boskawen.
Is this how a circle should be, or is it how we want it to be?
A customary stroll around the perimeter revealed little of interest, and as we watched the occupants of the circle frantically puffing away, my companion pulled at my sleeve. 'It exists because they want it to...'
We have been blessed with an almost lonely visit. Only one couple there inhaling deeply what can only be described as a Camberwell Carrot. Take a walk round the whole field and catch the landscape in it's entirety. As most have described this, it is a perfect circle but how perfect is it to it's original design after reconstruction work and archaeology. Nice though
The word 'perfect' gets used a lot for this circle, so it was no surprise that Ursula and myself both uttered the word in unison as we approached. An incredible place, which from certain angles achieves total symmetry. I took a few shots trying to frame this perfect symmetry, then we sat on a wall nearby gazing at this wonderful place, before moving on to Tregiffian.
After visiting so many lone stones and obscure sites it was weird to visit this 'perfect' circle and see so many stones at regular intervals and organised heights. To be honest it felt fake because I just wasn't used to it!
The field boundary is interesting and quite stunning, heavily made up of stones especially on one side.
A small signpost points to the circle from the North side of the B3315, next to a lay-by for car parking, literally a stone's throw from the circle.
Bit of a flying visit here, missed the Pipers because of time. I was surprised as to how busy the site was, Drudes hanging out and tourists grinning inanely on the way past.
The ladies didnt shake me the way TC Lethbridge described, but due to the large size of the site and the completeness of the circle, you get a feeling of wild motion, almost as if you are standing on a Merrygoround and the other riders are still, but the world flashes by around you.
Photo-ops were limited due to the Piccadily Circus theme, but with a low sun and a morning mist rising, the effect could be glorious!
They certainly do hit ya like a rock as ya drive towards them- don’t they.
The Land’s End Peninsula is blessed with such a concentration of site & a greater proportion are in excellent condition. But these young girlss take the biscuit. When I have children I will bring them there & let them play until they’re done. It’s that kind of place!
Dancing with the maidens at new moon on the autumnal equinox, raising the energy to heal a world reeling from The Lightning Struck Tower(s) across the ocean.
A merry dance of life amongst death; the joy of here and now, and place and time.
I finished by laying down in the centre, in the Shape of the Cross, and clung to the earth as the stars carried on dancing in a circle above me.
Returned to Treverven campsite and a celebratory feast of the Maiden's blackberries, and scrumpy, in our tent.
This site gets pretty busy, especially in summer. I've been there a few times in the past couple of weeks and it's always got a steady stream of tourists visiting it, people jogging through it and all that kind of thing. I always find that when I first see them on approach I get butterflys in me stummick. It is a great place and SPACE. Also it's a good place to see the local landscape as the three hills of Carn Brea, Cear Bran and Bartinney Castle are all visible from here and the line from these through Boscowan-un and into Lamorna valley can be viewed.
The second to last time I was here I experienced a very dramatic weather change - very low cloud or mist or something swept in in a matter of minutes and completely obscured the view, like the site was being hidden. Then later it left almost as quickly.
Whilst touring the UK before the existance of TMA, using various maps and books, my wife and I were in Cornwall looking at all things ancient/old. I knew of the Merry maidens and hoped to see them. We stopped the car to take a photo of a very old Celtic/Christian cross. As I was taking the photo, i had this feeling, like when you know someone is looking at you and you look up and they are. Anyway I slowly looked up and right in front of me was the Merry Maidens. I swear i had not see them at all before that, even though I was right next to them. It was a fantastic feeling. It was like they were saying "Hey. over here. don't get back in the car. This is what you've come to see"
The merry Maidens are BEAUTIFUL and remain a sentimental favourite because they found me before I went looking for them.
The Merry Maidens is an amazing site and really easy to find - being close to a main road. Which makes it more amazing that these stones are intact!
I decided to take a few local friends to the maidens to show them what they had been missing - these stones were virtually on their doorstep, yet they had no knowledge of them!
We sat in the middle and soaked up the atmosphere for a good hour.
... it may be as well to remark that at this place there are most distinct traditions of a battle. The author, recently, spent several days in examining the ground, and collecting these traditions.
An old man informed him that the soldiers who died in the great fight, (which lasted several days), were buried in a long trench (not included in the plan) on the slope of a hill to the eastward of the village, but that when this trench was dug over a few years since, no bones were found.
Another story related that a vault immediately beneath the farm yard at Boleit contained the bodies of the slain, but "when this shall be discovered," added the old man,"'tis said that day will be the Judgment." The inhabitants were in consequence rather timid, when the author proposed to dig in search of the place.
The "Pipers", by the same tradition, represent the positions of the chieftains in front of their respective armies; and a "wise man," reported to be living in "Buryan church-town," has it on record, that their names were Howel and Athelstane.
In confirmation of the story of the battle, the word Boleit, pronounced Bollay, has been said to signify the "House of the slaughter," from Bo or Bod, "a house" or "a grave," and Ladh, "a killing." Bo-lait, "a milk house" looks perhaps a more likely derivation; but the name Goon Rith which designates the land to the west of the circle, and where a third great stone is placed, is, undoubtedly, the "Red Downs," a name which, as there is no appearance of that colour in the soil, looks strangely as if they had once been "bathed in blood." [...]
In the Cornish language these stones are called 'Dons Mein' which mean Dancing Stones or Dance Stones. About 600 yards to the north there are two standing stones about 200 yards from each other, and to the north-west, about 100 yards distant, another stone 8 feet to 10 feet high above ground.
According to an old tale told by the peasants, the two first-mentioned stones whistle, the third plays, and the 19 dance when they hear the cock crow.
From the Swedish 'industrial spy' R R Angerstein's illustrated travel diary 1753-55' (readable on Google Books).
"I do know a story about the Merry Maidens, and it is a true story".
"In 1907 an emmet (an outsider) from England bought the farm where the Merry Maidens stone circle stands. Thinking that the stones lessened the value of the field, the new owner ordered one of his workers to pull them down and add them to the stone walls surrounding the meadow".
The worker, a Cornishman, protested, but the Englishman insisted: "This is my field, and I'll do with it what I please, and you'll do as I say!"
Next day the Cornishman hitched up three shire horses to a chain and began the task. Anyway, while pulling over the first stone the lead horse panicked, reared up, then fell over dead.
Reporting this to his master, the Cornishman asked if he should fetch another horse for the task.
"No," said the landowner. "Set the stone back upright. We'll pull the lot of them down later."
But the stone circle was left undisturbed, and remains so to this day.
Robert Hunt in the 19th century says: In the parish of Burian are the Dawns Myin or Men - the dancing stones, commonly called the Merry Maidens; and near them are two granite pillars named the Pipers. One sabbath evening some of the thoughtless maidens of the neighbouring village instead of attending vespers, strayed into the fields and two evil spirits assuming the guise of pipers, began to play some dance tunes. The young people yielded to the temptation, forgetting the day, commenced dancing. The excitement increased and soon the music and dancuing became extremely wild; when lo! a flash of lightening from the clear sky transfixed them all, the tempters and the tempted and there in stone they stand.
No clubbing on a Sunday, then, Pop-pickers.
From Ian Cooke's 'Antiquities of West Cornwall', 1990
Pre-20th century descriptions of Cornish stone circles frequently refer to them as 'Dans Men' or 'Dawns Meyn', usually interpreted at as ritual places where ceremonies including dancing mayhave taken place. However, 'Dans Men' may be a mispronunciation of 'Zans Meyn' the Cornish phrase meaning 'stone circle'.
So, 'maiden' may be a simple misinterpretation of the Cornish word for stone: men, maen or meyn.
The word 'merry' may be a corruption of the word Mary, the name of an ancient goddess and nothing to do with Christianity. She was Ma-Ri, her name signifiying a fruitful or fertile mother.
From Ian Cooke's 'Antiquities of West Cornwall', 1990
There are several other stories to do with this circle other than maidens being turned to stone for dancing on the sabbath. One story says that the place was the scene of a large battle between the Saxon Athelstan and Cornish Howell in 936AD, the site of the pipers is where the two men stood and directed their men on the battlefield.
Flint arrowheads found at nearby Boleigh were believed to be from a battle King Arthur fought for the Cornish.
TC Lethbridge wrote of his peculiar experiences at the Merry Maidens (in 'Legends of the Sons of God'). Was it just a subconscious response to the circle's name? or something else..
"As soon as the pendulum started to swing, a strange thing happened.. [it] shot out until it was circling nearly horizontally to the ground. The stone itself, which must have weighed over a ton, felt as if it were rocking and almost dancing about. This was quite alarming but I stuck to my counting..
The next day I sent my wife up alone to see what happened to her. She had the same experience. It has happened nowhere else. The Pipers were mute and so were many crosses and other monuments which I have tried. But most circular monuments are now incomplete and perhaps something has gone from them."
When do vandals help us discover that a ‘perfect‘ stone circle was not so perfect after all……
There is an important news item about the Merry Maidens stone circle in the Cornwall Archaeological Unit’s Review of 1995-6, which comments “The Merry Maidens (SW433245) is one of the best preserved and probably the best known stone circle in Cornwall. It came as a shock then, in June 1995, when Mike Rosendale of Penwith District Council reported that the circle had been vandalised; one of the stones had been uprooted and left prostrate on the ground. Before the stone was re-erected the stone hole was excavated by Charlie Johns and Andy Jones of the CAU. They made the surprising discovery that the stone had originally been set at right-angles to the circle and that when restored in the 19th Century it had been turned through 90degrees and placed in line with the circle. On this occasion the stone was set up again as it had been before vandalism. It was re-erected by Andrew Marment and Marcel Deigan, under the supervision of Mike Rosendale, on the occasion of a visit to Cornwall by English Heritage inspectors and Field Monument Wardens form southern England”.
If you fancy buying a copy of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit’s Review of 1995-6, called ‘Archaeology Alive No 4’, check out the CAU’s website, which I’ve added on the ‘Links’ page. It is currently being flogged off cheap at £1. No more info on the Merry Maidens, except for a picture or grubby men re-setting the stone, but a good read in general. The CAU also do lots of other interesting publications, and all in all they seem like real dudes.