Two new books are to be released this month by the Cornwall Historic Enviroment team. One looks at the landscape and archaeology of the West Penwith moors whilst the other may raise a few eyebrows here..its about managing the landscape in the far west. Cows and stones...do they mix?
College playing field surrenders its Iron Age treasures
From the Western Morning News, Tuesday June 7th:
The playing fields of Truro College have been excavated to reveal two Iron Age settlements. Finds include fragments of South Western decorated ware dating from 200 - 100 BCE and a "La Tene" Celtic brooch of similar age:
A group of young people on an archaeological holiday in Cornwall with the Young Archaeologists' Club (YAC)(1) have discovered two previously unrecorded oblong, grave-shaped stone mounds (2) on Minions Moor, part of Bodmin Moor... continues...
The village herbalists and rural advisers have not entirely fallen into disrepute. Many are the remedies, some no doubt beneficial, recommended by them. The use of some, however, are equivocal. Thus rheumatism is attempted to be cured by a "boiled thunderbolt;" in other words, a boiled celt, supposed to be a thunderbolt. This is boiled for hours, and the water then dispensed to rheumatic patients. I know not whether it be a libel that one old woman, who employed this remedy, used to express her astonishment that, keep the saucepan on the fire as long as she would, none of the celt would ever boil away.
.. the celebrated stone circle called the Dawns Men, the Dance Stones, or, popularly, the Merry Maidens. This is a very perfect circle of nineteen stones which average about three feet and a-half in height above the ground, the circle itself being nearly seventy feet in diameter.
There are various country traditions which account for the existence of these stones. Some say that they were maidens who were transformed into stones for dancing on the Lord's Day. Others assert that a man is buried under each stone. All, however, agree that the stones are placed there by supernatural agency, and that it is impossible to remove them.
An old man at Boleigh, who informed us that a farmer, having removed two or three of the stones on one occasion, was astonished to see them in their old places the next morning, was evidently displeased at the account being inconsiderately received with a smile of incredulity.
Another story respecting them is, that an attempt to drag them out of their places, although a vast horse or oxen power was engaged, utterly failed, and that the cattle employed in the task fell down, and shortly after died.
The Dawns Men were no doubt so called by the country people because the stones are placed in the order in which persons arranged themselves for an ancient dance, termed Trematheeves, which continued in vogue in Cornwall as late as the last century. Hence also probably originated the legend above mentioned; although it is to be observed that similar tales are current elsewhere to account for such-like circles of stones in Wales and other countries.
There is a tradition respecting the large top of a cromlech, in Cornwall, that was removed to a brook at a distance, and converted into a bridge; it is said that this stone possessed the power of speech, and answered questions put to it, until on a certain time, it cracked in an effort to speak, and has been silent ever since. This vague tradition must have originated in the oracular use made of the cromlech from whence the stone was taken.
Vague indeed. Unless someone can enlighten us..
From p279 of The Graphic and Historical Illustrator
Edward Wedlake Brayley (1834) - which can be perused on Google Books.
Whilst scouring my lil' collection of Cornish literature for any interesting references to visits, folklore &c, I found the following in William Bottrell's "Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall (2nd series)". referencing a tradition of meeting stones, known as Garrack Zans: it doesn't have any proveable prehistory but looks damn likely to be a really late survivor of megalithic tradition, and thus very much of interest; brackets are mine.
"Within the memory of many persons now living, there was to be seen, in the town-places of many western villages, an unhewn table like stone called the Garrack Zans. This stone was the usual meeting place of the villagers, and regarded by them as public property. Old residents in Escols (Escalls, near Sennen) have often told me of one which stood near the centre of that hamlet on an open space...(this) they described as nearly round, about three feet high, and nine in diameter, with a level top. A bonfire was made on it and danced around at Mid-summer. When petty offences were committed by unknown persons, those who wished to prove their innocence, and to discover the guilty, were accustomed to light a furse-fire on the Garrick Zans: each person who assisted took a stick of fire from the pile, and those could extinguish the fire in their sticks, by spitting on them, were deemed innocent; if the injured handed a fire-stick to any persons, who failed to do so, they were declared guilty.
Most evening young persons, linked hand in hand, danced around the Garrack Zans, and many old folks passed around it nine times daily from some notion that it was lucky and good against withcraft.
The stone now known as Table-men was called the Garrack Zans by old people of Sennen.
If our traditions may be relied on, there was also in Treen a large one, around which a market was held in days of yore...
There was a Garrack Zans in Sowah (Ardensawah near St.Buryan) only a few years since, and one may still be seen in Roskestal, St. Levan.
Nothing seems to be known respecting their original use; yet the significant name, and a belief - that it is unlucky to remove them, denote that they were once regarded as sacred objects."
Bottrell's work first appeared in 1873, from tales collected by him in the quarter century preceding; thus the Garrack Zans was a central feature up until at least about 1800.
1 - the etymology of the name? (Obviously Careg, Carrick in the first instance - but Zans?)
2 - Is the Table-men still extant in Sennen? I would imagine it to be in Churchtown rather than Cove...and indeed that in Roskestal, a small farmstead?
I own, I was thunderstruck* at the report of this singular instance of superstition, and suspended my belief of its existence till I was at length convinced by the testimony of my senses. The old lady, who possesses this miraculous thunderbolt, lives, at this moment, in the parish of St. Keverne, adjoining to Manaccan. She informed me that it was found, many years ago, at no great distance from her house, just after a thunderstorm, half buried in the ground, and was taken up hot and smoking; and that its virtue was accidentally discovered by one of the family, "who lost the rheumatism" merely by handling it. On asking her what was her method of applying her thunderbolt to her patients, her answer was, that "She boil'd 'en for about three hours, and gave the water to her patients, with directions to bathe the part affected; and that she had cured hundreds. - "Boil'd dunderbolt was a vine thing for the rheumatis," said an old man present. - - It is a perfect celt.
p28 of 'The Old English Gentleman: A Poem, by Mr. Polwhele' by Richard Polwhele, published 1797. Online at Google Books.
*yes very good.
And some further axehead folklore:
A celt (commonly called in this neighbourhood a thunderbolt) was some years ago found on [West Looe] Down. The common people believe these celts to be produced by thunder, and thrown down from the clouds; and that they shew what weather will ensue by changing their colour.
p32 of 'The Parochial History of Cornwall' by Davies Gilbert (v4) 1838. Also on Google Books.
From "Churches of West Cornwall with Notes on the Antiquities of the District" - J.T. Blight, from the preface to the second edition (published 1884 after Blight's death):
"By Mr. Blight's death Archaeology has lost not only an enthusiastic student, but a hard worker, and it is much to be feared that his too eager devotion to his favourite pursuit amidst his daily toil brought on the illness which had so sad a termination."
The new Cornwall Heritage Trust website is now up and running -
"Cornwall Heritage Trust was founded in 1985 to help preserve important sites in Cornwall and to protect and promote the Duchy’s rich heritage. We own or manage some of the most iconic and important historic places in Cornwall."
"If you ever find yourself in West Penwith (Cornwall) with 3 hours or so to spare, this walk should satisfy the Megalithic cravings of most people as it takes in half a dozen or more sites of different types."
The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network is a charitable partnership formed to look after the ancient sites and monuments of Cornwall.
They work closely with local communities and official organisations to protect and promote the ancient heritage landscape through research, education and outreach activities.
Flyingpast.org is the culmination of a twelve year project mapping archaeological and historical sites visible on aerial photos in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The project was commissioned and paid for by English Heritage and the mapping was carried out by the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council. That's their words...my words...brilliant site!
An absolutely wonderful website, packed full of ancient photographs and illustrations of the prehistoric monuments of Cornwall.
My current favourite is the 1860's photograph of Lanyon Quoit and a bloke in a stove pipe hat.
Archaeologists from Cornwall County Council's Historic Environment Service are uncovering the early history of Scarcewater, near St.Stephen-in-Brannel, where work on a much needed tip for the china clay industry is to begin shortly.
Cornwall has the reputation of being a magical, mystical and spiritual place. We went to see Arch Druid Ed Prynn to discuss the Merlin, angels and marrying for a year and day...
"Being the Arch Druid of Cornwall is a special, unusual job. I didn't get elected it fell out of the heavens for me."
The healing stone is a replica of the Men-an-tol holed stone.
Ed refuses to have his faith bound by other people's ideas: "I was born locked into both faiths - Christian and Druid.
"Being a Druid you are a free spirit. The door is open to explore all the magic - the angels, the little people, the ley lines. Druids can experiment with all the things which are forbidden by the Bible.
"I go to chapel but everything's from the one book. People ask me how can I be in both camps but spiritual camps are not like political or military camps. It's all about loving one another. It's all about trying to be one."
Prynn had his first mystic encounter at the age of 9 and became drawn by the power of standing stones.
He started to put the stones in his garden in 1982 and the last stone was put in 1999 to celebrate the total eclipse.
"The stones here have made new spiritual history. Thousands of people have touched the stones and left some of their magic aura. Being a Christian you are supposed to follow the teaching of the Bible.
"The stones are important because the energy gets drawn into them. You can feel this type of energy, you feel a bit wobbly on your feet."
"Cornwall is a special place - we're not like a big city, we have a different way of life completely. Cornwall has all these old stones, cultures and ways. The ways have never died out and the people around who know how to make the magic work."
The showpiece of Ed's stones is the Angel's runway: "The rocking stone provides a seal so that a spell would work. It's used for swearing in of priests and priestesses, healing, fertility - people even write their lottery tickets on it.
"The Rocking Stone has magic energy lines around it. The site can be magic or people can be magic. I believe both are here and that the Godly mystique has come to this place."
Ed is happy to accept visitors to his home in St Merryn to see the stones. You can't miss it...
MEYN MAMVRO is the magazine of ancient stones and sacred sites in Cornwall. It has been published regularly 3 times a year since 1986, and, taken together, all the editions contain a wealth of original material about the prehistory and ancient customs of Cornwall.
I am a tourist guide operating in the Bodmin Moor/ southeast Cornwall area. Don't let that put you off! I am also a big Cope fan and love nothing better than heading of accross the open moors in search of whatever is out there. You don't even have to come on one of my organised walks, just email me quoting the Modern Antiquarian and I will sort something out. I gotta walk.....
Another session of Google Earth scrying along with Ocifants excellent directions, led me to believe this site would be easily to visit on the way home from our holiday in Cornwall. So with the sun blazing down from a clear sky, and with the car packed and ready for home, we started our journey north with at least the promise of a stone circle on the way to keep our spirits up.
Heading north we took a left turn off the A30 signposted ‘St Breward 4’, which I recognised from my earlier Google reconnaissance, and heading across the small moorland road, we first saw what appeared to be several small standing stones dotted about, along with a variety of other interesting looking lumps and bumps.
Soon we spotted the circle itself off to our right, the telegraph pole right next to it providing an unmissable landmark. I’d intended to turn right at the first crossroads up the farm track towards the circle and park near Hawkstor farm, but on arrival the track looked in a poor state, a huge gouge out of the surface leaving a nasty dip to be negotiated in order to pass. Fearing for the car’s suspension, and with still another 250 miles to drive before getting home, I decided not to risk it and instead turned left towards Treswigga, and taking the example of another couple of cars, pulled up on the spacious verge.
No maps were needed today, the visibility perfect, the stones of the circle beckoning to us across the moor. The pull of a previously unvisited site causes me to hurry past what looks like a small stone row, but I vow to investigate on the way back, and soon I’m here in the centre of the stones, looking out over the empty moorland and soaking up the atmosphere. As Postie says, there is a feeling of ‘bigness’ here far out of scale with the actual size of the stones or circle, probably the wide skies and open moorland give it a sense of a larger landscape.
The circle of eleven remaining stones (or is it twelve, we seemed to get different results each time we counted!) looks as if it’s had a battering over the ages, but I’m pleased to see that currently there are no signs of erosion by livestock around the stones themselves. A small central stone, and two further outliers which line up to it intrigue, but on closer investigation it’s clear that they don’t fit with the rest of the circle, the carvings of ‘M’ and ‘C’ on them pretty much confirming their use as boundary stones across the moor. Normally this sort of interference with a site would annoy me, particularly when it’s a result of the imposition of artificial fences or boundaries that impact on things (I’ll stop there before I start on a rant about the ‘ownership’ of land!), but here it just sort of fits in. In fact there is an absolute air of relaxation about the whole visit. Maybe it’s the unseasonable warmth of the sun, maybe it’s just the vibe of the place but I’m feeling particularly laid back, and just suffused with an aura of happiness and wellbeing. Ellen feels it too, so it’s not just me coming over all hippyish, and we sit in the circle with a flask of coffee and some very lovely chocolate muffins from the bakers in St. Just, and just chill out. On a day like this people will be flocking to the Cornish beaches, but nice as it is to be beside the seaside, I’d rather be here on a lonely moor, away from the crowds at this lovely ancient place. A couple of dog walkers are visible in the distance, but no-one else seems to pay the circle any mind, or intrude on our blissful solitude.
While Ellen goes off to take photographs I recline on a recumbent stone and feel so completely relaxed I’m almost drifting off to sleep, the gentle susurrations of the traffic from the nearby A30 and the tweeting of birds providing a soothing soundtrack, and from my prone position looking around it’s almost as if the circle sits within a natural amphitheatre of hills, with the rocky outcrops of Carbilly and Hawk’s Tor looming large on the horizon, and the moon visible in the sky hanging over the circle only enhancing the numinous atmosphere.
I’d love to have visited the nearby Stipple stones while we were here, but we’d already spent nearly two hours at the circle, and with a pint at the Jamaica Inn calling, and a further four hours of driving ahead of us before reaching home, we had to drag ourselves away.
This place has been a revelation though, probably the perfect combination of fine weather, the endpoint of a great holiday and the giddy excitement of going to a site for the first time, means it’s exceeded all expectations. Knowing now how easy it is to get to, I can see this being a regular stop off when we come down to Cornwall again.
This was another site on my must see list for this trip down to Cornwall. With some judicious Google Earth scrying beforehand, in conjunction with a trusty O.S map, I’d identified the parking spot on the bend mentioned in Carl’s notes.
We approached down a narrow lane off the A30, a signpost warning that the track was unsuitable for HGV’s, and even in our little car it was tight going. Ellen drove as I navigated, somewhat fretful in case she met something coming the other way, as there were few passing places, and reversing on the narrow twisty roads would have taken some doing.
Following the signs towards Carn Euny we reached an even narrower track, this one with a no through road sign at the start of it. Ellen was reticent about taking it, but I encouraged her to take a drive of faith and so we carried on. Within minutes there is a thick band of grass growing up the centre of the road, but we’d come this far so there’s no turning back now! It’s not long though before I recognise the pull-in next to the public footpath sign I’d seen on Google Earth.
Parking up here Ellen decided to wait in the car, worried in case we ended up blocking the way for some huge agricultural machinery, and also being a bit more wary of trespassing than my blasé attitude towards it. I happily hopped over the gate however, and walking up the edge of the currently empty meadow, again followed Carl’s directions into the neighbouring field.
As I entered the field I was taken aback, the burial mound, so perfectly small and round sitting there incongruously in the field, just looked so unreal. Getting up close I could see just how different this chamber seemed from other barrows I’d visited, looking more like a roundhouse than a tomb (perhaps that’s the idea?).
Either way it’s lovely, probably the first chambered tomb I’d describe as cute. The gorsey toupee just adds to its character, and the vegetation growing around it gives the place an organic quality. As I bend down to look into the entrance it’s almost as if the stones of the entranceway are reaching around to give me a hug. Squeezing into the chamber, no slugs are in evidence today, but creeping tendrils of bramble are starting worm their way in, grabbing at my coat, and I really wish I had a pair of secateurs with me just to keep the chamber clear.
As I lean against the side of the mound to write my notes everything seems a bit illusory here, the sky is perfectly blue, the grass low cropped and gently rippling in the breeze, the lonely cawing of crows overhead, and not a sight or sound of the modern world in evidence. It’s like some bucolic idyll, and it feels as if nothing has changed since Borlase was here, if ever a site had a palpable vibe, it’s this one.
Utterly enchanted I forget the time, and feeling a bit mean about abandoning Ellen, I drag myself away, only to find on my return she’d dozed off in the car, so I could have stayed a bit longer I suppose! Anyway I will be back!
With all the abundance of megalithic wonderment crammed into this small part of West Penwith it’s interesting that this little burial chamber seems to have affected me most of all the places I’ve been so far this week, I can’t recommend a visit to this hidden gem highly enough.