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.....
Is this too confusing or what? Not only are there two Carn Breas, they are both near wells connected with St Uny / St Eunius.
At the foot of Carn Brea Hill, and not far from the Church of Redruth, is a well dedicated to St. Eunius. A stone cross formerly stood near to it.
Now it is a rugged little well, with no regular building. A moor-stone covers it, and round it is a sort of curb of rough granite, with an iron bar running along. At the back is a newer stone, bearing the date 1842.
There used to be ascribed to the water the virtue that whoever was baptised in it would never be ignominiously hanged; but now no recollection of this exists, nor reverence for its sanctity. The water is much used, because it is considered better than "pumpen" water.
Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall by M and L Quiller-Couch (1894). The church of St Euny is easy to pick out from an old map, but not the well. But there are the interesting sounding watery features of "Giant's Well" and "House of Water" on the hill.
Nighthawking - not a recent phenomena (since morons have always existed). I liked his restrained anger:
The hearths and benches of this interesting [hut] circle, which I left complete in the evening, were destroyed before 5.30 the next morning - no doubt by some of those who, fancying that no one could be foolish enough to dig unless he was finding treasure, haunted us during the whole summer, and destroyed much that would otherwise have been of permanent interest. One day I found they had removed the turf from another circle, for the sake of destroying the cooking-hole - a procedure that almost justifies language that would relight the fire.
Stamford Hill (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork) — Folklore
This is an Iron Age Round above the River Neet near Stratton. Centuries after it was built, the eponymous Civil War battle was fought here. The Earl of Stamford (Parliamentarian) got there first with his troops and set up on the hill, allegedly using the round as an emplacement for their guns. But despite having twice as many soldiers as the Royalists, they lost dismally.
On our way back to the car after visiting the Cheesewring, I was keen to visit Rillaton Barrow – home of the famous gold cup. It took a little time to spot as the ground is very uneven and despite being a fair size the barrow is not at all obvious.
However, find it we did. It has now been reduced to a mangled grass covered mound. A large hole has been dug into it in the past, no doubt how they unearthed the cup in the first place. Clearly an important person was buried here and the barrow would have been a substantial size when first built.
I am glad that I managed to find and visit this famous barrow. I will always think of it when I see a photo of the cup. Try to visit it if you are on your way to/from the Cheesewring.
The Cheesewring is the prominent landmark when in the Minions area and is well worth the walk for a closer look and exploration. From the Hurlers stone circles the Cheesewring looks quite far you can walk it in about 15 minutes, although you do need to be fairly mobile to clamber up onto the rock outcrops.
Both myself and Dafydd enjoyed scrambling around the rocks and the views are excellent in all directions. From the top of the rocks you get a great ‘bird’s eye’ view of the collapsed circular stone wall which surrounds the Iron Age site.
I am not so sure Karen would have approved of Dafydd being up here with me but is it quite safe as long as you are sensible about things.
I thought we would have difficulty spotting this site but as luck would have it we literally walk right past it. When approaching the Cheesewring look for the barbed wire fence – there to stop you falling over the edge into the quarry! Mr Gumb’s house can be found just below the fence line – quite easy to spot.
Dafydd was keen to go into the house but was only able to do so a little way as it has largely collapsed. In a book I have there is an old photo of the house and it is clear that when the photo was taken you could go a fair way inside. The year’s have not been kind to Daniel’s house. Perhaps someone will restore it?
Well worth looking out for when visiting the Cheesewring.
Very easy to spot when visiting the stone circles.
When looking towards the Cheeswring they are to your left, near the track.
To my untrained eye they didn’t look ‘old’ but they do perfectly frame the Cheesewring.
Worth looking out for.
Had it not been for Mr Hamhead's notes I would have had no idea it was there!
Very easy to miss as it just looks like part of a garden wall.
Nothing much to see but it is nice to know that the barrow has survived.
We parked in the large car park (free) and Karen decided to go for a walk to try to find a café with the girls whilst myself and Dafydd headed in the opposite direction to visit the famous stone circles. It is only a 5 minute walk over flat moorland – very easy to access. Due to the great weather we had had all week the ground was dry underfoot with the crisp grass crunching under our feet.
There was a sign saying that filming was taking place and apologies for any disruption. We never saw anyone near the circles and we later learnt (via the landlord at the pub where Karen got her coffee from) that the filming was for a ‘period costume drama’ and was taking place on open moorland nearer the Cheesewring.
We walked around the circles (Dafydd trying to count the stones) before making our way towards the Cheesewring itself.
The Hurlers are easy to access and well worth a visit when in the area. As a bonus it’s another English Heritage site ticked off the list!