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.....
This remarkable monument deserves more than a passing notice. The large mass of rock pointed north and south, and it used to be remarked by the quarrymen that about Midsummer the rays of the rising and setting sun poured straight through the passage under the rock; in reality the mass rested on a single point on the southern side. The apparently northern supports were not in contact with the large mass, as was often shewn by passing a thin cord between it and them. The northern rock on which it apparently partly rested was a long slab resting on other large rock masses piled on each other, but quite detached from the hill.
When a crow-bar was inserted under the Tolmen south of its main support, a few persistent efforts would cause the whole mass to vibrate. The northern end being much narrower, the rock projected in that direction, and the equilibrium would be in danger of being destroyed but for the peculiar arrangement above described; for the viabrating mass as it dipped north tilted up the long slab, which was in a line with the longer axis and thus acted as an equipoise. It is impossible to conceive that this arrangement was altogether natural. In all probability a natural confirmation of the rocks was taken advantage of to produce a desired result.
The Men Rock itself and those about it were covered in a remarkable way with deep rock basins. Other large monuments in the vicinity show evident marks of being artificially shaped.
Having already carried off the top of the neighbouring hill of Trencrom, to make the Mount [St Michael's Mount] itself, Cormoran was in want of further stones wherewith to build his castle, and sent his wife to fetch them from the same place. She, thinking (womanlike) that any other stone would do as well, fetched this one from the nearer hill of Ludgvan-lees. Angry at her conduct, the monster slew her with his mighty foot, and the great rock rolled from her apron and fell where we see it now [Chapel Rock]; a silent witness to the lady's strength and to the truth of the narrative.
From which I suppose we can conclude that the giant Cormoran thought Trencrom Hill had extremely good stone. And confusion about this merited murder. Or something. Anyway, I'd not heard this before, and it's from Thurston C Peter's 'Notes on St Michael's Mount' in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, v14 (1899-90).
This place has been high on my list of must see sites for ages, and I must say it didn’t disappoint. Parking up at the wonderfully named Woom Grumpus common on the B3318, the quoit is visible on the horizon from the parking spot. Wellingtons were an absolute necessity as to describe the path as ‘boggy’ would constitute a gross understatement!
Huge puddles of indeterminate depth straddled the path, but properly equipped for a change we soldier on, the walk up to the stone being just under a mile, soon though we arrive at this most perfect of dolmens. Wonderful vistas can be had from the site looking out over the sea, but skies are grey and murky today, low cloud clinging on and obscuring the horizon.
I squeeze into the chamber, but it’s a tight fit. Inside though it’s nice and sheltered, and some handy stones inside allow a perch out of the mud for me to write my fieldnotes. It’s wonderful here inside the quoit, I can hear the wind howling away around the stones, and I feel far from the mundane world, almost as if I’m about to be whisked off to the otherworld at any moment.
The four closely placed orthostats support a wonderful sloping capstone, and I can’t help but admire the economy of design, it’s a dolmen at its most streamlined. The entrance seems to be aligned south-easterly, and the granite tor of Carn Kenidjack looms away to the south in line with the quoit, and possibly the alignment continues on south to the circle of Tregeseal.
I can’t think of enough superlatives to describe Chûn Quoit, although one of West Penwith’s most iconic sites the necessity for a walk to reach it probably keeps away the casual visitor so the sense of isolation remains. A truly wonderful place, and I know I’ll be back!
Although some of the places we’ve visited on this trip to Cornwall seemed very different to my past recollections of them, Sancreed Well felt so familiar I could have been here yesterday rather than ten years ago. As soon as we drove into Sancreed I remembered the phone box you park up next to, at the side of which is the path to the well.
The path seemed very overgrown though, and I began to wonder how long it might have been since someone last came this way. The answer was obviously very recently as when we arrived at the well the small glow of a freshly lit tealight shone out at us from the gloom of the subterranean well chamber, so someone was here very recently, despite us seeing no sign of anyone around, either on the path or as we drove through the village, spooky.
The well itself is a magical place, a little verdant grotto with an otherworldly feeling as you descend the steps down to the clear cold water, your breath misting in the cave like interior. Green mosses and ferns sprout from the side walls, and no matter the antiquity of this well the tranquil atmosphere it exudes makes it ever a sacred place.
I didn’t notice any phosphorescence in the well chamber, but it probably needs to be darker to see the effect. Although nearby is a modern stone Celtic cross, this still feels a pagan place, the overhanging hawthorn tree covered in offerings. I must say the offerings left here are lovely, several pyrographed pieces of wood hang from the tree, exhibiting an artistry that must have taken some time to complete, crystals, ribbons and windchimes are also in evidence, and there is a refreshing lack of mouldy old ribbons or plastic which sometimes blight these places, it’s evident someone cares for and regularly visits the place, and if I lived down this way I would too.
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.