Sunday, 30 August 2015

Ancient Cornwall

Men an Tol to the Merry Maidens and Beyond

At  the end of July I set out to explore the many ancient highlights of the Penwith Peninsula - deep within mystic Cornwall.  Gurnard's Head, seen above - was one of the most spectacular - and the site of an Iron Age hill fort.

After a long drive down from Lancashire - there was enough light left to visit the legendary Men-an-Tol:  the 'stone with the hole.'

Crawling through the holed stone is supposed to cure ailments.  The stone was once thought to be part of a burial chamber with a porthole type entrance.  The stones may even have been re-arranged to form the classic '101'.

Trying to work off the back pains.

You can see the remains of a potential stone circle here.  It's a wonderful spot dating back to the Bronze Age - about 4000 years at least.

Men Scryfa lies nearby - translated as 'the stone with the writing' (scryfa = inscribed). This massive hunk of granite bears an inscription which translates as 'Rialobranus son of Cunovlaus' and may refer to Cornish tribal leaders.  There is a legend that he was slain here and that the stone represents his height.

Next day I was up bright and early and off to the wonderful Iron Age village of Carn Euny - famous for its fogou - one of a few mysterious underground passages unique to Cornwall.

The exit from the Carn Euny Fogou.  The fogou was made up of a long passage leading to an exit, and a mysterious side passage known as a 'creep.'  This one also has an earlier round chamber which may have been a sweat room or what we might see as a sauna.  Who knows?

The main entrance to the Carn Euny Fogou.

The village is made up of several courtyard houses and dates from about 500 BC to the Roman period.

Looking into the Carn Euny Fogou.  Was it used for storage, burial - or just communication with another world?  All Cornish fogous follow the same pattern.

The entrance into the round chamber - believed to be the oldest part of the fogou. It was designed so that the midwinter sunrise shone directly inside to illuminate a recess on the back wall.

The sun came out so I drove to Cape Cornwall and the fabulous Carn Gluze barrow, looking over the Atlantic.

Covered for many years by tin waste, this was excavated by Borlaise in the 19th century.

This entrance is believed to be a Neolithic (New Stone Age) burial chamber - pre-dating the rest - which was built on in the Bronze Age.

It's a confusing maze of spiralling passageways.

But what a situation. Note the tin mine!

Looking into one of the Bronze Age graves.

A grand resting place - if there ever was one!

Next day I visited Boscawen Un stone circle - or 'the circle by the elderberry tree.' This place oozes mystical atmosphere.

This wonderful place has 19 standing granite stones and a mysterious leaning central pillar.  A phallus or fertility symbol?  A sundial marker?  Was it originally standing or was it deliberately placed?  In any case it dates back nearly 4000 years.

So it ain't gonna fall !

The western stone is made of quartz and gleams brightly at sunrise.  A fabulous choice.

The Merry Maidens is another famous Cornish circle - supposedly turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath, to music provided by the Pipers and the Fiddler.  I'll introduce you to those fellas later ...

Nearby is the Tregiffian burial chamber - with it curious rock art believed to be linked to the lunar cycles.  It lies next to the road, but still has atmosphere.  It is from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age - about 3000 BC.

It's a wonderful spot for a touch of meditation ...

The nearby Pipers are the largest standing stones in Cornwall - and some of the biggest in Britain. This one is ridiculously phallic.

While his companion leans in precariously.

Not far from the Pipers is Brane - with this exquisite burial chamber hidden away in a farmer's field. It looks quite comical with its covering of gorse and its construction is haphazard to say the least!

But what a place.  Ask permission from the farmer and he willingly points the way to this wonderful spot.

And the view out is as far from the modern world as you can imagine.  A very spiritual place.

The Brane burial chamber after being stung and scratched to death! What a brilliant place to be buried, facing the rising sun.

Completing the story is the massive standing stone known as the Blind Fiddler - presumably the musician responsible for the plight of the Merry Maidens.

He's a huge granite symbol over eleven feet tall - and well worth a visit.

Look forward to seeing you in part 2.

Stephen x

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

In Search of the Cornish Quoits

Unique Burials on the Penwith Peninsula

The quoits are a special type of burial chamber, unique to Cornwall - and if you are visiting the great county they are well worth seeking out.  This is the first I visited, Lanyon Quoit, perhaps the best known as it lies close to the road.

Measuring up!  I'm six feet four - and though the size is impressive, Lanyon Quoit is actually not as it should be ...

The massive capstone collapsed in the early 19th century and was restored by a local archaeologist who actually put the capstone back on at the wrong angle!

A monochrome version gives atmosphere.  These quoits were originally covered by a mound, which over 5000 years has been removed by a combination of wrecking and weather.

The capstones were usually places at a sloping angle.  Note the mistake here?  That huge capstone should have sloped from the central pillar up to the two biggies at the front.  Nevertheless, it's still a stunning spot.

This one is even better, though.  Walking up onto the Cornish moors near the fort of Chun Castle, we encounter the famous megalithic 'mushoom' of Chun Quoit.

This one is beautifully preserved - at least, the chamber.  The remains of the mound can be seen in the foreground.

The way into the burial chamber was designed to be tricky: I managed to squeeze through the tiny gap on the right.

Measuring up to the mushroom.

The capstone is a massive hunk of granite,  Beyond lies the Atlantic Ocean.  This is another world.

And when you manage to squeeze inside .... well!   Just awe inspiring.

Chun Quoit in a wider context.

The remains of the covering mound and possible entrance passage.

Mulfra Quoit has also lost its capstone - the only advantage being that a modern day explorer can get into the main chamber.

Despite the condition, it still packs a punch.  It was over 1500 years old when the Pyramids were built!

So perhaps we can forgive the condition!

You've got to be brave to climb in there.  The capstone's only been leaning like that for maybe 200 years: a miniscule amount of time compared to the age of the chamber.  

You could end it in worse places, though.

Zennor, home to the legend of the Zennor Mermaid, is the key to the last of the quoits I visited.

Zennor Hill (or Zennor Tor) is a stiff climb - but the granite formations are fantastic.

The tors were chosen as sacred places by the ancient  people - perfect for burial.

This is the legendary Zennor Quoit - supposedly a great table where King Arthur once dined.  It is immensely old (3500 BC) - and has a rather sad recent history.

A farmer in the 19th century was annoyed by it and thought he could use the stone to make a cattle shed.  He erected four pillars (seen above) and was all set to plonk the massive capstone on top. What a plonker he was!  Luckily he was stopped by a horrified local vicar who paid him 30 shillings to be on his way and leave 5000 years of history in peace.

Despite the damage, it's one of the best prehistoric chambers I've ever seen.

Climbing into the chamber is very tricky as you must squeeze beneath the sloping capstone. 

A view of the entrance to Zennor Quoit - steeped in history and legend.

The capstone weighs an incredible 13 tons.  Why not give these quoits a visit when you are next at the southern tip of England?