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


  1. Very good and interesting series in my favourite part of the country. Looking forward to part 2.

    1. Thank-you very much and glad you enjoyed it. Part two will follow asap! Stephen