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Cornish Stones: Megaliths, Stone Circles, and Quoits

The Merry Maidens
The Merry Maidens, near Penzance. According to legend, a group of young women decided to go out dancing one night - on the sabbath. For such impiety they were turned to stone. In a nearby field there are two standing stones known as 'The Pipers'. These musicians were also turned to stone for flouting God's law. In reality, the Merry Maidens are a Bronze Age stone circle, built for now unknowable purposes. Some argue that this is a religious site. Others maintain that that stone circles like this served an astronomical or horological purpose. Whatever the truth the stones are beautiful, especially when viewed here in a thunderstorm with a rainbow in the background. I took this photo with an ordinary camera, and scanned it in in the ordinary way. Cornwall is like that: a fantastic picture whichever way you look...

Chysauster looking outwards Chysauster looking inwards On a sunny day, the village of Chysauster looks as though it might have been quite a pleasant place to live. It is quite ruined now, of course, but in the period of Roman occupation, a solid stone village on top of a hill must have seemed like a good option - particularly since there were not that many Romans that far west anyway and the Pax Romana was probably more of a good idea than a day-to-day reality. Chysauster was founded in the 1st century BC - before the Romans arrived - and lasted as an inhabited settlement until well until the 4th century. There are nine groups of houses, all of them remarkably well-preserved, and they congregate around a village street and a village square that was no doubt the centre of village life. Nowhere else in Cornwall do you get such a good idea of the way that people lived in the Romano-British period.

The Men-An-Tol This is the Men-An-Tol, a holed stone with a now lost significance. It's sexual posibilities are evident, however, and local mythology suggests that crawling through the stone is an aid to conception. Another myth says that to crawl through prevents you from catching smallpox. I've crawled through several times and I've never caught smallpox - but neither have I had a child - so make your own mind up. This rare photo of the Men-An-Tol in the snow almost gave me frostbite. It snows only once or twice a decade in Cornwall. On this occasion, in 1991, I got up at 5am and walked six miles across the moors in the snow to take a picture without footprints. Five minutes after this picture was taken some Australian tourists came and trampled the pristine surface into slush. You will probably never see the Men-An-Tol like this and I'll probably never see it like this again.
Boskednan Stone Circle On the same morning, I passed by the Boskednan stone circle. This circle, probably built around the same time as the Merry Maidens, has not lasted quite so well. Although thirteen stones were reported to be standing as recently as the eighteenth century, only seven now remain upright - and most of those are at a crazy angle. This circle lies on a lonely stretch of moorland, accessible only on foot or horseback. Its location, high up on a ridge, means that you can see both north and south coasts from close by - provided that weather is good enough - but also means that it is constantly battered by the wind. If you visit, wrap up well!

Lanyon Quoit Summer again, and Lanyon Quoit. This is perhaps the most famous of all the Cornish quoits - and probably the least authentic! The stones are certainly part of a burial chamber, but unfortunately they fell down in a storm in the early nineteenth century and were reconstructed with little regard for their original configuration. However, the nineteenth-century antiquarians who performed the operation were unable to change the landscape - here brown after a dry summer but just as rugged as it must have been when the tomb was first erected.

Lanyon Quoit and Ding Dong Mine From another angle, green fields in the valley become apparent. More noticable is the engine house. This is one of the remnants of the amusingly named Ding Dong Mine. Old engine houses such as this litter the Cornish landscape. One wonders what future archaeologists might make of this: In 10,000 years time it might be supposed that the quoit is an industrial feature and the engine house some sort of religious site. However it turns out, Cornwall's landscape, and the monuments left there by humans, will no doubt continue to be of interest, provided there are any humans left to see...

On this page I have provided images and thoughts about just a few Cornish megaliths, quoits, and stone circles. There are many more...

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* This page last updated 15 September 2003 *