Nine magical historical monuments in Cornwall
PUBLISHED: 14:22 09 September 2020 | UPDATED: 17:58 10 September 2020
Discover the stories behind the county’s mystical world of giants and dancing maidens
The past is writ in stone in the form of Cornwall’s ancient granite megaliths.
The Cornish landscape is dotted with beautiful and strange granite structures, such as standing stones, quoits, stone rows and logan (rocking) stones. Through these iconic, old monuments, we can feel a palpable sense of the past. Our ancestors would have used these megalithic landmarks for burials and ritual ceremonies, as part of their ancient belief system. Most are located on high ground or coastal sites, making them holy places in the eyes of the people living in the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age.
On the moor above the disused Carn Galver mine between Morvah and Porthmeor sits the iconic hole stone, Mên-an-Tol. Thought to date back to the Neolithic or Bronze Age, Mên-an-Tol is a small series of standing stones featuring a central round stone with a hole (known locally as the Crick Stone, alluding its reputation for curing painful conditions, such as rickets).
Enduring folklore also states that women who pass through the hole, backwards, seven times, at full moon will become pregnant. Not far, to the northeast, lies the lovely Nine Maidens (Boskednan) stone circle.
Trethevy Quoit, St Cleer
Known as the Giant’s House, this is a 9ft (2.7m) high megalithic tomb consisting of standing stones capped with a huge slab of granite. Long ago, the construction would have been covered in a grassy mound, and recent excavations show that it dates back to the Neolithic period, between 3700 and 3500BC. It would have been a community grave, used to bury several people, and is also referred to as a ‘portal tomb’, which means the grave has an entrance formed by the two front stones.
Logan Rock, Treen
One of the most mysterious stones in Cornwall is the logging (rocking) stone on Treryn Dinas cliffs, above the sea. In Cornish it is called Men Omborth, which means balanced stone. Because it was dislodged (and then replaced) in the past, it doesn’t rock as well as it used to, but the 80 tonne granite boulder still rocks. On the north coast, atop Zennor Hill, is another logan stone. In folklore, it’s said that a witch who makes her way to a rocking stone at midnight under the full moon and climbs on top of it nine times without causing it to rock will be imbued with the forces of nature.
Lanyon Quoit, Madron
This dolmen is an iconic Cornish monument, but having collapsed in the 19th century and been reconstructed, does not look as it would have done originally. It used to be formed of four standing stones and would have been tall enough for a person on a horse to pass under, but now has three 1.5m tall stones, topped by an immense capstone, 5.5m long and weighing more than 12 tonnes. It sits at the north end of a 26m long barrow (chambered tomb). Southeast along the road to Penzance is the ruined chapel and holy well at Madron, which is reached via a muddy path. Bosiliack Barrow is also nearby.
Hurlers Stone Circles, Bodmin Moor
Not too far from Trethevy Quoit, are the three wonderful Hurlers Stone Circles, which sit in a line. Dating back to the late Neolithic period or the early Bronze Age, they form one of the best ceremonial monuments in the region. In the past such stone circles would have been used to perform rituals and ceremonies with a fire in the centre. Local legend says that the stones are petrified men, turned to stone for playing hurling on a Sunday. To the west, stands a pair of upright stones, known as The Pipers.
Nine Maidens, Stone Row St Columb Major
The Nine Maidens (AKA Nine Sisters) are granite megaliths standing in a 108-metre long row, in a northeasterly alignment. The nine stones, which date back to the late Neolithic period, range in height from 80cm to more than two metres. Their alignment points towards a standing stone known as The Fiddler, 800m away on the moors. Such stone rows are thought to be funerary monuments used in burial processions, as they often lead towards a burial site.
Tregeseal Stone Circle, St Just
Also known as the Nine Maidens or the Dancing Stones, this stone circle on Truthwall Common, one mile northeast of St Just, is formed of 19 granite stones. There would once have been 21 stones here, as well as a second twin circle, and perhaps a third circle. The name Dancing Stones suggests that this Neolithic or Bronze Age relic was – like most stone circles – used for ritual and ceremonial purposes, which would probably have included dancing.
Trippet and Stripple Stones, Bodmin Moor
The Trippet stones form a 30-metre wide stone circle, which comprises 12 of the original 26 stones, eight of which are still standing. Dating back to the Neolithic period, it would probably have been used for sacred and celebratory ceremonies. Only 1km away to the east, lie the Stripple Stones – a henge and stone circle on the south slope of Hawk’s Tor, Blisland. Only four of its stones are still standing and it contains a huge fallen menhir (standing stone) that is almost four metres long.
Discover more ancient sites at english-heritage.org.uk