Friday, 8 September 2017

St Levan Church (A Slight Return) .. Cornwall pt 7

An afternoon walk to The Church of St Levan allowed us time to take in the carvings which adorn the church pew ends. The majority of pew ends date from the early 16th Century through until the modern era - with two probable exceptions which may date back to the 14th Century (Hoyle, S. 2007).

I have captured only a handful of these carvings .. and look forward to future visits to explore them further - along with the Rood Screen!

St Levan's fishes

In Hoyle's work the carving of St Levan's fishes, is considered "..the most precious pew-end in the church because it is the only surviving pre-Reformation reference to Selevan." Selevan - St Levan - after whom the church and nearby holy well are named. Hoyle goes on to recount the story of Selevan - catching two fish, throwing them both back dissatisfied - only to re-catch them. Taking them home, he finds his sister and her children visiting. Cooking the fish for supper turns to disaster as the children eat so greedily that they choke on the fish and die.

The Jolly Fool

The Grim Fool

The Santiago Pilgrim

Hoyle tells us that this pilgrim has been to Santiago de Compostela a popular site of pilgrimage since the 1100's - as indicated by the scallop shell which adorns his hat.


Hoyle, S. (2007) The Church of St Levan A Guide & History Hypatia Publications, Penzance

Boleigh Fogou .. Cornwall pt 6

south eastern "entrance"

looking north west - the creep entrance on left

continuing north west through fogou

I've been hankering after a visit to the Iron Age souterrain called Boleigh Fogou for sometime now. Earlier visits to the more accessible Cornish fogous at Carn Euny and Chysauster - along with the thrilling ramblings of Julian Cope in The Modern Antiquarian (1998) - mean't that this visit was long overdue. These man made caves and passageways still hold a mystery as to their original purposes - with grain storage, defence or ritual all being suggested (perhaps a combination of all?).

Boleigh Fogou lies in the wooded - private garden of Rosemerrynwood - as such a visit to this site is by appointment only. However, a swift exchange of phone calls mid-week secured both a Friday viewing and a warm welcome from the host. We were left free to explore the site alone, and were given no time pressure in which to do this.

As you enter the subterranean building from the south eastern "entrance" it is only a short way through, before you find a door on the left hand side. This door leads into a further passage - both lower in height and more intimate than the first. This second passage is known as a "Creep". Any ambient light from the doorway is lost almost completely as you edge forward into this new passage.

Turning the head torch on I jumped as a seated figure hove starkly into close view. This anthropomorphic stone is presumably not an original feature of the Iron Age archaeology - instead carved and placed by modern hands - to represent mother and child - a product of modern ritual use of the site?

Beyond the "mother" stone the creep turns left at what feels like a right-angle. Underground the alignment of the creep, to the wider passage from which you first enter is a little disorientating? McNeil Cooke (1996) has a schematic drawing which shows the creep running away from the main passage at an approx. 45deg angle - when I was inside it felt almost as if the creep was in parallel with the wider passage and sharing a wall along it's length? A timely reminder not to take up the sport of caving perhaps, for how could I ever find my way out of a complex cave system, when a simple two passage underground building confuses my senses?

As you turn and exit the creep - a second humanoid object can be seen. A tiny clay figure - standing dark against a small pale spherical rock. A further reminder that this Iron Age site retains ritual significance into the modern era.

A mooch around the Historic Cornwall website provides a wider insight into the frequency and occurrence of these enigmatic Iron Age features, and a discussion of their possible uses.


Both Julian Cope's Modern Antiquarian (1998) and Ian McNeil Cookes Mermaid to MerryMaid Journey to The Stones (1996) have been fully referenced elsewhere in this current series of Cornwall blogs

Thursday, 7 September 2017

St Senara's Church,The Zennor Mermaid and Crosses .. Cornwall pt 5

When we arrived in Treen on Saturday afternoon, we carefully parked the car close to the garden wall ensuring that there was not an enticing gap left between it and the wall. The gap needed to be suitably small to deter any passing cow - on its way to the local milking-shed - from squeezing between the car and the wall, damaging the vehicle or worse itself.

Cottage and Car, Treen

We had envisaged a week of mainly walking, and the cottage's location gave easy access to the local network of footpaths incl. the coastal path for the majority of our explorations.

As such it wasn't until the Thursday that we finally ventured out under petrol power and in doing so - headed across the headland to Zennor.

St Senara's Church and Graveyard Cross

The Zennor Parish Council has an excellent website which describes all things local and of interest to both tourists and those chasing nearby stones and legends: Zennor Parish Council

St Senara's Church at Zennor stands within a pre-Christian footprint - it's circular graveyard over lies Iron Age boundaries, which in turn straddle even more ancient boundaries dating back to the Neolithic (ibid). The current Norman church is thought to probably stand on the site of a 6th Century chapel (MacNeil Cooke, 1996; Cornwall Guide 2018) .. the founding of Christianity in Cornwall being eloquently styled on the Zennor Parish Council website as: "Christianity came to Zennor when the Age of Saints followed the fall of the Roman Empire."

In the Churchyard stand at least three ancient Crosses, the first of which greets the visitor as they step through the main entrance to the church, the other two adorn the grave of the Cornish Antiquarian, William Borlase. There are also other interesting Celtic style crosses within it's confines.


Crosses - William Borlase's Grave

The Church is famous for it's association with the story of the Mermaid of Zennor, and the chair within comprising of two carved wooden medieval pew ends - one of which contains the image of the Zennor Mermaid herself.

The Mermaid of Zennor

The second wooden pew end appears to the untrained eye to be decorative rather than symbolic in meaning. I suspect it gets far less attention than it's more glamorous counterpart? I have included it below for the purpose of completion.

For a fuller description of the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor I will return again to the excellent Zennor Parish Council website: The Mermaid of Zennor

It was probably the local Church guidebook that drew our attention to the lone stone craving of a head which adorns the external south eastern corner of the Chapel entrance. If I remember correctly it is the only carving on the whole of the outside of the building? I can find no reference to it otherwise - and simply wish that I had purchased a copy of the guidebook - it would have been more than useful in the writing of this Blog entry!


MacNeil Cooke, I. (1996) 2nd Edition Mermaid to Merrymaid Journey to the Stones Cornwall Litho Redruth

Cornwall Guide (2018) ONLINE Zennor Available at: Retrieved 7th Jan 2018

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Of walks and Crosses .. Porthgwarra, Treryn Dinas and Logan Rock .. Cornwall pt 4

The weather in vast improvement to the preceding days, saw the sun shining and a striking blue but not quite cloudless sky. We decided a walk to Porthgwarra was indicated - with hopefully some migrant birds along the way?

Taking an inland route we headed across the fields passing Rospletha Cross and St Levan Church then taking the footpath towards Roskestral. At the junction of this path with the footpath to Ardenswah is a stile containing a Cross head in a field called "Churchway Downs" (Macneil Cooke 1996).

Churchway Field Cross

Our next stop was a small pool to the south west of the Porthgwarra road, scrub lined it looked promising for any skulking migrants. Only a single calling chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) was of note. However, our attention was still held for sometime by three golden-ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii), in fierce aerial pursuit of each other.

On the cliffs to the immediate west of Porthgwarra, the heathers were in full bloom. An occasional wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) flushed ahead of us, but other than that birds on land were very scarce. Along the coast path a number of flighty grayling (Hipparchia Semele) tempted me to chase them for a photograph. With only the iPhone camera to hand I had to rely heavily on my meagre wildlife stalking skills, hampered as they were by the cast of a long shadow!

Grayling (Record Shot)

Whilst, head down chasing the grayling, a chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) called as it flew overhead.

No trip to Porthgwarra is complete without taking refreshment at the: Porthgwarra Cove Café The traditional Cornish Pasty served at this Café - is our most favourite pasty in all of our Cornish travels! The traditional pasty from Kynance Café comes a very close second, and on a good day it's very difficult to make the call between them both?

The best Cornish Pasty in the County? Probably!

With a very enjoyable lunch break over, we took a slow walk past the Cottage gardens following the coast path east out of the cove. The birds if any were hiding! We passed St Levan's Holy Well, Porthcurno and carried on towards Treryn Dinas.

All along the coastal path we kept stopping at the frequent clumps of ivy (Hedera helix) which grow within the hedgerows and scrub layer. No ivy was complete without an adornment of butterflies - red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) being the most common, with painted lady (V. cardui) and small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) also present in significant numbers. Between the hedgerows speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) defiantly held on to their territories, even so late in the season.

Red admiral(s) on coastal Ivy

Towards Treryn Dinas and the Logan Rock

Treryn Dinas is an Iron Age promontory hillfort dating somewhere between 300BC -100BC (MacNeil Cooke 1996). Historic England (2017) describes such monuments as: "a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it from the surrounding land".

The "naturally defended" aspect of Treyrn Dinas can be clearly seen in the photograph below - where a bank and ditch runs down to the cliff edge below it. In total the defences at Treryn Dinas comprise three banks and ditches and a causeway which is defended by a low stone wall (Historic England 2017).

Treryn Dinas - rampart detail

Treryn Dinas - Outer wall and ditch

Beyond the causeway lie towering rocky outcrops, one of which contains the famous "Logan Rock". Deriving it's name from the massive stones ability to be rocked - or logged - it is the local celebrity, and the public house at nearby Treen is named after it. The 19th Century account of its deliberate dislodgement by a Captain and crew of a cutter, is the stuff of legend. The eponymous Logan Rock Inn contains many an account of the cost born in returning the stone to its rightful resting place, after the act of deliberate vandalism.

It is not hard to see why the dramatic cliff top setting of this windswept hillfort has evoked other more mystical & magickal legends - of a site inhabited by witches, little people; and of a Giant who held the fort and hurled rocks at passing ships (MacNeil Cooke 1996).

Logan Rock

Logan Rock and windswept "selfie"

A description of some of the local legends associated with Porthcurno and its surroundings incl. Treryn Dinas can be found at:


MacNeil Cooke, I. (1996) 2nd Edition Mermaid to Merrymaid Journey to the Stones Cornwall Litho Redruth

Historic England (2017) ONLINE Promontory fort known as Treryn Dinas Available at: Retrieved 2nd Jan 2018

Monday, 4 September 2017

St Buryan Church and Crosses .. Cornwall pt 3

St Buryan Church

Central aisle

A full account of the history and origins of St Buryan Church can be found at: St Buryan Church

St Buryan Churchyard Cross

The churchyard Cross head is considered to be 10th Century, contemporary with King Athelstan. The steps upon which it stands of much later period(s). The original Cross would have likely resembled the similar Cross at Sancreed Church (See Reference / Link above).

The Sancreed churchyard crosses have been documented elsewhere in this Blog at:

Sancreed Church Cross
(Author 2008)

St Buryan War Memorial

St Buryan Market Cross

Of Walks and Crosses .. Cornwall pt 2

Our intention was to follow in the footsteps of MacNeil Cooke's (1996) "Walk Eight". A circular perambulation which takes in St Loy Valley, St Buryan and Lamorna Cove. Passing Ancient Crosses, Tregiffian Barrow, the Merry Maidens and environs. We would pick the walk up at St Loy Valley, having first walked in from Treen via Penberth and the coastal path.

Penberth sans mist

As we approached St Loy's Cove it became apparent that we were not going to be able to find the chapel remains of either St Loy's or St Dellan's; the coastal path taking us between fence-lines and private access only. Taking the northern route we passed through St Loy Valley a beautiful wooded valley with tree ferns, bamboo, gunnera and hydrangeas adding an exotic twist to the local flora.

St Loy Valley

At the road we turned east and after a short while crossed a stile in the northern hedge, finding Boskenna Stile Cross on the opposite side of the field. This cross and the nearby Boskenna Gate Cross - comprise two way markers along the church way for St Buryan to the north. These types of ancient crosses date from anywhere between the 9th and 15th Centuries (Historic England (1) 2017).

It is clear from the Historic England Scheduled Ancient Monument listing that the Boskenna Gate Cross - which sits roadside on the B3315 - has seen better days even within the time span of the scheduling. What remains is a broken rectangular shaft - the cross head absent.

Boskenna Stile Cross

Boskenna Gate Cross (Rems.)

Following the B3315 towards Penzance the Boskenna Cross can be found on the corner of a road junction. The Latin cross head was re-found in a ditch during road works having been probably broken and discarded during the Reformation. It now stands on what has been described as a shaft and roller from a cider press. Since it's resetting - it has also become the victim of two car crashes (Cornwall Guide 2017).

Boskenna Cross

Between Boskenna Cross and the Merry Maidens lies Tregiffian Barrow - a Neolithic or Early Bronze Age entrance grave (Cornwall Heritage Trust, no date). This chambered cairn has been partially compromised by road builders in the 19th Century. Excavated a number of times, firstly in 1871 and then twice between 1967 and 1972 the archaeological evidence suggests it was built in two distinct phases between the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age (Historic England (2) 2017).

One of the striking features of the cairn is a cup-marked stone at the eastern side of the passage entrance bearing 25 cup marks consisting 13 circular cups and 12 oval cups (Historic England (3) 2017, MacNeil Cooke 1996). MacNeil Cooke (1996) suggests that the cup marks may represent the number of moon phases in a year - twelve full moons and 13 new moons - 13 also being a significant - perhaps magical? number - passed down through the ages - manifesting itself with respect to witches and their covens; Christ and his Apostles; the legend of the Round Table; a judge and jury e.g. think Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men.

This cup marked stone is a replica - the original being in the Royal Institution of Cornwall Museum, Truro - this information was helpfully described by the on site interpretation - and thus prevented a repeat of the Tarxian temple stone incident - to which I have referred elsewhere in this Blog:

At Tregiffian an additional cup marked stone can also be found on the upside of the chamber's roof - MacNeil Cooke (1996) refers to this particular stone as being reset as a capstone from where it was found collapsed in a previous excavation.

Tregiffian Barrow

"Lunar" Cup marked entrance stone

Cup marked capstone

The Merry Maidens are just down the road from the burial chamber. This Bronze Age stone circle comprising of nineteen stones is dated to Ca 2400BC (MacNeil Cooke 1996). Historic England (4) (2017) interestingly refers to the site as AKA "Dawns Men", although it's current entry has no other content other than the basic scheduling information. (2007) explains that "Dans Maen" is Cornish for dancing stones, and refers to a local legend of wayward merrymakers.

Towards the Merry Maidens

A Victorian account of the stone circle describes the legend of maidens carelessly dancing on the Sabbath - having been tempted by two spirits in the guise of Pipers who appeared to them playing dance tunes. As the dancing became more excitable - a bolt of punishing lightening turned them and both "The Pipers" to stone for their sins (MacNeil Cooke 1996).

Cope (1998) describes the legend slightly differently - that the dancing party was originally convened on the Saturday evening - but getting carried away with themselves the revellers did not notice the changing of the hour at midnight and the start of the Sabbath day! Only the Pipers heard the strike of the St Buryan clock at midnight, and tried to flea in shame. Being caught themselves and turned to stone whilst running away across the neighbouring fields. (2007) suggests that the tale of the Merry Maidens and The Pipers may be a folk memory of historic rituals at the site Or a Christian morality tale warning against local pagan practices? Or perhaps a combination of both?

Dans Maen

The Pipers themselves are two large standing stones set within fields close-by to the stone circle - both of which stand at over 4m high. Historic England (5) (2017) also refers to a second tradition regarding these monoliths "[that] the two stones were set up following a battle against the Danes in the 9th century to commemorate the two slain leaders Howel and Athelstane".

This latter tradition may be as fanciful as the Sabbath day story? However, as with many traditions, there may be some real history behind the telling. There was a battle close by between Danes and the English and there was a leader called Athelstan - King Athelstan who reigned England between 925AD - 939AD. He passed through Cornwall in 930AD on his way to defeat the Danes on the Isles of Scilly. Following his victory he founded St Buryan Church at the site of St Buriana's Oratory (St Buryan Parish Council No Date; 2017)

Traditions aside, the Historic England scheduling of The Pipers recognises them as dating to Late Neolithic / Bronze Age and forming part of the wider ritual landscape (Historic England (5) 2017).

I've viewed these two standing stones several times over the years, from the adjacent road; whilst never venturing into the fields to stand beneath / beside them. Consequently my photographs have always failed to do justice to their stature. The photos from this visit were erroneously deleted because I did not recognise the image on a hasty editorial sweep of the iPhone.

We decided to finish our day's walking at The Merry Maidens, a decision helped enormously by the very thoughtful placement of a bus stop immediately next to the site.

Breaking the journey at St Buryan, we stocked up on supplies at the local shop & Post Office, then spent a while exploring St Buryan Church and it's Crosses. A quick visit to the St Buryan Inn was to prove disappointing - the only ale on draft was Doom Bar - and it was an old flat pint - which to be fair suitably matched the tiredness of the bar itself.


Our Cornish pasties were purchased at Treen Café. The pasties were fresh and tasty: Treen Cafe - Facebook Page

Bibliography (2017) ONLINE Who was King Athelstan? Available at: Retrieved 28th Dec 2017

Cope, J. (1998) The Modern Antiquarian Thorsons, Hammersmith London

Cornwall Guide (2017) ONLINE Boskenna Cross - St Buryan Available at: Retrieved 3rd Dec 2017

Cornwall Heritage Trust (no date) Cruk Tregiffian Tregiffian Burial Chamber On site interpretation panel

Historic Cornwall (2007) ONLINE Merry Maidens stone circle St Buryan Available at: Retrieved 21st Dec 2017

Historic England (1) (2017) ONLINE Boskenna Gate Cross Available at: Retrieved 29th Nov 2017

Historic England (2) (2017) ONLINE Tregiffian Burial Chamber, St Buryan, Cornwall Available at: 3rd Dec 2017

Historic England (3) (2017) ONLINE Prehistoric entrance grave 900m north west of Tregiffian Farm Available at: Retrieved 3rd Dec 2017

Historic England (4) (2017) ONLINE The Merry Maidens (or Dawns Men) stone circle Available at: 21st Dec 2017

Historic England (5) (2017) ONLINE Two standing stones known as 'The Pipers', 130m and 230m south west of Boleigh Farm Available at: Retrieved 21st Dec 2017

MacNeil Cooke, I. (1996) 2nd Edition Mermaid to Merrymaid Journey to the Stones Cornwall Litho Redruth

St Buryan Parish Council (no date) ONLINE St Buryan Church Land's End Benefice Church History Available at: Retrieved 28th Dec 2017