Monday, 4 September 2017

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

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