A guest feature by Roy Goutte.
King Arthur’s Hall (SX 1296 7765)
On the 8th of May 2012 I made my first visit to King Arthur’s Hall on King Arthur’s Downs to the north-west of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. I was actually out on a field trip to Leaze stone circle on the day which is on the southern end of Emblance Downs which adjoins King Arthur’s Downs, when I decided to have a casual look along the way. I say casual, because I’d never felt the need before as it never seemed to get much press and didn’t seem to be a place I’d be much interested in. How wrong could I have been and it was to make my day and ultimately my year!
This is stone circle country plain and simple with the large ‘ceremonial’ circles of Fernacre, Louden and Stannon to the north; the double stone circles to the east of King Arthur’s Hall and the two circles to the south-east, one being on Emblance Downs and the other, Leaze stone circle, on private land. I know of at least one other unrecorded one directly south of the Hall. In the middle of all of this lies King Arthur’s Hall.
Basically, to the eye, it is a rectangular 140’ X 60’ banked enclosure formed by digging out the central area of soil and banking it up on all four sides to an approximate average height of two metres and a base extending to six metres. It didn’t end there however, because the interior faces of the banks were then lined with granite standing stones and is today protected by an enclosing fence with a gate and stile access. But what actually is it because nobody seems to know with certainty and I have personally never seen or heard of anything like it in my life before and know of no other in the UK?
With stones ranging in height from 2 feet to 2 metres and either standing up, prostrate or angular, it is believed by many to be Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age, whilst to others, a simple medieval animal pound! The truth is that very little excavation has been carried out here and no positive dating obtained, so, until that has been done its age and purpose will have to remain obscure. This has to change though I feel because my gut feeling is that this is a special place with its position in the landscape indicating this possibility. It has 56 stones still showing with the majority of the believed 140 in total now lying buried by the collapsing banks caused in the past by horses, sheep and cattle roaming free over the moor prior to the protective fence being erected.
As you can imagine, the ‘tanked’ appearance formed due to its construction method, created a natural collection point for water but there is the possibility that an outlet point in the south-west corner was discovered but because of the lack of concentrated research and archaeology carried out here it was undecided if it was part of the original build or more recent. As it stands today, the inner ground level virtually matches that of the exterior as it has now completely silted up, due no doubt to the banking slowly becoming washed back, although, on saying that, if that is the case why is there so much banking left? Could some have been imported from elsewhere originally I have to ask?
On that first day I visited we’d had a fair amount of rain over the moor in the area after a dry spell but that silted up base was remarkable dry for this time of the year I thought. I had my usual partner Chief the Border Collie with me who was splashing about in the central area which did have a small amount of lying water showing but he was not sinking into it which surprised me somewhat. I stepped onto the sides of the central area a couple of times to negotiate fallen stones and it was rather spongy and soft but I’m sure gets much worse after prolonged and heavy rain and would become extremely dangerous toward the main central area. As it was I was prodding the surface with my hiking stick and it was going in with very little resistance.
On my second visit to the Hall I took measuring rods and a friend with me whose knowledge of grasses and fauna was quite extensive and was to enlighten me as to what one can achieve by simply being observant and using ones head instead of just taking at face value what others claim.
On arriving at the site my friend took a position up on the southern bank and simply observed for some minutes taking in what the vegetation indicated. Looking at the photograph it can be seen that something like a quarter to a third of the central area between the stones from the southern end is covered profusely with a harsh type of sedge grass suited to a shallower wet environment. This is also quite clearly the case with the north, west and east perimeters. The area beyond this leading up to the stones is of normal grassland. This indicated that the entire central area where dug out had been ‘shelved’ to the southern end predominantly with the sides and northern end to a lesser extent with the remaining wet central area suggesting a deep flat base indicated by the surface plants and other water plant life.
And that’s exactly how it was as far as I could determine with my measuring rods. The heavily sedged area to the southern end and perimeters to the remaining three sides was no more than 2-3ft deep but as I gingerly stepped closer to the more central area the depth increased significantly until it was no longer possible for me to probe directly downwards as to move further out onto the silted-up area was extremely unwise. So, by my crude measuring technique I could concur that it is indeed shelved with a firm base. Whether or not the shelving was purposely formed or quite natural I was of course unable to determine but felt nevertheless that a solid base had been reached.
Throughout my visit and whilst in the ‘bowl’, I had a wonderful feeling of calm and security like I was in a sanctuary. In look it reminded me of an un-kept churchyard where the headstones had been removed and placed against the perimeter walls but were now tumbling and often lying buried. Without a doubt it personally gave me a feel of the ancestors and a shrine to the dead while at the same time a ceremonial ‘gathering’ place. Either way this is without doubt a special place which in my opinion should be sympathetically investigated and equally sympathetically re-instated to its former glory before it succumbs to nature further rather than the moorland animals that it did previously. I would recommend a visit here at your earliest opportunity. A wonderful, wonderful place that I am re-visiting over and over.
But what are the reasonable alternatives… could it simply be an animal pound?
Obviously without serious investigation by qualified people one is limited to the obvious visual content of the site. Moving around it I quickly perceived that there is predominantly a two feet gap between most of the stones but on occasion two would be touching and I thought at one point possibly three. The eastern banking in particular is densely covered by gorse with many of the stones hidden within it so difficult to make a firm conclusion on this spacing. What is very obvious is the selection of stones and why I believe this is at least a Bronze-Age construction. All the stone circles I have visited on Bodmin Moor in this area (I am yet to visit Leaze circle close up) have as a feature one or two triangular cut stones. Some have obviously been knapped into shape whilst others are natural, these mainly being in the shape of an isosceles triangle, while the real prize is the equilateral triangular stones which look magnificent in position. King Arthur’s Hall has both, with some taking some finding due to the collapsing banks! These are those in the settings of Fernacre, Stannon, Louden to the north of the Hall and the un-named circle to the south-east of King Arthur’s Hall. And here are the ones I have discovered to date within the Hall itself. I don’t buy into the animal pound theory as the ‘escape route’ for enclosed animals is far too easy. If all the stones were 2 metres high, rectangular and touching each other, then just maybe, but they aren’t, with many just two feet of less high making for an easy escape route.
All in all I am very excited over ‘finding’ King Arthur’s Hall as it has opened up my already all consuming love of antiquities on Bodmin Moor and I shall continue to push for investigative work and dating to be carried out there until the truth finally reveals itself. Meanwhile, here is a full range of photos of the site.