A guest feature by Roy Goutté. Text and images © Roy Goutté
The Stripple Stones: Hawks Tor Downs, Blisland, Cornwall (SX14357521) as they appeared on the 5 July 2013
With just two more stone circles to visit on Bodmin’s moors (Leaze would be the last one) I set out on a beautiful Friday morning to search out the Stripple Stones on Hawks Tor Downs. This one was of special interest to me because it is a stone circle 47 yards in diameter set within a henge some 58 yards in diameter and the only such one in Cornwall, so I was really looking forward to that moment when you cast your eyes on a new circle for the first time, especially one so special.
I began my walk from the Trippet Stones on Manor Common which reaches down to the main A30 road through Cornwall. The turn-off to the Trippet Stones on the A30 is from the Temple crossroads about four miles from the Jamaica Inn away to the east. Take the right turn signposted St Breward and a mile or so up this moorland road take the road/track to the right at a small crossroad signposted Treswigga to the left. About 200 yards up this gravelled track and the Trippets can be seen on the left. Park just off the track but please don’t drive up to the circle as the ground is very peaty here and cuts up easily.
As the land leading to the Stripple Stones is mainly private you either have to seek permission from the landowner at Hawks Tor Farm at the end of the track, or, take a chance and do what I did and take a round-about route to get there via a well worn working track leading up to the lower reaches of Hawks Tor.
So, from the Trippet Stones and with Hawkstor to the east in front of you away in the distance, I headed off diagonally to the left of Hawkstor Farm until I met the boundary wall/hedge and followed it down to a gate. Lovely old stone walling on the left leading up to the gate. This is the route the local landowner and probably other Commoners take to bring cattle on and off this part of the moor so it is well worn. Through the gate and begin the walk up a longish track past a ‘working area’ on the left and a series of cattle pens and runs. Note the huge flat upright stones set into the walling on the right alongside a gateway to the right. Two more gates to negotiate (I had to climb both as they were secure to keep the cattle in) then the gate leading onto the open moor.
Ahead of you to the right are the lower reaches of Hawks Tor and it was then that I remembered why I had decided not to bring my Border Collie Chief with me for the first time ever. Gorse, rocks, dense shrub grass… and the possibility of adders! I’d heard on the news just two days earlier that 13 dogs had been bitten over the moors in a month so there was no way I was going to let my normally constant travelling companion risk running the gauntlet here.
A bit of a climb gets you to the top with the usual outstanding views around Cornwall on display. Off to the north are our two national landmarks of Roughtor and Brown Willy and forward of them, Garrow Tor. What tales they could collectively tell of the goings on over the centuries that’s for sure! To the south is the A30 and beyond it Colliford Lake.
The view from the summit of Hawks Tor. In the far background can be seen Roughtor to the left and Brown Willy to the right of it. Partly blocking out the view of Roughtor is Garrow Tor
From here I walked due south to the base of the Tor until meeting a timber gate leading into a large paddock with sheep enclosed. In the distance but slightly to the left I could just make out the circular shape of the henge and a few standing stones which were well apart. I had only just begun to walk toward them when I realised there was a lower fence-line so had to turn immediately left from the gateway I had only just passed through and follow the fence-line until reaching another gate about 100 yards away. Through that then immediately turn right and the Stripple Stones are about 300 yards ahead of you.
Well, the moment had come, but I have to admit to feeling rather disappointed on first close up view as the henge is only these days a mere shadow of its former self. Cattle and man’s determination to totally disregard our heritage have played their hand yet again! Just four stones left standing and ten more lying prostrate, including a central pillar, were all I could find from what is believed to have been around 28-30.
Worse was to come. Built right across the north-eastern sector of the stone circle, ditch and bank is a stone and earthen boundary wall/bank which no doubt included the broken remains of those removed stones. It beggars belief that in this landscape of nothingness other than an area of outstanding beauty, the perpetrators of this – what to my mind is a criminal act – could not have avoided the henge altogether.
The destruction of our heritage. A banked stone and earthen wall build straight through the north-eastern sector of the stone circle, bank and ditch
To me it is quite simple and I no longer accept excuses. Generation after generation of landowners simply don’t care and are prepared to see our past destroyed because it is of no interest or value to them. Even though there are thousands of acres of Bodmin Moor for stock to roam over, nobody it seems is prepared to give up the comparatively small areas of land these circles are built on and erect protective fencing or traditionally built walls in keeping with the environment to keep them safe! This is a henge site for heaven’s sake and the only one in Cornwall with a stone circle within it. How much more important must a site be before someone takes this matter seriously? Out of sight, out of mind, would appear to be the case here due to its location.
Little remains to be seen now of the ditch or bank as again they are being wiped out by wandering stock. It has almost certainly been accelerated over the past decade as Highland Cattle have become very popular over the moor. These massive beasts are like tanks wandering the landscape with not much standing in their way and particularly noticed near the Trippet Stones circle just a stone’s throw away on Manor Common. It has been said that the cattle do very little damage to the archaeology taking into account just how long in the main most of the sites have been here, but surely they are living in cloud-cuckoo land if they really believe that! A herd will walk through a stone circle using every stone as rubbing posts if the mood takes them and for every altercation between beasts every stone in their path is in imminent danger due to the soft peaty soil many are erected on!
I took the reverse route back but on descending the Tor noticed farmer workers along the lower track removing cattle from a trailer so hung back for a few minutes. On completion they then drove a quad bike up the trailer ramp before moving off. I thought I was safe but on emerging out of the track-way noticed they had parked up and were letting three or four collies loose for a drink in the stream that passes through at this point. I manned-up for a confrontation and continued walking but other than a cursory glance back by the driver, they paid no further attention to me and drove off.
On reaching my car, some 15 minutes later, I was to get the shock of my life, for in the distance I could see and hear the same guys returning both in the truck and quad bike, but this time driving cattle across the common – directly toward the Trippet Stones! I quickly got out my camcorder and filmed them purposely drive the cattle straight through the stone circle without an apparent care in the world. See here.
It’s as I have already said, nobody cares! Just one week earlier the Commoners had been warned about driving vehicles and stock through the circle by Natural England so this just proved the total disregard shown by them. On this occasion neither vehicle passed through the circle although the truck was pretty close but the cattle sure did! I am at a complete loss as to why sites such as this can’t be protected efficiently but sympathetically. I reported the incident to English Heritage and sent them the clip of the video but have now all but given up my fight to have these sites protected as nobody listens. The on-going excuse is always the same… lack of funds, but they seem to be found for other projects felt more interesting and potentially money making!
Highland cattle gather round a stone within the circle. Idyllic scene or heritage threat?