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A guest feature by Littlestone. This article first appeared on The Modern Antiquarian in November 2008.
One of two trapdoors with sarsens beneath them
Image credit and © Littlestone
Pulling in to a dead-end bit of road by Alton Priors church (now closed off by a farm gate) I was about to head across the field towards the church when a herd of cows started ambling by with a few of their calves in tow; I held back behind the gate to let them pass (good thing too because the cows were being gently herded forward by a very handsome and very big black bull). Halfway across the field, and between the gate and the church, I passed someone coming in the opposite direction. The gentleman turned out to be the landowner and he told me, as we stood chatting in his field, that his family had farmed the area for more than a hundred years (and that the big black bull was really a bit of a softie).
I asked the gentleman if the church was open and he assured me that it was. I asked him if he knew anything about the sarsen stones under the church floor and he assured me they were there. We talked a little more and then he casually mentioned that I should also take a look at the 1,700 year-old yew tree in the churchyard and the spring that rose close by. I thanked him for his time and we parted.
The church was indeed open. Hot English summer without, cool sacredness within. Just your regular little country church. But where were the trapdoors leading to another sacredness? I ambled about the church for a bit then spotted a trapdoor that was partly boarded over and couldn’t be lifted.* Disappointed, I was about to leave when I spotted another trapdoor. Kneeling alone there in the silence, slowly pulling the clasp and watching as the trapdoor lifted to reveal a sarsen stone below was… mmm… more than a little magical.
I went outside and spent some time under the ancient yew tree in the churchyard – then tried to find the spring that the farmer had mentioned. I found the stream but everything else was too overgrown and the day too hot to look for more.
Alton Priors is a very, very special place. A little church built upon a sarsen circle set in the Vale of Pewsey. I’ve been to a lot of circles but none have had the sense of continuity that Alton Priors has. Go there and be at home (the church is open during the summer months; at other times the key can be obtained from one of the nearby houses).
* Since writing this the larger of the two trapdoors can now be lifted revealing a sarsen beneath. There is also a sarsen under the north-east buttress. See also The Church of St Peter’s, Clyffe Pypard, Wiltshire England.
Leskernick North & South Stone Circles and Stone Row clearance, including the re-exposure of buried ring stones by the TimeSeekers Clearance Group Team Members. (Part 3 of 3 reports). Text and images © Roy Goutté.
Leskernick North & South Stone Circles and Stone Row clearance, including the re-exposure of buried ring stones by the TimeSeekers Clearance Group Team Members (Part 2 of 3 reports). Text and images © Roy Goutté.
Leskernick North & South Stone Circles and Stone Row clearance, including the re-exposure of buried ring stones by the TimeSeekers Clearance Group Team Members (Part 1 of 3 reports). Text and images © Roy Goutté.
The Taisho Photographer’s House by Hamish Campbell
Hidden in an old and collapsing home, an incredible discovery sheds light on the lives of a Japanese family during Japan’s Taishō Period (1912–1926). As this remarkable family home, and its contents, slowly disintegrates and disappears Australian photographer Hamish Campbell captures what still remains.
The Heritage Trust strongly urges the appropriate Japanese authorities to take steps to protect and preserve this unique and invaluable house and its contents for future generations.
Nexus – Genkan I
A superimposed image showing the condition of the Taisho Photographer’s House today, with a Taisho family bride entering the house’s genkan (hallway)
Image credit Hamish Campbell
Text and images © Roy Goutté.
The above photo of the southern end of the South Circle taken in April 2016
On the summit of Leskernick Hill looking westward toward Brown Willy and Roughtor
Leskernick Stone Circles and Stone Row Clearance: Press release by Roy Goutté. Images © Roy Goutté.
I am delighted to announce to The Heritage Trust that, after an application was made to Natural England by myself, consent has been granted to excavate and clear the recumbent and buried standing stones of the north and south stone circles to the base of the Bronze-Age settlement at Leskernick Hill, near Altarnun, Cornwall. Consent has also been granted to carry out the same procedure on the stone row running south-west to north-east between the two circles. The work is to be carried out by a small team of experienced Bodmin Moor clearance volunteers (TimeSeekers) under the periodic watchful eye of the area’s Historic England Heritage at Risk Officer.
The Methodology involved:
As the two stone circles and stone row beneath the southern slopes of Leskernick Hill are at serious risk of losing their identity now that 95% of the standing stones have fallen and returning to nature, the aim of the clearance would be to bring the hidden parts of the circles and stone row ‘back to life’ by sympathetically removing the vegetation and turf ‘carpet’ off the stones without damage taking place and without any soil being removed below the exposed top surfaces. The removed material is to be suitably relocated locally.
. Record and photograph the existing visible stones and stone mounds to be cleared prior to work commencing on both the circles and stone row. Video recording to also take place.
. Carefully cut through the turf/vegetation just beyond the exterior edge of the covered/partly covered stones.
. Carefully and without damage to the stone surfaces, peel back the turf/vegetation and reposition in previously sought out local areas requiring repair/improvement. Clean and wash stones off with clean water only.
. Buried ring stones and those in the stone row detected by probing but not identified by exterior mounding of the turf, to be exposed, recorded and photographed, but, if considered to be too deep to be left exposed and a danger to both stock and the public alike, to be re-covered.
. On completion of all work, leave the three cleared areas in a tidy condition and provide a field report and survey of the works carried out together with photographs and video links.
We feel privileged as amateur archaeologists to have been granted this permission on such a prestigious and important site as Leskernick. To stand amongst and look down from the proliferation of round houses on the southern side of Leskernick Hill to the landscape beneath where surely ceremonial and ritualistic activities took place in sight of so many ancient local landmarks, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Our great ancestors may no longer be there in person but I wonder if they ever really left, as judging by the sheer number of small earth-fast tri-stones dotted about it may also be their last resting place. To be given the opportunity to once again bring the circles and stone row ‘back to life’ and in the public gaze is why we do this. Our heritage means everything and we should do everything to keep it that way!
Two of the three only remaining standing stones and the recumbent central pillar of the North Circle. The remaining stones lie buried beneath the surface
One of the many round-house remains on Leskernick Hill
A last resting place?
The second in a new series highlighting Cornwall’s megalithic masterpieces. Part Two: The Stripple Stones… Cornwall’s premier stone circle fights back. Unless otherwise stated text and images © Roy Goutté.
Nearly three years ago now I made a very belated first visit to a very special stone circle erected at the southern base on Hawks Tor, north of the A30 dual carriageway on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor… The Stripple Stones (SX 14374 75215).
On private land and just a stone’s throw away from the Trippet Stones, another stone circle on Manor Common, the Stripple Stones are a rare breed indeed as they are just one of a very small number of henged stone circles built in the British Isles but… in terms of visitation compared to others, almost forgotten about!
At the time it was one of the last of two circles I still had to visit on Bodmin’s extensive collection of moors, downs and commons and potentially the most exciting. Stone circles with a ditch and bank circling them (ditch to the inside of the bank) don’t grow on trees and I was very excited at the thought of seeing one just ten miles away from my home.
I made my way to the henge via the Trippet Stones and the track leading to the western side of Hawks Tor then made my way to the top where the views are spectacular. Rough Tor, Brown Willy and Garrow Tor dominate the skyline to the north and the A30 and Colliford lake to the south.
Nearing the summit of Hawks Tor
My first view of the circle, through the lens of my bridge camera, picked out what I’d been hoping and praying to see in the stone setting… a tri-shaped stone… and it was initially to make my day as I have reason to believe they meant something special to the circle builders over the expanses of Bodmin Moor, particularly those in sight of Rough Tor!
At that moment in time the only thing missing was my ever faithful Border Collie Chief who accompanies me on all of my moor walks, but because of the dangers of adder bites on the day (there had been 13 reported in the past month) I had left him at home.
Within minutes I was approaching the henge, but with every step I took my excitement was waning. I have a habit of doing very little research whenever I plan to visit a new site other than finding out how to reach it, so that I don’t have a pre-formed opinion in my mind based on someone else’s findings.
Stood before me was the mere shadow of a former iconic Cornish jewel in the crown. Just four ring stones left standing, the rest recumbent and either lost to nature or on the way to being so. Even the apparent tri-stone I had viewed from the top of Hawks Tor was not quite what I was expecting. The ditch and bank where still discernible were covered in reeds and showed the signs of being overrun by cattle, ponies and sheep over the years. The base of two of the surviving four uprights and also some of the prostrate stones were ringed by hollows filled with water where trodden on and scraped out by stock over the years, or the uprights used as rubbing stones. It was heart-breaking to see, but worse was yet to come!
Stone 8 in the foreground broken in three pieces and Stone 9 recumbent. Stone 10 in background just one of four left standing
Stone 10. Not quite the tri-stone as I was expecting
Unbelievably, in the past, a boundary wall had been built across about a quarter of the bank, ditch and ring setting in the NE sector! I stood there in disbelief that someone years ago had actually shown such disrespect for our heritage that this had been carried out and felt compelled to video all my findings and report them to Ann Preston-Jones the Heritage at Risk officer for the area. I feel exactly the same today and always will when faced with such wanton destruction of our heritage even though it had occurred long ago in the 19th century and the recumbent stones a victim of wandering stock and shallow stone sockets in peaty soil… always a recipe for disaster. This was a rare henged circle for heaven’s sake and should have been protected much more!
The stone hedge/bank cutting through the original ditch and bank with the ‘modern’ ditch between it and the remaining ring stones
I could go on but things are different now as a wrong is finally being put right and must now be the centre of attention and the very reason for this article.
Over the past few months I am delighted to report that a transformation has taken place and I would like to think that my reporting of the condition the circle was in at the time of my visit helped play a small part in that with Ann then championing the cause further by taking up the cudgels and by doing so set the wheels in motion to reverse the trend.
I first heard of the restorative work to be carried out on the site when Ann contacted me to ask if I’d like to help out with others on an initial GPS and geophysical survey in March 2015 to determine the original position of the ditch, bank and line of ring stones where destroyed by the boundary wall. You bet I would, and thank you Ann for the invite which was gratefully accepted.
To make things complete, I then learnt that CAU archaeologist James Gossip was to be on site as was Richard Mikulski who was to carry out the earth resistance survey. I’d worked with James before on a couple of clearances and he brings such professional knowledge and enthusiasm with him that he is a pleasure to work alongside. Richard I had not met so looked forward to learning more about his work and helping him out when called for. We were joined and assisted by Caroline, Tom, Henry and Graham on the day and all joined in with the surveying and clearance work which was carried out in good humour on a very cold and bleak Bodmin Moor day. Richard explained in full detail how the geo-fizz worked and all helpers were given the opportunity to experience it practically which was much appreciated.
It was here that I was also introduced to David Attwell of Attwell Associates (Environment & Heritage) himself a very pleasant and knowledgeable person that it was my pleasure to meet. It was David that was the first to fill me in on the details of the work to be undertaken:-
The Stripples Stone restorative works formed part of a Heritage and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant awarded to Adrian and Julie Mansfield as part of a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement. This is an agri-environment scheme administered by Natural England (DEFRA) and is a 10 year agreement. The landowners receive an annual payment in return for managing the land to meet specific prescriptions designed to benefit key habitats, species and features of interest. This includes archaeology and under the capital works programme (physical improvements required to meet the objectives of the scheme) there is an option entitled ‘Heritage and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant’. Prior to entering HLS the applicant has to complete a detailed survey of the holding and this identifies all the features of interest and their condition. Information is supplied via the county’s Heritage and Environment Record and the results of the fieldwork are fed into the formulation of the agreement helping to identify potential works. In this particular case the holdings contain some of the densest and most important monuments on Bodmin Moor and a HAP was developed by NE in partnership with the landowners, Historic England and Ann Reynolds of Cornwall Council. This included a number of elements ranging from repairs to boundaries, a beehive hut, medieval longhouse settlements and the Stripple Stones.
A brief was prepared by the landowners and NE and this was tendered in December 2014 and awarded to Attwell Associates (Environment & Heritage) in February 2015. The contract required a full project management role from applying for statutory consents to delivering the works on the ground. We put together a proposal which involved CAU (James Gossip and Ann Preston-Jones) as the principal archaeological contractor and a number of other individuals to assist in delivering the HAP package. Central to this were Adrian and Julie Mansfield given that the project needed to work alongside the farming business and they played a hands-on role throughout. Physical works initially focussed on Garrow but moved to the Stripple Stones in September 2015 following receipt of the SAM consent.
A meeting was held with Nick Russell (South West Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments) in May where the principles of the project were shared and challenged. A formal application was registered in July and approval received in late August. This allowed for the erection of up to 5 recumbent stones, erosion repairs along with the removal of a 19th century field boundary. This had been built through the monument as part of a late phase of enclosure for Higher Hawks Tor Farm. The HAP brief stipulated three stones to be erected and these were selected by the project team, guided by Ann Preston-Jones of HE.
James and Richard setting out in preparation for the survey
Following the geophysical survey and until my next invite with my small team of clearance workers from the TimeSeekers amateur archaeology group on the 1st December 2015, work commenced on the circle and the re-directing of the old boundary wall.
The initial works involved the removal of the boundary wall with the stones carefully dismantled for re-use as part of the realigned boundary. This took the hedge away from the inner circle approximately 3 metres to the east of the outer ditch edge. During the work two previously recorded stones (Lukis and Borlase) were found in situ at the base of the bank plus an additional stone within the hedge core which displayed signs of stone packing so could possibly have been an original ring stone. The two recorded stones showed signs of being split so could possibly be a former circle stone as the marks when aligned suggest they were originally a single slab.
The section of offending boundary wall during its removal and re-positioning by Adrian and Julie Mansfield with the help of David and Attwell Associates employees. Photo: David Attwell
At the same time that the wall was being removed, work began to excavate the socket of one of the three stones to be raised. This failed to establish any notable ‘finds’ (a small Mesolithic flint was found in the hedge stone socket) but once again suggested that the original sockets were very shallow given the size of the stones. The recumbent stone was moved to enable this work to progress and then carefully drawn into an upright position using strops and a nine tonne swing shovel. A layer of white sand was placed to create a distinct horizon and then granite packing stones used to trig the base before successive layers of growan (rab) and granite were set and compacted to ground level. The finished surface was slightly domed to shed water before soil and turves were laid to finish the repairs. The re-erection of the further two stones followed on using a similar methodology. All were left unprotected as a key outcome of the HLS project was to restrict grazing by fencing off the area, without the public’s view or access being denied, to primarily prevent sheep and cattle poaching the ground or applying pressure on the surviving upright ring stones.
Stone 15 prior to re-erection
Nearly there… Stone 15 arises! Photo: David Attwell
The final main work involved the re-building of the new stone hedge alignment. This re-used the original stone on the inner face against the circle whilst some newer material (extracted from foundations for new farm sheds) was built on the western face. A gap was left for a gateway on the alignment identified through the field survey which suggests a further entrance opposite the known access on the western side of the circle. This new section is 90 metres in length but in total the project repaired just over 500 metres of hedgerow which included four gateways and three sheep creeps.
I have to say, without fear of contradiction, that the planning and work carried out to this point was of the highest order and all credit must go to David and his employees, Adrian and Julie Mansfield and also to James and Ann and all those working away in the background.
Then, on 1st December, under James and David’s guidance, four of the TimeSeekers clearance group (Jacqui Rukin, Caroline Lavelle, Colin Green and myself) were then asked to help out when the time came to begin a tidy-up within the circle itself and also help to re-expose a recumbent and buried ring stone that Gray had surveyed and recorded during his 1905 excavation and survey of the site. It was a bit of a puzzle to us though as to why it had not been exposed at the time but I’m sure there were acceptable reasons given as to why not!
As it was this was an easy undertaking as the stone was only some 4” to 6” under the surface and easily detectable by the slight mound above ground being visible.
Members of the TimeSeekers clearance group after the re-exposure of the long-lost ring stone. Left to right, Colin Green, Jacqui Ruken, Roy Goutté, Caroline Lavelle. On completion James re-turfed the sides to the stone to form a sloping surface which was very pleasing to the eye. Photo: James Gossip (CAU)
Further investigation around part of the circle where the clearance of other recumbent stones was felt necessary also detected two further buried ring stones thus adding more to James’ current survey although neither were re-exposed at the time.
There is something very special about re-exposing a buried stone that you know was once part of what we possibly perceive as being a ‘ritualistic or ceremonial’ monument and once likely to have been last handled by our great ancestors some 4,500-5,000 years ago! We often refer to these stones as being ‘sacred’ and I have to admit to feeling a tingle when they first see the light of day again and always hope that they are not too deep to leave exposed once recorded. They were meant to be seen and although no longer all standing are nevertheless there for our wonderment and why we as a group find great pleasure and privilege in re-exposing them at any given opportunity.
Without a doubt the discussions, site visits, planning, decision making, approvals, consents, putting out tenders etc is a lengthy process and maybe not appreciated by those who just want to get on with things, but has nevertheless got to be done. I asked James how it was for him as the leading archaeologist on site:-
Cornwall archaeological Unit were commissioned by David Atwell Associates to carry out a programme of archaeological recording at The Stripple Stones henge monument (located on Bodmin Moor at SX14374 75215) in advance of and during conservation work The Stripple Stones is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM CO124) and consent was therefore required from Historic England to enable conservation repairs to specific elements of the monument on behalf of the landowners Adrian and Julie Mansfield. This formed part of a Historical and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant (HAP) included within a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement with Natural England.
This work involved the survey of the existing monument, to include standing and recumbent stones, an 1885 field boundary and topographic survey of a ploughed-down barrow to support geophysics results. The initial survey helped identify the location of a probable former entrance on the NE side of the monument which had been lost as a result of the improvement of agricultural land where enclosed by the nineteenth century field boundary bisecting the monument. The conservation work included erosion repair around selected stones, where stability was under threat. These were at risk of falling as a result of damage by livestock, compounded by the poorly backfilled excavations of George St Gray in 1905.
Removal of the 19th century hedge resulted in the discovery of two stones marked on the Borlase and Lukis plan of 1879 – although one had been moved as a result of splitting it is likely to have been left close to its original position. The two stones helped confirm the theory of an entrance on the north-eastern side, ‘framing’ a causeway across the ditch (now almost entirely backfilled) in alignment with the opposing entrance. The new hedge has been rebuilt outside the monument and respecting the arc of the ditch – a new gate now hangs in position leading the eye through the north-east entrance and through the entrance on the western side. The removal of the 19th century hedge and building of the new one, expertly constructed by Adrian and Julie Mansfield and David Atwell, has helped to re-establish the monument as a complete entity once more.
Following erosion repair and stone re-erection a team of experienced Bodmin Moor volunteers (Roy Goutte, Jacqui Ruken, Caroline Lavelle, Colin Green) were invited to take part in some further enhancement works at the Stripple Stones. Most exciting of these was the de-turfing over a peculiar ‘stone-shaped lump’ on the north-west perimeter of the monument, as visible today as it was when ‘probed’ by Tregelles in 1902 and surveyed by Gray in 1905. As suspected, removal of turf revealed a long, recumbent granite stone, exposed for the first time in hundreds of years, if not millennia.
Thanks to the efforts of the Mansfield’s, David Attwell and the Bodmin Moor Team the Stripple Stones have been transformed, giving the visitor just a sense of its original glory once again.
It was wonderful to see many of the recumbent stones that had been partially covered once again being fully exposed and hope that it is something that can be carried out on a more regular basis otherwise they will be lost to nature yet again. The new boundary wall/hedge is exceptional and matches in perfectly with the existing walling and the builders are to be applauded.
Without sounding too flowery about it, these monuments have been left for us to enjoy and marvel at by our great ancestors and should be far more respected than many currently are if our future generations are to also benefit from them. In these times of financial cuts when funding for such projects are limited, it is a great opportunity for the public to ‘get involved’ and offer their services to help clean up many of our sites as we do on Bodmin Moor. It is very rewarding and at the same time a great privilege to be able to work alongside archaeologists on monuments erected thousands of years ago! Their builders may no longer be with us but that is no excuse to let things slide and we must all jointly take over the baton and share the responsibility of becoming the custodians of these wonderful structures that we are still puzzling over after all these years.
Work is still active on the Stripple Stones and will be completed in August when a new permissive access for visitors will be available to view the monument and provided by the landowners. Adrian has kindly offered to provide access to the circle even though it lies outside of the CROW Act land. This will be achieved by an access through the fence-line to the south of the Tor which separates the two compartments.
David has informed me that in discussion with the landowners, they would prefer at the moment that we promote the route via the lane off Manor Common (NNW of the Trippet Stone Circles) which then leads onto Hawks Tor Downs where there is open access. It is still currently possible to reach the Stripple Stones via two existing gateways but involves a somewhat zig-zag route.
A detailed report will be issued at the end of the project and I will notify the Heritage Trust accordingly and pen a follow-on article which will be much more descriptive in content and the reader made more aware of the circles surroundings and setting in the landscape.
In the meantime and with the promise of warmer and dryer weather just around the corner, why don’t you all get out your maps, re-dubbin the walking boots and get out there into the fresh air to see first-hand the fantastic views from the top of Hawks Tor before descending onto the West Countries only henged stone circle… the Stripple Stones. You know you want to and all of those involved with the planning, surveying and working on the project to make your enjoyment of the circle a much nicer experience would love you to make the journey. Go safely and have fun.
Harold St. George Gray’s Surveyed Plan of the Stripple Stones 1905.
Note the walling running through the north-east section of the bank, ditch and ring stones but has now thankfully been removed and re-aligned.
One of the five Stonehenge land trains
The Heritage Trust
To quote from our earlier feature –
According to Historic England (formerly English Heritage), “They [the land trains] have all gone for the moment. They went about a week ago. We do not know when they will be back. The land trains are being serviced and will be offsite for several weeks while we also take the opportunity to look at design improvements.”
According to the Western Daily Press article however (quoting an EH spokeswoman), “Over time it became clear that the land trains were unable to cope with the daily demands of a site as busy as Stonehenge and English Heritage now intends to find new homes for them at other English Heritage sites…”
The Heritage Trust contacted Historic England several times over the last year to ask when the land trains would be back in service, ony to be told, “We do not know.” It’s now patently obvious that when the trains were withdrawn last year Historic England knew full well that they would not be returning so why fob the public off with wishy-washy statements like these (we’ve seen enough of those recently with David Cameron’s statements on his tax affairs!). Such statements do not engender confidence in the public; indeed they generate mistrust and, specifically at Stonehenge with its proposed tunnel plans and new solstice celebration arrangements, plant seeds of doubt in the public’s mind that not all is as transparent as it should be.
What is really sad about the end of the line for the land trains is that, though totally inadequate when it came to transporting hundreds of people from the Visitor Centre to the Monument (and someone should have known that!), they were a load of fun. Children loved them, and the slow pace they travelled at gave people a chance to take in the surrounding landscape. So, why not have both conventional coaches for those in a hurry and the land trains for those who don’t mind waiting for the opportunity to ride them. Far from being a failure the land trains could become an added attraction to those visiting Stonehenge.
See also our feature, The new Stonehenge Visitor Centre: First impressions…
The northern façade of the Church of Yemrehanna Kristos. Seen here within the cave which houses it
Image credit Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund
Martin Bailey, writing in The Art Newspaper, reports that a team of British conservators will help preserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings. The paintings are in the twelfth century Church of Yemrehanna Kristos in Northern Ethiopia –
A project to conserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings, which experts believe date to around 1100 or soon after, is due to begin this month. They are in the church of Yemrehanna Kristos, a full-sized building constructed inside a cave in the Lasta Mountains at an altitude of 2,700m. The cave is above a valley of juniper trees and, until recently, could only be reached by a day’s journey on foot or mule from the town of Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia. The church’s interior is so dark that international specialists did not note the paintings’ existence until the 1990s; the first published account was in 2001.
The London-based Ethiopian Heritage Fund, with support from the World Monuments Fund, is undertaking the project. The conservation team consists of two British specialists, Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby; the latter describes the paintings as being in a “highly vulnerable and threatened condition”.
The initial investigation will include in-situ microscopy, along with ultra-violet and infra-red examinations. Paint samples will be tested, partly to determine the original pigments and media used and to identify added materials. There will be small-scale cleaning trials, to test which materials should be used. Monitoring sensors will be installed to record temperature and humidity changes. A separate team from the University of Cape Town will undertake a laser scan survey to create a three- dimensional data model of the church and cave, to map structural movement.
The first in a new series highlighting Cornwall’s megalithic masterpieces. One: Boscawen-un Stone Circle. Unless otherwise stated text and images © Roy Goutté
A claim that keeps cropping up is that a direct line drawn from the quartz stone (18) through the centre stone passes straight through that collection of prostrate stones between stones 7 and 8. This simply isn’t true because a direct line goes directly between stones 9 and 10! Yet another claim is that the central stone was designed to lean towards that same collection of stones, but it doesn’t do that either as it actually points between stones 8 and 9! (See ground plan). Another well-known author states that the central stone is quartz which makes you wonder if they’d ever visited the circle at all!
A cist between ring stones 7 and 8?
With regard to the axe carvings to the base of the leaning centre stone, I Cooke (Mermaid to Merrymaid, Journey to the Stones) wrote in 1987, “I visited the circle just after the summer solstice in 1986 and arrived shortly before dawn with the purpose of making some drawings. As the sun rose, I could see two very sharp and most unnatural shadows low down on the northern face of the pillar. On closer examination they turned out to have been caused by the sides of two elongated triangular ‘axe-heads’ which had been cut into the stone… the axes faced the direction from where the sun would rise on the long summer days and they could only become visible during that time for a few hours after dawn.”
William Borlase mapped the circle in 1754 showing eighteen stones standing and one fallen and sometime in the next one hundred years a Cornish hedge (stone wall) was constructed through the circle. The hedge is first mentioned in 1850 by Richard Edmonds and around 1862 the owner of the land, Miss Elizabeth Carne, had it removed and the hedge around the circumference of the site we still see today, built. This is, as such, an early example of the preservation of an archaeological monument. In 1864 the area around the stone circle was first studied in depth. The excavation reports show that the central stone was already inclined. A burial mound was discovered near the stone circle, in which urns were found. From this time originates one of the first illustrations of the circle, which John Thomas Blight sketched and included in his book Churches of West Cornwell. He also drew a plan of the burial mound and sketched one of the excavated urns.
John Thomas Blight’s 1864 sketches of the Burial Mound, Urn and Circle
Interestingly, at the time, a circle with 19 ring stones were not thought uncommon in Cornwall. In his Antiquities Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall (1754), W Borlase says that Boscawen–un is just one of four circles in Penwith with 19 stones, the others being the Merry Maidens (now thought to have been 18), Tregaseal (now thought to have had 21/22) and Boskednan (now thought to have had 22). However, although not mentioned, there was once another now lost. At this time, although Gulval was to be incorporated into the parishes of Penzance, Madron and Ludgvan in 1934, it was within the district of Penwith in 1754 and researching has discovered yet another 19 stone circle there. In his 1819 book The Circles, or Historical Survey of Sixty Parishes or Towns of Cornwall, author William Penaluna says: “In this parish of Gulval, there is an elliptical ring, formed wholly of perpendicular stones. These stones were originally nineteen in number, all placed at nearly equal distances from one another, but not with any particular regard to exactness. Of these stones, thirteen only remained erect, when Dr. Borlase wrote; the other six, having been thrown down, lay on the ground near the places in which they once stood. No rule seems to have been observed in the selection of these pillars or stones, with regard either to their height or their magnitude. They vary from one another in a promiscuous manner, leaving us wholly at a loss to conjecture the end for which they were collected, and placed in their erect positions.”
Casting an eye around the area of the Boscawen-un circle with the help of a detailed map, it is comparatively easy to pick up on some local landmarks whether they be naturally occurring or placed there by man. In the near distance are two tall standing stones to the north-east in the field west of Boscawen Noon Farm built into a hedge alongside the farm driveway and the other one to the north. But to get a fuller picture check out the plan of Boscawen-un below and the directions of principal landscape features around it.
Alignments, which always seems to be of interest to some but nonsensical to others, are a very important part of the megalithic and mystical scene and can keep discussion alive for hours on end, even though sometimes it can get somewhat over-heated! To me, this is one of the most interesting parts of our hobby trying to decipher what monuments such as Boscawen-un stone circle are all about and why they are placed where they are in the landscape, because, if truth be told, we are really no further significantly advanced about their use and placement than we were in the days of the likes of John Aubrey and William Stukeley! Plenty of assumptions but little concrete proof… and maybe there never will be!
Boscawen-un stone circle showing the stones together with directions of principal landscape
features from the approximate centre of the circle
Directions to Boscawen-un stone circle:
The more easy-going route avoiding what can be deep cover, nettles and undergrowth if you are walking. Travelling westwards on the A30 past Penzance toward Land’s End and just prior to the turning right to Sancreed, you will see an upright rectangular double-brown sign at the entrance to a driveway on the left with Boscawenoon and Chyandwens Farmhouse written on them.
The driveway and public footpath to the farmhouse
Park up sensibly to avoid blockages
Not only is it a driveway but also a public footpath up to the aforementioned properties. If driving a car make your way up this driveway very nearly to the farm until reaching a very nice long pull-in on the right adjacent to a tall pointed standing stone (previously mentioned) built into the hedge/wall with a large farm building just a little further on to the left. Park sensibly to avoid blocking farm vehicles from passing. From there, continue on foot down the driveway passing some farm buildings on the left and follow the driveway around to the right and past a house on the left. Continue on and you will shortly come to a divide in the driveway with a vertical sign between the two declaring that Boscawen-un is straight ahead!
The divide… take the path to the right
You’ve arrived… a magical moment awaits!
Take the path to the right which is like a high-hedged alleyway. Midway along you will come to a stile on the left showing the right of way but don’t go over it keep straight on up the alleyway until reaching the Boscawen-un stone circle entrance sign and gate on the left. You have arrived and once through the gate the circle awaits you!
If you prefer to take the ‘ramblers route’, then drive/walk on past the driveway entrance to Boscawenoon on the A30 for about half a mile until you reach a small pull-in on the left (2 cars) with a gated entrance and a small sign. A rough path takes you to the circle but it can be heavy going in the summer months if the undergrowth has not been kept down. Whatever route you choose to take, go carefully and enjoy your visit. You won’t be disappointed.