Stone Circles - Ancient Penwith

Ancient Penwith

Ancient Penwith

The prehistoric landscape of the Land's End peninsula in Cornwall
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Stone Circles

Stone circles represent the zenith of the megalithic era. West Penwith has four surviving circles, though once there were around ten. Tregeseal was once made up of three circles, the Merry Maidens of two or three and Mên an Tol once was a stone circle.

Boscawen-unPenwith's four surviving stone circles are Tregeseal and the Nine Maidens in the north, and Boscawen-ûn and the Merry Maidens in the south - and these two pairs contrast one another in character and setting. Tregeseal and the Nine Maidens in the north are each overshadowed by a neolithic tor hill - Carn Kenidjack and Carn Galva. Boscawen-ûn and the Merry Maidens in the south are situated on flatter rolling lands, once upon a time mainly wooded. This said, a significant hill is more distantly visible from both of the southern circles - Chapel Carn Brea from Boscawen-ûn and Carn Galva from the Merry Maidens.

All of them have a complex of orbital sites attached to them within a mile or so, made up of menhirs, barrows, stones and, in two cases, now-destroyed stone circles. They stand at the hubs of geomantic parks or landscape temples, each with a number of features and an enveloping landscape setting.

These settings are more visible nowadays in the two northern circles because they are located on open moorland while the southern circles are situated in farmland with hedgerows and undergrowth affecting the view and the feel of their landscape temples.

The appliance of science

Then we come to their positioning - this offers clues about their purpose and role. The stone circles are located where they are because of megalithic scientific considerations, which were complex and carefully thought out. Nowadays we understand only snippets of bronze age science.

The megalith builders utilised advanced mathematics, astronomy, geometry and proportion, understanding the size of the Earth, the periodicity of the planets, the eclipse cycle, precession of the equinoxes, the Golden Mean and Pythagorean geometry, 2,000 years before Pythagoras. They planned out their megalithic works to reflect their perception of the cosmos - this much is visible in what they have left behind, though understanding these works is far more challenging.

Positioning contains further clues. The location of the stone circles in West Penwith is determined by backbone alignments - the circles are aligned with neolithic tor enclosures and cliff sanctuaries, the major sites of the neolithic. So the people of the bronze age were plugging their technological inventions into what they saw as a natural network, staked out by hills and headlands.

The stone circles were major nodes in a wider system spread out across the landscape. Their rings of stones formed containers within which the energy- and consciousness-fields the ancients worked with could perhaps be focused and amplified, during public ceremonies or magical-spiritual operations they carried out.

Stone circles in West Penwith

The surviving stone circles

TregesealTregeseal - or the Tregeseal complex - is situated on alignment 83 between Carn Brea near Redruth and the Brisons rocks just off Cape Cornwall, passing exactly through Trencrom Hill and Lanyon Quoit. The anchor or contact-point for this alignment at Tregeseal is not the stone circle itself but Botallack Common barrow, a short walk ENE of the circle, and part of the Tregeseal complex.

Tregeseal is what's called a Type A flattened circle with a diameter around 21m. Circles were flattened on one side in order to adjust the relationship between their diameter and circumference, to make it into a significant mathematical proportion, often reflecting astronomical factors such as the ratio of the length of the day and the night at a particular time of year.

Tregeseal stone circle is one of three original circles, two of which have been destroyed by landowners - the surviving circle was the easternmost. It is overshadowed by Carn Kenidjack and set in a slight bowl beneath it, with several cairns and holed stones comprising the complex as well as a small rock carn lying immediately southest of the circle, plus two more distant menhirs - Boswens ENE and Carn Eanes northwards. In its heyday, the three circles would have formed an impressive presence.

The Merry MaidensMeanwhile, the Merry Maidens circle stands on alignment 112, on an exact alignment of Carn Brea (a neolithic tor enclosure), Gear Round, St Michael's Mount (a tor enclosure-cum-cliff sanctuary) and Treryn Dinas (a cliff sanctuary). This is a remarkable alignment involving three aligned natural features, to which the Merry Maidens circle is clearly connected.

The circle is in quite good shape. Close to the road, it attracts more visitors than the other circles - if you're a meditator, you have to take your chances. This stone circle is exactly circular (only some stone circles are), and 24m in diameter. The field patterns and hedgerows surrounding it have obscured and decontextualised the other sites that make up this complex, and two nearby stone circles have also been destroyed - the last vestiges of one were removed just in recent decades.

The Nine Maidens or Boskednan stone circleThe Nine Maidens or Boskednan stone circle stands at the intersection and terminus of two major alignments, 96 and 38. Alignment 38 goes from Treryn Dinas, through Boscawen-ûn, then to Lanyon Quoit, then to the Nine Maidens (specifically to a menhir, nowadays a broken stub, some 20 yards NW of the circle). Alignment 96 goes all the way from Rame Head near Plymouth, through Roundwood Fort near Truro, overlooking the river Fal, to Trencrom Hill and then to the centre of the Nine Maidens circle.

This is the most damaged of the circles (this time mainly by miners), yet its location on a high moorland saddle under Carn Galva, overlooking a broad landscape, is the most inspiring of all of the stone circles. Like the Merry Maidens, the Nine Maidens is exactly circular, having a diameter around 22m. The original Mên an Tol stone circle formed part of its landscape temple, together with Bosiliack Barrow and several cairns and stones, as well as the nearby hills Carn Galva and Watch Croft. Although it is the bleakest of the four circles, it's rather lovable.

Boscawen-unFinally, Boscawen-ûn (pr: Boscawnoon) stands at the intersection of six significant alignments linking it with Godolphin Hill, St Michael's Mount, Lesingey Round, Stanon Circle on Bodmin Moor, Gurnard's Head, the Nine Maidens, Lanyon Quoit, Cape Cornwall, Maen Castle and Carn Lês Boel near Land's End, together with White Island cairn on St Martin's and South Hill on Bryher, in the Scillies. That's serious, carefully-devised, intentional connectivity.

It is carefully and precisely positioned in the landscape so that Chapel Carn Brea with its hilltop cairns is framed between two slopes, and the sea is visible in a narrow window that becomes invisible if one moves just slightly away from the circle, as is the case also with a view of The Pipers menhirs at the Merry Maidens.

The placing of Boscawen-ûn in its local landscape is rather unimpressive, and one would be forgiven for wondering why it is there. But this intricate positioning pattern not only suggests definite reasons for choosing this location but also a remarkable act of fitting it all together. How did they figure out all this without aerial photography, helicopters, theodolites and computers?
The quartz stone at Boscawen-ûn
Quartz stone at Boscawen-unBoscawen-ûn was classified by Prof Alexander Thom as a Type B flattened circle, though in aerial photos it looks more like an ellipse oriented roughly NW-SE, probably aligned to the rising point of the newmoon at a summer solstice lunar maximum and the setting point of a winter solstice fullmoon lunar maximum. It is 24.9m and 21.9m in diameter.

Two special features are a quartz stone on the circle's perimeter and an inclined stone off-centre, pointing northeast up the main axis of the southwestern peninsula of southern Britain.

The disappeared circles

The majority of stone circles in Penwith have been destroyed. Those that are known are:

Boleigh (SW 4314 2444), over which there is some dispute. It had seven stones and was '30 paces' across. It was still surviving when recorded by Borlase in 1740 and it was destroyed in the late 1800s. It was part of the Merry Maidens complex. See also Tregurnow, below.

Bosiliack (SW 440 320 approx). A 'Druidical circle' has been noted but no signs of it have been found.

Botallack CirclesBotallack (SW 3669 3311). There is no sign nowadays of this rather exciting and unique multiple-circled site. It might not be a classic stone circle, and too little is known of it to judge. Borlase wrote: “Fronting the gate of Botalac town place there is a most remarkable miz maze, if I may so term it, of stones set on end, which if Ducaleon himself had thrown behind his back could not sufficiently stood up in greater disorder than they at present appear, but viewing them diligently this March 6th, 1737, I find the largest circle monument there of any I yet have met with, with several subordinate circles, some touching the circumferences, some breaking within it; together with two large erected stones, not many paces from the principal ring.”

Higher Trevorian (SW 4168 2626). Marked on old Ordnance Survey maps, little is known about this circle, though it is generally accepted to have been there.

Men an TolMên an Tol (SW 4264 3493). This iconic site, with its unique holed stone, is not what it was in ancient times. The two stones and much-loved holed stone making up today's Mên an Tol were so erected in the late 19th Century, presumably from stones from the preceding stone circle. The site has three standing and six recumbent stones, one possible extra stone, a cairn and the famous holed stone.

Formerly it was a stone circle of probably 19 stones, up to 18m in diameter. This circle was connected with the nearby Nine Maidens stone circle, Carn Galva and Watch Croft, Bosiliack Barrow and other local features - they all formed a system, with Nine Maidens possibly serving as a sun circle and Men an Tol as a moon circle.

Rosemergy (SW 4178 3647). Nothing remains of this stone circle near Morvah, below Carn Galva and close to the cliff sanctuary of Bosigran Castle, except some stones removed to the hedge. The site was visited by Meyn Mamvro in 2015 and the exact position found by dowsing. Its uncommon location close to the sea is interesting - stone circles customarily do not incorporate seascapes. It lies precisely between Gurnard's Head and Chûn Quoit, and between Bosigran Castle and Watch Croft. It played a part in a wider complex of sites, all overlooked by Carn Galva, and including two cliff sanctuaries, Bosporthennis Quoit and Porthmeor menhir.

Treen Common Circle (SW 4445 3665), on Gear Hill, between Zennor and Morvah. This has everyone flummoxed. It could be a kind of late neolithic henge, an unusual one-off bronze age stone circle or an iron age or even medieval enclosure, though it doesn't fit easily into any of these categories and it has never been excavated. It has a few ancient site alignments to it, including one from Gurnard's Head to Mulfra Quoit, suggesting it might have an older, neolithic or bronze age origin. The stones do not have the definite presence and menhir shape of other stone circles in this area.
Carn Kenidjack busy hovering over Tregeseal
Carn Kenidjack from TregesealTregeseal (SW 3866 3237). Tregeseal originally had three stone circles close to each other, lying below the characterful hulk of Carn Kenidjack. The surviving one, the east circle, has 19 stones and is in reasonable health, though the stones on its western side might have been moved slightly after restoration following tin-mining explorations there.

The other two circles have been obliterated - the final remains of the central circle having been built into the wall after being removed by a farmer in 1961. Borlase in the 1700s noted ten upright and four fallen stones in the central circle. It is likely that this was bigger than the surviving eastern circle. The western circle is marked on old maps but evidence of it is scanty except for crop marks in aerial photos.

The Tregeseal complex contains various cairns and holed stones (of a different kind to Mên an Tol) and the presence of the overlooking neolithic tor enclosure, Carn Kenidjack, suggests that the ceremonial centre of gravity on the tor in the neolithic shifted downhill, first to the neolithic cairns a few hundred yards from the stone circle around 3500 BCE, and then to Tregeseal stone circle during the bronze age, built around 2600 BCE.

Tregurnow (SW 4375 2455). This is part of the Merry Maidens complex. Its last two stones were broken up only in 2006 (the farmer has since recognised his error). Presumably it had 19 stones, like the Merry Maidens. It might even have been more important or older than the Merry Maidens, if its position on the brow of the hill overlooking Lamorna is anything to go by.

Stone circle design

As far as we know, all four surviving stone circles contain or once contained 19 stones. This indicates an astronomical purpose, since 19 stones represent the Metonic Cycle which unites the cycles of the Sun and Moon. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines this as: chronology, a period of 19  years in which there are 235 lunations or synodic months, after which  the Moon's phases recur on the same days of the solar year. The cycle was discovered by Meton (fl. 432 BC), an Athenian astronomer.
The Merry Maidens
Merry MaidensExcept that, although Meton gained the credit, the megalith builders knew it at least two millennia earlier! This period of 6,939.6 days is equivalent to 19 solar years, 20 eclipse years and 235 synodic months (cycles of lunar phases), 254 sidereal months (lunar orbits of the heavens), and 255 draconic months (conjunctions with the North Node - an eclipse-related cycle). The Metonic Cycle is accurate to the extent that it needs just one day's adjustment every 219 years.

This time period was a human generation in length - a suitable interval for counting longer periods of time. Another such period would have been a 60-year cycle of three Jupiter and Saturn synodic cycles.

One consequence of using 19 stones is that no stone stood exactly opposite another stone in the circle - with just a few exceptions where an alignment of two stones to a distant point was clearly the intention. A stone was thus usually intended to face an open space between stones.

In Penwith, in most cases the stones are more flattened on the inside and more rounded on the outside, as if acting as reflectors focusing energy inwards into the circle.

In terms of subtle energy a stone circle can be seen as a resonator and amplifier. Some dowsers have noted a spinning element to the energy field in a stone circle - Tom Graves' cyclotron effect, referring to a particle accelerator. There is also a vertically-oriented containing element to the shape of a stone circle, with the up-rising or alternating energy-flow emitted by a blind spring under the centre of the stone circle being concentrated and funnelled, in the space inside the circle, or through the upright stones, acting as conductors.

If you go to a stone circle at dusk or at night, on certain nights, quietening yourself down, it is possible to feel this energy field more distinctly. Day or night, it is important to settle down, let yourself free-wheel a little and observe what comes up. The atmosphere at a stone circle can change quite a lot at different times - no one has been able to study the periodicities of this - so choose your moment. And give thanks when it's time to go.

The Nine Maidens or Boskednan stone circle
Nine MaidensThe ancients weren't particularly fixated on calendrical dates as we are, with our busy lives. But they did have an interest in understanding nature's cycles, for practical purposes such as planting and harvesting, for the timing of festivals and rites, and also because they saw themselves as active participants in spinning the wheels of time and season.

Time has character, quality, meaning and potency, and working with change, time and season to capture and entrain their power lay at the core of the megalith builders' worldview. To them, astronomy and astrology were the same thing. They built ancient sites to embody principles they perceived in nature and the universe, basing them on a principle of capturing time by representing it in mathematical and geometric form in the design of stone circles and other ancient sites.

The placing, design, mathematics and orientation of ancient sites were all carefully calculated to embody the eclipse cycle, the anomalistic year, the solstices and cross-quarters of the year, lunar phases and probably longer-term cycles such as the sidereal and synodic cycles of the planets. But we're only a small way in to deciphering this.*

The ancients sought to play their part in the fluxings of the universe and the intelligence or the heart of nature - and if they failed in this, they felt things would deteriorate or go wrong. This might seem superstitious, except in our day the cycles and fluxings of the biosphere and climate indeed are going seriously wrong, and we know it, so perhaps there's a lesson to learn from this.

They emulated the patterns and cycles of the universe in their ancient sites and rituals. They weren't solely trying to calibrate their calendars, as many reductionist archaeologists would believe. Their calendars were living, breathing, life-determining things, not just statistical day-counters.

The Merry Maidens
Merry MaidensSolar and lunar calendars

The ancients had a double calendar - solar and lunar. The solar calendar was anchored in the solstices and equinoxes, divided into sixteen periods - each quarter of the year being divided into two and four segments. The lunar calendar was anchored in the lunar phases, particularly newmoons and fullmoons, of which there are around 12.5 cycles per solar year. These cycles are out of sync, yet they synchronise once every 19 years.

The solar calendar relates to the seasons of the year and the lunar calendar to cycles of tides, water levels, light at night and natural fertility. Though the coming of spring or autumn is determined by the Sun's cycle, the actual visible changes, when flowers come out or the leaves fall off the trees, when birds migrate and the weather turns, are timed by the Moon.

The 19 stone circle thus embodies the integration of solar and lunar calendars, indicating also a preoccupation with eclipse cycles. This went deeper: it concerned subtle energy and inwardly-felt change and fluctuations. These cycles were incorporated into the design of stone circles. By lining up a stone on one side of the circle with a stone on the other, an exact alignment would become visible, pointing to a place on the horizon where the Sun or Moon would rise at a certain critical point in the ancient calendars.

The problem is that we do not know which stones were used in combination with which, or which were counted as significant for what purpose. There are many possible permutations: were alignments taken from the centre of one stone to the centre of another on the other side of the circle? Or was it taken from the right-hand side of one to the left-hand side of another? From one stone it is possible to take a sightline to at least seven stones on the other side, and to at least three positions on each stone (left side, centre and right side) - so we have at least 21 variables to play with. The people of the bronze age left no instruction manuals - their knowledge was passed through whispered lineages.

So the problem is that we don't understand the full extent of the design principles involved in stone circles. But there are some clues provided by archaeoastronomers and mathematicians.

Prof Alexander Thom, an engineer and archaeoastronomer of the 1950s-70s, noticed that stone circles were different shapes - not just pure circles. He found two main types of flattened circle - this is a circle where half of it is circular and the other half is pushed in to make a flattened half. These required different complex geometries.

Geometry of Boscawen unThom showed how the megalith builders had their own units of measurement, which he called the Megalithic Yard (2.72ft). This has recently been reviewed with the discovery of the Megalithic Foot (14.142in) by Harris and Stockdale - all stone circles across Britain are measured in these terms.

Metrology, the science of ancient measuring systems, is very complex (introduction here), yet it is also one of the most detailed clues for understanding the megalithic mind and the advanced nature of its science. Archaeologists avoid it studiously. (Here's an exception: a video discussion between metrologist John Neal and Oxford Prof Michael Vickers.)

The megalith builders utilised a complex geometry, involving advanced astronomical knowledge which included the size of the Earth and the difference between the polar and tropical circumference of the Earth (since the Earth is wider at the equator than at the poles).

So the stone circles were conceptually much more sophisticated than first meets the eye. In them the ancients left a tangible record of their knowledge and science. The stone circles also represented microcosmic embodiments of cosmic laws, presumably with the intention of working with their power. In clarifying the principles of these cosmic laws, the ancients were emulating universal principles, bringing heaven, Earth and the human world into harmony - something which, in their eyes, aided human fortunes and contributed something to the universe. They likely had rather Taoist attitudes.

This is important in our modern day since technologies in the 21st Century now need to emulate nature, reflecting its principles, to avoid the polluting and destructive effect of so many modern technologies. This was the underlying message of John Michell, the man who unearthed the importance of ancient geometries and metrology, who also established the first principles of the alignments system of West Penwith in his book The Old Stones of Land's End.
Stone Circle Complexes

These complexes are as important as stone circles themselves, orbiting around the gravity-centre of the stone circles. They are quite different from each other in shape and character. The complex around the Merry Maidens is very definite with a wide range of features. Around Tregeseal it's also quite definite, but nowadays in a poor state. Around Boscawen-ûn it is comprised mainly of menhirs acting as foresights to be seen from the circle, with a proportion of them astronomically aligned. The Nine Maidens complex is not pronounced but this circle, together with its former sister circle at Mên an Tol, plays a part in an array of sites that seem more terrestrially than astronomically significant. All of these complexes need much more research.

The Merry Maidens complexMerry Maidens complex

This once comprised three stone circles and a number of menhirs, including Cornwall's largest (The Pipers), and a number of cairns. It is arrayed mainly along a WSW-ENE axis that is highlighted by the main yellow alignment passing through it, leading from Carn Brea, through St Michael's Mount to Treryn Dinas - a major backbone alignment. This has an azimuth of 54.3° - the rising point of the Sun around early June and mid-July (if indeed it is astronomically oriented).

A sub-axis in the complex follows a short internal alignment from Gûn Rith, through the centre of the Merry Maidens, through a now-fallen menhir and a hedge menhir to the now-disappeared Tregurnow stone circle, with an azimuth of 81.1°.

In the northeast of the complex, the adjacent Pipers menhirs clearly act as a pair. The southwestern Piper seems to handle alignments within the complex (in blue on the map), while the northeast Piper takes alignments from further away. One example is an alignment of Tregurnow stone circle, through the northeast Piper to Boscawen-un stone circle and ending up at Bartinney Castle.
NE Piper menhir
NE Pipers menhirThe Pipers are counterweighted on the other side of the Merry Maidens by the twin Boscawen Ros menhirs. The western menhir is aligned with the centre of the Merry Maidens and then the Pipers. Meanwhile, the eastern menhir aligns with the southeastern edge of the stone circle and the Pipers. The headscratcher is, why? What's the purpose of this?

A comprehensive multi-discliplinary survey of the Merry Maidens complex is needed. It is very much affected by the road and hedgerows in the vicinity when, clearly, in the complex's heyday, it would presumably have been some sort of parkland with different visual characteristics and horizon from those of today.

Notable are a number of holed stones (pink on the map). The best estimate is that these were very accurately aligned to obtain exact readings for certain astronomical phenomena. The holes are not large. The chances are that this concerned observation of a star or planet rather than the Sun or Moon, since a narrow aligned series of holes would counteract extinction, when stars disappear when they are close to the horizon (because of the amount of the Earth's atmosphere the light has to get through). However, it would also exploit the virtues of the slight atmospheric magnification that stellar objects have when close to the horizon. It was perhaps an early bronze age scientific precision instrument.

Alignment 123 from the Merry Maidens goes to Carn Lês Boel, then to Knackyboy cairn on the Scilly island of St Martin's, then to a kerbed cairn on Gweal Hill, Bryher. Another interesting alignment had from Tregurnow to Sancreed Beacon, through the Botrea Barrows (a more axial and important site than is usually thought) to Pendeen Watch, a significant cliff sanctuary on the north coast of Penwith.

Boscawen-un complexBoscawen-ûn complex

This complex is more spread out and radial than the Merry Maidens complex, with a gaggle of menhirs a few fields, 600-800m away, from the stone circle, with more further still. Boscawen-ûn is more of a hub than any other stone circle in Penwith: it stands at the very centre of the southern half of the peninsula, with radial alignments reaching out to several of the major cliff sanctuaries - Carn Lês Boel, Treryn Dinas, Cape Cornwall, Gurnard's Head, Maen Castle and St Michael's Mount. Their relative angles need analysis.

It's one of those stone circles where you can spend time alone because it is a little tricky to find - and then, just as you're about to leave, someone else comes along to take over. This is one of those uncanny characteristics of stone circles - they can have a presence and a will of their own. Boscawen-ûn is fondly regarded by many. It was saved from destruction in the 1860s by a perceptive lady in Penzance, Miss Elizabeth Carne, who bought the property and had the circle's enclosing wall built to protect it - one of the first instances of megalithic preservation in British history. God bless Miss Carne and her cotton socks.

Boscawen-unMany argue that the stone near the centre of the circle leans accidentally owing to damage, but this is questionable. Although such a stone is quite unusual amongst stone circles in Britain, it looks intentionally placed, and dowsers report the power centre of the circle to lie directly under the top tip of the stone, not at its base.

It feels as if this stone has national significance. It points up the peninsula of the southwest of Britain at an azimuth of 53° in the local-horizon direction of the summer solstice sunrise, as if it stakes down the national energy-field of Britain at one of its corners (perhaps with the Ring of Brogar in the Orkney Islands at the other end). Boscawen-ûn was known in the Welsh Triads as one of the three chief Druid gorsedds or eisteddfod sites of southern Britain (the other two conceivably being at Caerleon and Old Sarum).

Much more study is needed of the various orientations of Boscawen-ûn's surrounding menhirs, and of their original intervisibility in the days before today's agricultural landscape was installed, since they clearly constitute one unified system. Notable also is the orientation of Chapel Carn Brea, visible WNW from the circle, together with a gap or entrance in the circle of stones that seems to open to the hill.
Creeg Tol
Creeg Tol, Boscawen-unThe rock outcrop to Boscawen-ûn's northwest, Creeg Tol, is quite energetic, providing a panorama of the circle - it lies on th above-mentioned alignment from Tregurnow stone circle to Boscawen-ûn and then to Bartinney Castle, a hilltop ceremonial place. Both Bartinney and Chapel Carn Brea were beacon sites, visible from the Scillies.

Boscawen-ûn might plausibly host a number of rock carvings on its central stone, representing two axe-heads or feet, and another higher up. This is important since carvings on menhirs and stone circles are rare. The possible alignment of the elliptical shape of the circle to the lunar maxima and of the near-central stone to the summer solstice rising point indicates an intentional marrying of the two megalithic calendars, solar and lunar, and a positioning and shaping of the circle to integrate these into the structure of its design.

Tregeseal complexTregeseal complex

This complex is different again, though it has some parallels to the Merry Maidens complex, inasmuch as its long axis runs roughly WSW-ENE, it is linked by backbone alignment to Carn Brea and it has had three stone circles and at least four holed stones in former times.

But it is different since Tregeseal is dominated and cradled by Carn Kenidjack, and its main peripheral features are cairns and tumuli rather than menhirs. Just to the SSE of the surviving circle is an interesting rock outcrop with a spring, not usually recognised as an active part of the site, but quite energetic, acting as a viewpoint overlooking the circles and slightly counterweighting them in relation to Carn Kenidjack, the Hooting or Howling Tor.

The holed stones were presumably aligned (they had fallen down and were re-erected by a farmer), possibly pointing at or towards the more distant Boswens menhir. The holes were mostly quite small (3in or 8cm). Presumably they were for astronomical observation.
Tregeseal. The destroyed central circle was in the ploughed field to the right
Inside the circle six intersecting underground streams meet (at different levels) and it has been found that natural radiation inside the circle is lower than outside it.

A number of round barrows lie to the ENE of the circle and close to the holed stones, mostly in a poor state. One of them is kerbed and the other has a stone chamber. Another chambered cairn is southwest of the stone circle. Menhirs are not part of this complex, except for Boswens menhir, visible up on the hill to the ENE, which is connected by alignment to the southwestern chambered cairn, the surviving circle and West Lanyon Quoit.

But the main feature of the site is Carn Kenidjack, the Hooting Tor, so named because of sound phenomena that are reputed to arise during storms. It is also a hauntingly mysterious tor, used as a sacred hill in neolithic times. Two natural simulacra (rocks looking like beings) are present on the carn (see right).

Carn Kenidjack hovers over Tregeseal stone circle, holding the circle in its lap. An interesting alignment runs from Carn Kenidjack, through the now-destroyed central circle to a cairn close to Carn Lês Boel many miles away.

Carn KenidjackA leaflet by CASPN tells of the folkloric tales of the area:

This area of Truthwall Common is rich with legends of the Otherworld: fairy folk, demons and devils. One story tells of how a local miner chanced upon a Fairy Feast at the circle and was bound in gossamer thread and left there all night; another tells of an encounter with the Devil himself on Carn Kenidjack, which dominates the horizon from the circle; and yet another tells of Pee Tregear who was piskey-led here and encountered the little folk. All these stories may be memories of the ancestors and spirits of the dead, for this whole area was formerly covered with prehistoric barrows, burial mounds and megalithic monuments.

Nine Maidens complex

The Nine Maidens is on a rounded north-south ridge passing south from Carn Galva, and overshadowed by it. From the circle Carn Galva looks like a rounded pyramid. Carn Galva was originally, in the neolithic era, a tor rising up out of the trees and a very central place but, during the bronze age, considerable woodland clearance took place, denuding the ridge on which the Nine Maidens stand.

The ridge would have been sweeter and less bleak and peaty in the bronze age, a warmer and more equable time than now, and then also unaffected by tin-mining at the nearby Ding Dong mine.

There are probably far more cairns and barrows around the stone circle than now are visible in the tufty heather. Close-in, the complex follows the ridge from a few cairns to the south to a standing stone in the north-west and then, further still, at Boskednan Cairn, there is a group of barrows which, although robbed, nevertheless have quite a strong feeling. Following the track down toward Mên an Tol, there is the felled Four Parishes stone, a boundary marker rather like a menhir.
Mên Scryfa from the Nine Maidens
Men ScryfaFurther down the hill are Mên Scryfa, a rare inscribed stone taken to be from the Romano-British period but very much like a menhir, and then Mên an Tol, formerly a second stone circle but now much reduced. Its current format was set in Victorian times. The two stone circles were clearly a pair and complementary.

Overlooking the whole area is Carn Galva, chief mountan of Penwith, even though the neighbouring hill, Watch Croft, is actually highest in Penwith. It's not just a visual impression but an example of the way that earth energy and a bold shape in Carn Galva can modify our perception to make this lower hill look higher or more impressive than Watch Croft. Carn Galva is a neolithic tor hill, in the neolithic one of Penwith's most important sites.
Watch Croft from Mên Scryfa. Right, a trig point, left, the menhir
Watch CroftWatch Croft has one or two barrows on its summit and, rather mysteriously, a little way down the hill is a menhir in a seemingly inconspicuous place. It's natural to wonder why precisely it is there. However, there is a good reason: as seen from just below the Nine Maidens, close to Mên Scryfa, it stands out on the horizon. Why this should be, we do not know, but it is clearly intentional.

A lament

It is regrettable that more of the stone circles are not alive and present in the Penwth landscape today. We know little about the disappeared circles. Even today there are ongoing battles to keep the existing circles in good health, with threats particularly from mobile phone masts, cattle grazing and offical land management policies and detectorists.
Carn Galva from the Nine Maidens
Nine Maidens and Carn GalvaSad to say, even the authorities cannot fully be relied on to understand or protect Penwith's ancient sites, easily tempted as they are by short-termist, narrow and vested interests.

These are not just historic monuments. They are technological devices with a value and significance that is gradually becoming more visible to us as our own ideas change and we confront the enormous question of sustainability, balancing the world's climate and ecosystem and correcting humanity's relationship with them. The stone circles and other megalithic sites give clues as to how this might be done.

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