Beyond Stonehenge

Bodmin Moor
Trethevy Quoit
Trethevy Quoit

At one time the last outpost of Celtic culture in the British Isles, Cornwall depends heavily on its connection to Britain's ancient past to draw visitors. A local saint is thought to be at least one of the models on which the legend of King Arthur may be based, which has fostered the development of many Arthurian-oriented tourist traps in the area, especially on the coast.

Less tainted by commercialism is the Bodmin Moor region, which boasts a major concentration of Bronze Age monuments and other relics. Though small, it feels even more isolated than Dartmoor, if that's possible. The village of Minions in the moor's eastern highlands is the best base camp for setting out on a megalith search. From here, it's an easy walk to The Hurlers, an unusual grouping of three stone circles once linked by a granite path. The stones appear to have been carefully cut—some are diamond-shaped, others round—and all appear to have been deliberately planted to appear the same height.

About three miles to the south stands Trethevy Quoit, technically known as a dolmen, a type of Stone Age structure featuring three or more stones functioning as"walls" that support a massive roof or "capstone." Probably used as a burial chamber, Trethevy Quoit currently consists of six upright stones and a capstone with a natural window to the sky. This latter feature has led to speculation that the Giant's House, as it's locally known, also served some kind of astronomical function. To the north near the village of Altarnun, the Nine Stones form a geometrically perfect circle fifty feet across. The ring is actually comprised of eight stones (seven still stand), with a ninth near the center.

West of Bodmin Moor on the Penwith Peninsula at the tip of Cornwall, the Merry Maidens form one of the most pristine stone circles in England. Nineteen stones, each about four feet high, form a perfect circle 80 feet across, with an entrance gap open to the compass-exact east. The stones are also known as Dawn's Men, a corruption of the Cornish Dans Maen or "stone dance." The name comes from a local legend probably perpetrated by early Christians in an effort to stamp out lingering pagan beliefs in the area. According to the story, the circle was formed when 19 maidens were turned to stone for dancing on Sunday.

Access: To reach Bodmin Moor, take a train or bus from Penzance to Bodmin. From here, Altarnun is about 20 miles to the northeast on the A30 by a second bus. The Hurlers are a 200-yard walk southwest of Minions, the highest village on Bodmin Moor, which lies about 4.25 miles northeast of Liskeard. The Merry Maidens sit west of Newlyn on the B3315 heading towards Land's End.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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