Friday, 16 August 2013

Stones & Witches

Today we drove to Duloe Standing Circle this rather small monument, a squashed circle of eight stones, approximately 12 metres in diameter is still quite impressive due to its dazzling stones of white quartzite. Its tallest stone is 2.7 metres in height. There has been a settlement at Duloe for at least 2500 years. Early inhabitants of this land seeking to explain the forces governing their lives built stone circles to study the sun and the moon and offered up sacrifices to the sun the source of nourishment. The present setting is the result of restoration in the last century when a burial urn of the late Bronze Age (2000-500 B.C) was found at the base of one of the stones.

St Cuby's Well's inner chamber is of ancient date and the steps down into the water appear to mark it as a baptismal well. Unfortunately we were not able to find this well. However we did find the church in which in the north transept is St Cuby's font a stone basin from an earlier well further down the hill. It is of pre- Christian origin, and the carvings of griffin and fish link it with purification rites.

We then drove on to see the Hurlers a series of three stone circles aligned in a row. This is the only known example of a stone circle linear grouping in England. The stone circles stand on flat ground below the rock formation known as The Cheesewring. The stone circles probably date to the early Bronze Age. They are oriented on a roughly NNE by SSW axis. From end to end the alignment is 162 metres in length. The circle diameters from north to south measure 114 feet, 140 feet, and 108 feet. The large middle circle has 14 standing stones remaining out of an original number of 29 equally spaced stones. Many of the stones have been dressed, with flattened tops and flat inner sides. A granite slab stands at the centre of the circle. It seems likely that the stone circles formed part of a processional route involving other local monuments, with which there are several known or suspected alignments.

The name of the circles come from a local legend that the stones were the remains of local men who were petrified for playing the game of hurling on the Sabbath. To the west is a pair of outlying upright stones standing close together, known as the Pipers. The axis through the centres of the two northern circles aligns directly on the massive Rillaton Barrow, visible on the skyline to the north-east, while the axis of the southern pair of circles in turn aligns directly with a prehistoric round cairn to the south-west. Another line at right angles to this axis through the central circle takes in another stone circle, an embanked avenue and a stone row. Such circles are likely to have had considerable ritual importance for the societies that used them. For the best part of 4,000 years The Hurlers have kept their secrets. The central circle is slightly elliptical, the largest of the three and believed to be the first constructed. Only 14 of its stones remain upright, though all three circles are thought to have originally boasted over 20 components. It was once joined to the northern circle by a granite pathway, this smaller circle retaining 15 stones and being the most complete today. The third and smallest circle to the south is the most damaged with only 9 stones remaining in situ. Some of the stones are straight rectangular pillars, whereas others have a more bulbous diamond shape, leading some to believe that they represent male and female respectively.

A short distance away to the north there is an interesting natural boulder pile known as the Cheesewring, the Stowe's Pound settlement site, as well as Rillaton Barrow which contained the Rillaton Cup, a Bronze Age handled cup made of corrugated sheet gold. This round cairn stands 500 metres north-northeast of The Hurlers stone circles on a rise of land known as Rillaton Moor in an area rich in round barrows, cairns, standing stones and natural rock features. It consists of a mound of stone and earth that has a diameter of over 35 metres and stands over 2.5 metres high despise a crater dug into its top by stone robbers. What is most interesting though is a slab lined cist on its eastern side and what it was found to contain. This cist which is aligned north-south and is about 2 metres long by 1 metre in width and height was opened by in 1837 by workmen looking for building material who found a skeleton along with a bronze dagger, several faience beads and a decorated pot that contained a corrugated gold cup with a riveted handle. This spectacular find, now known as the Rillaton Cup and thought to date from 2000-1500BC, was handed over as treasure trove and found its way into King George V's dressing room where he is said to have used it for storing collar studs! It is currently in the British Museum and was thought to be unique in Britain until a similar but partly crushed gold cup was found at Ringlemere in Kent in 2001.

The Pipers

Centre stone of the circle

Looking back at the Pipers from the circle

The Cheesewring

Closeby to the Hurlers is the Longstone or Long Tom a medieval wayside cross that stands just to the south of a road that runs southwest from the village of Minions on Bodmin Moor. This phallic stone is carved with a simple cross and it forms one of several such Christian monuments on the moor, it is possible however that it has a much longer history. Situated about 850 metres to the north-northeast are the three stone circles of The Hurlers and beyond them the cairn of Rillaton Barrow. If a line is drawn from the Longstone to Rillaton then it would appear to pass through all three of the stone circles. This may just be coincidence but it could be that the Longstone is a Christianised prehistoric standing stone. The early church sometimes sought to appropriate pagan monuments rather than destroy them in an attempt to woo the pagan worshippers into the Christian faith. The stone stands alone, often amongst sheep roaming the moor, an impressive 285cm (H) x 60 (W) x 30 (D), complete with mark on the back and carved cross.

Also close by was Trethevy Quoit on a promontory overlooking the confluence of streams which flow southwards to become the River Seaton; the northern skyline is dominated by Caradon Hill and granite massif of Minions Moor. Trethevy is considered to be the best preserved quoit in Cornwall and one of the most impressive of its type in Britain. John Norden, writing in 1584, described it as “A little howse raised of mightie stones, standing on a little hill within a fielde”.

Four large overlapping granite slabs set upright form the sides of the chamber with lateral stones at front and back. The back stone is leaning inwards, and the massive capstone which is supported by these uprights rests at a crazy angle. It is not clear whether this was a feature of the original design of the monument or the result of a partial collapse or slippage. A curious round hole has been drilled through the top corner of the capstone. A small antechamber was formed at the front of the monument but only one of the two original upright stones remains. A rectangular cut-out at the side of the upright stone that forms the front of the main chamber may have been an original entrance but it could equally be a later modification - certainly, no other Cornish site has such a feature. The quoit is surrounded by a stony mound or cairn which would probably have been more impressive than it is today, though it is thought unlikely that the quoit would ever have been completely covered.

We stopped at St Cleer Well the granite holy well of St. Clarus, the water from which was reputed to cure madness

In 1858 the water still flowed from the well in the inner "bowsening pool". Six years later a full restoration was undertaken. It is well known that long after Christianity came to Cornwall that both Holy Wells and Pixie Wells existed with such customs as throwing pins, both straight and bent into the waters, so giving the thrower faith in a cure of their ailment of intimation towards the union with a dreamed of lover.

It is interesting that here at St Cleer Well a tree was planted during the twentieth century by the "Honeycombe" family, was used as a "Cootie" by having rags tied to its branches to bring forth the fulfilment of dreams and aspirations for the future, even protection from evil and the strength to fulfil promises made through its believed votive powers.

The next item on our agenda was to go through the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft in the fishing village of Boscastle very like yesterday's fishing village of Polperro however far less populated. The museum houses the world's largest collection of witchcraft related artefacts and regalia, it has been in Boscastle for more than fifty years.

The three witches from Shakespear's play Macbeth

The Wheel of the Year

Made in 1960's by Lionel Miskin 'The Hare Woman'

Black Madonna possibly are descended from an earlier prechristian goddess known as the Dark Mother known to perform healing miracles.


The Lady of Pazardzik a reproduction of 6,500 year old figure found in Bulgaria representing the Goddess of Life Death and Rebirth.

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