Stone circles represent the peak of megalithic architecture and technology.
There are five surviving stone circles in West Penwith, out of a definite seven and a possible ten originals. In Cornish they're called dans mên - a dance of stones. They were built around 2500-2200 BCE.
Stone circles cannot be considered in isolation from their complexes - arrays of menhirs, cairns and landscape features that surround them like solar systems, together constituting one large ancient site one-to-two miles wide.
Stone circles were carefully located and designed so that various proportional, mathematical, togographic and astronomical factors were built into their design and positioning. They are much more sophisticated and complex than they look. All five stone circles had nineteen stones (though two are uncertain), architecturally embodying the sun-moon Metonic cycle.
Tregeseal stone circle near St Just, with Carn Vres behind - part of the circle's setting. The carn has a spring and it overlooks the stone circle.
Tregeseal stone circle with neolithic tor Carn Kenidjack behind
Tregeseal stone circle. The stones are flatter on the inside, rounder on the outside, concentrating energy into the circle
Tregeseal was originally a double stone circle - the western one was destroyed in the 20th C. There are also cairns, holed stones, a menhir and the neolithic tor Carn Kenidjack in its wider complex.
Tregeseal lies in a wide bowl of enclosing hills, looking over the sea toward the Isles of Scilly and cradled by Carn Kenidjack. When standing in the stone circle, if the hedge weren't there, on a clear day you'd see Scilly.
Tregeseal stone circle
Crystalline granite, 20% quartz and mica, with metals - excellent for memory storage and a good conductor of subtle energy
Each stone at Tregeseal - and every stone circle - is quite different, and all stones have been carefully chosen. There's a certain artistry to each stone.
Tregeseal stone circle
Carn Kenidjack as seen from Tregeseal stone circle
Mên an Tol was the lowest-aspect stone circle of all of them, in a bowl of hills with high horizons. It possibly had nineteen stones. The holed stone is unique: does it complement the upright stone inside Boscawen-ûn?
Mên an Tol is part of a large complex of sites in the vicinity including the Nine Maidens and Carn Galva.
The Mên an Tol. This configuration of three stones is incorrect. It was created by a zealous Victorian antiquarian who thought he knew how it should be arranged (the same one who restored Lanyon Quoit). We don't really know for certain the exact number and position of all stones in the circle, but a few are still in place, a couple are buried and others can be deduced
The Mên an Tol is a former stone circle, and here you can see roughly what it looked like. It probably had nineteen stones. The question is whether the iconic holed stone was inside the circle or part of its ring
The Mên an Tol, with some of the stone circle stones in the foreground
The Mên an Tol
The Mên an Tol. One theory had it that the holed stone was a rock with a solution basin in it (these are explained in Shining Land), forming the hole, and then it was dressed to make it as it is today
The Nine Maidens or Boskednan stone circle, on high moorland beneath the neolithic tor Carn Galva
The Nine Maidens stone circle is rather damaged. Now it is in moorland when, around 4,300 years ago, its surrounds were green parkland, with a wonderful view. Two big and several smaller cairns occupy the nearby complex, with Carn Galva as its backdrop and Mên an Tol as its twin circle. The wider complex is bigger, embracing Zennor Hill, Gurnard's Head, Bosigran Castle and Carfury menhir.
The bronze age Nine Maidens with neolithic tor Carn Galva behind
Mulfra Quoit as seen from the Nine Maidens - a one-mile distance
Carn Galva as seen from the Nine Maidens. A processional route went from here up the tor
The Nine Maidens as seen from Mulfra Quoit, one mile distant (telephoto shot). Deliberate intervisibility. The newer bronze age site, in doing this, is drawing on the neolithic heritage and tradition. The megalith builders, while innovating and expressing the ideas of their time, nevertheless drew on geomantic and esoteric principles that were consistent with those established in the neolithic 3000s. Mark Two megalithism and a new era in a much more cleared, humanised and (for the time) quite densely populated landscape
The Nine Maidens
Three stones in the Nine Maidens stone circle
Watch Croft with its summit cairns, as seen from the Nine Maidens. These distant scenic backdrops and the far horizon are as important to stone circles' psychogeographic setting as more nearby menhirs and cairns are
Boscawen-ûn is placed at a geomantic bull's-eye, lighting up the whole Penwith megalithic system, by dint of its alignments, terrestrial and astronomical positioning. It's a unique oval stone circle with a leaning, off-centre stone. The top of this stone is exactly over the power centre. Nearby is Creeg Tol, a predecessor site. Boscawen-ûn is surrounded with many menhirs and a few now-gone cairns, as part of its enveloping complex.
Boscawen-ûn and Creeg Tol
Boscawen-ûn, photographed from Creeg Tol. It's always worth visiting Creeg Tol to see whether others are at Boscawen-ûn, and to ready yourself for entering the circle mindfully
The central leaning stone at Boscawen-ûn has carvings on it (hardly detectable) and it points toward the local rising point of the sun at summer solstice, up the southwest peninsula of Britain
The quartz stone at Boscawen-ûn - very special
Each stone has character - go round the circle and make friends with them
Boscawen-ûn is rarely crowded, but it does attract groups of people who really love the place and get up to interesting things there
The Merry Maidens - intact and humming. Being accessible from the road it attracts more visitors and random walkers, but it's a pleasant place, and energetic at the liminal moments of the day
The Merry Maidens is circular, with 19 stones. Originally it had a twin circle nearby at Tregurnow, now gone. It has a wide view of the hills northwards - Chapel Carn Brea, Bartinney and Botrea. Lying on an alignment between Carn Brea, St Michael's Mount and Treryn Dinas, it has a complex of menhirs, holed stones, cairns and even crosses, many oriented along this axis.
The Merry Maidens as seen from Gûn Rith menhir a few hundred yards away. If Tregurnow stone circle were alive today, it would be on the horizon, aligned with the centre of the Merry Maidens
Misty Boscawen-ûn morning
Remembering ancient sites and stones that have been destroyed.
Over time, landowners, looters, miners, developers, religious extremists, antiquarians and others have dismembered and removed many ancient sites in West Penwith.
These are not just lumps of stone and earth: they are leftovers of an advanced technology that is important for our future. We destroy them at our peril.
This stone is a remnant of the former Tregeseal West stone circle, destroyed in the 20th Century. In the name of progress. It was in the way.
One of the stones from the now-destroyed Tregeseal West stone circle, built into the hedge (wall) alongside the path leading to the surviving stone circle, Tregeseal East