Lovely early summer days have arrived here in Cornwall and for me the best way to enjoy them is from the saddle of one of my beloved Harley Davidson motorbikes!
On my last post I took you to the times of Arthurian Legend, this time lets go back further in time. . . a lot further back.
High on the South Eastern edge of Bodmin Moor is the small and incredibly named village of Minions, yes honestly that’s the name of the place! Here can be found evidence of human habitation that stretches back to the Neolithic Period, at least 2500BC, or to put it another way, thats over four and a half thousand years ago! Around the parish can be found burial mounds, standing stones, ditch-ways and a host of other mysterious works.
Most impressive of all can be found on the Western edge of the village where three intriguing stone circles laid in a straight line lie. These are known as “The Hurlers,” or in the local Cornish language, “An Hurlysi.” They are probably the best example of ceremonial circles in South West England and folklore has it that they are the petrified remains of men punished for playing Cornish Hurling on a Sunday.
The three large circles are aligned on an axis running NNE to SSW. The largest circle is the centre one and measures just over 41 metres in diameter, with its flanking neighbours both just over 30 metres across. Just off to the West are two separate stones known as “The Pipers,” possibly they were playing for the Hurlers when they were set in stone! The whole site is big!
Now don’t go expecting another Stonehenge, the more famous site on Salibury Plain, the Hurlers are nowhere near as grand, but to the Ancient people in this part of the world, probably just as important.
It is fair to say that what they represent is, today, a mystery. Some scholars have suggested that the layout of the stones concurs with stella alignment particularly linked to the stars Vega and Arcturus, or at least where that combination would have appeared in antiquity. Others have linked the layout to the stars in the constellation of Orion, specifically the “Belt,” though as recent archaeology has revealed that there once was a fourth circle I guess that kicks that theory into touch!
The stones that remain show clear signs of being crafted and hammered smooth. Originally there were 28 in the centre circle but now only 14 survive, whilst the North circle has 15 out of 30 remaining.
As a place to visit it is certainly worth the effort, particularly on a nice clear day and if industrial archaeology also floats your boat, there are countless reminders of Cornwall’s tin and copper mining heritage to be seen as well. More on that in a future post. I couldn’t resist a bit of monochrome either!
About half a mile South of the Hurlers is another fascinating relic of ancient times. This is “Long Tom” also known as “The Long Stone,” an ancient Menhir that possibly pre-dates even the Hurlers. Again the original reason why this 2.8 metre tall stone has been placed here is lost in the mists of time. The most fascinating thing about Long Tom is that at some time the rather phallic stone has been “Christianised,” a simple Celtic Cross has been roughly carved in the head. I found it quite hard to define in a photograph, but trust me, there is a cross there.
Now here’s an interesting thing, if you take Long Tom as the starting point a line can be drawn right along the axis of The Hurlers and it leads to an ancient burial mound known as Rillaton Barrow. Local legend says that that Rillaton is haunted by the spirit of a Druid Priest, who offers travellers a drink from an undrainable cup. During archaeological excavations back in 1837 a variety of finds were unearthed. Human remains, obviously, but also “grave goods” including a bronze dagger, beads, pottery and a wonderful gold cup. Now known as The Rillaton Cup this beautiful, 90mm high, relic of an ancient time can be seen in the British Museum, London; could this be the cup of the Druid Priest?
Pondering the past and happy to be a Druid, I eased Harley into gear and nodded a distant salute to the Priest as I rode away; luckily I wasn’t thirsty!
“Forget about the cheque we’ll get hell to pay, have a drink on me!
Catch you soon.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Someone in the village of Minions has a sense of humour and I fully approve!