Walk - The Cove - Merry Maidens

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

The Cove Cornwall

The Cove at Lamorna provides walkers with afternoon teas, lunches, dinners and free car parking. The House itself is of historical interest as it was built in 1854 for John Freeman, who owned the quarry in the cove. In the late 1800s it  became a temperance hotel and in the early 1900's was home to Alfred Munnings. The book “Summer in February” by Jonathan Smith details the story of Munnings and other famous Newlyn artists when they used Lamorna as base for painting and partying. The book has been made into a film with Dan Stevens.

  1. Coming out of the entrance to the Cove Cornwall onto Well Lane, turn left and then left again on the road beyond. Follow the road along Lamorna Valley for a short distance, until you come to a lane leading away to the left.
  2. Turn left onto this lane and follow it uphill, past Menwidden and Borah Chapel, until you come to a road.
  3. Carry on ahead along the road to where it comes out on the B3315.

Just before you reach the road, there is an unmetalled lane to the left. Detouring along the public footpath here and going into the big field beyond, cross it diagonally to the far left hand corner to visit the old Tregurnow Cross.

The Tregurnow Cross is a stone slab with a cross in relief on front and back, although little remains of the latter. It dates from sometime in the medieval period, and is one of many stone crosses in the area. Another stands at the side of the road at Boskenna, a little way to the west. This has a modern base supporting an ancient head which was found buried in the hedge during roadworks in 1869. There is a figure with outstretched arms and feet on the front of the cross, and a four-armed wheel cross on the rear. In its original position the cross marked the churchway between St Buryan and Boscawen-Rose.
The footpath passes the old Tregurnow Pottery, set up in the early 1960s by George and Margaret Smith, who converted the seventeenth-century farmworker's cottage into a studio. Now it is the Old Well Studio, which has occasional open days in its ceramics and painting workshops.

In the fields across the B3315 from the junction, but sadly with no public access, are the Pipers standing stones. They are two massive granite menhirs, the largest surviving in Cornwall today. They date from the Bronze Age, more than 3000 years ago. In AD 931, Cornish King Howel supported by the Danes was defeated in battle here by the Saxon King Athelstan, who went on to conquer the Isles of Scilly.

To the north west of the Pipers is the Boleigh Fogou. Named after the Cornish word for 'cave', a fogou was a type of underground chamber. Found only to the west of the River Fal, dating from sometime between 400 BC and AD 300, their purpose is unclear. It is thought to have been either ceremonial, or used for the storage of food. The fogou at Boleigh is extensive, with two internal passageways leading to the main vault. Its first documented use was as a hideout for a group of Royalists on the run from Cromwell's men in the English Civil War.

  1. As you reach the B3315, exactly on the junction, a footpath heads into the field on your left. Follow the path across the field, bearing right at the hedge to go through into the next field a moment later, and on to the Merry Maidens.

Dating from the Neolithic (Late Stone Age) period, sometime between 4000 and 2501 BC, the Merry Maidens is a stone circle formed of 19 granite megaliths. There is a gap between the stones forming an entrance at its eastern end. Some of them are as tall as 1.4 metres. The tallest ones stand to the south west, with the shorter ones opposite them on the north eastern rim. This is thought to mimic the waxing and waning of the moon, and the circle was probably used in early pagan religious ceremonies.
The monument is also known as 'Dawns Men', thought to come from the Cornish 'dans maen', meaning 'stone dance'. According to the local legend, a group of frivolous and heathen maidens were dancing here on a Sunday, accompanied by two pipers across the way. As punishment the dancers were turned to stone, and so were their musicians. As with many of the ancient stone monuments in Cornwall, the early Christian movement of the fifth and sixth centuries is thought to have adopted the old pagan sites and symbols. They associated them with the rites of the new religion, in order to bring the pagans into the Christian fold.

There are many other ancient monuments in the area, including a second 19-stone Neolithic circle at nearby Boascawen-Un and a number of lone standing stones from the same period. Some of the very old stone crosses are thought to date from this time, too, being later adapted by the church to remove the traces of the pagan religions. The Tregurnow Cross, with its 'crucified' figure in relief on the granite slab may be an example.

Other prehistoric features of this special landscape include many barrows from the Bronze Age and traces of settlements and hillforts from the Iron Age which followed it. The Tregiffian Barrow, beside the B3315 to the west of the Merry Maidens, dates from the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age and was found to incorporate a cup-marked granite slab, whose indentations chiselled into its stone are thought to have played some part in religious ceremonies.

  1. Retracing your steps from the Merry Maidens to go back into the first field, turn right along the hedge and walk to the lane at the end. 
  2. Instead of turning onto the lane, go into the first field on your right, following the left-hand hedge to carry on along the path beyond. Cross the next field diagonally to follow the left-hand hedge through the two beyond, heading straight across the last to come out on a road. 
  3. On the road turn left and walk past Tregiffian Farm, carrying on along the track by the barns.
  4. Pick up the footpath into the field just past the farm and follow it along the left-hand hedge, carrying on along the track ahead.
  5. Reaching Rosemodress Farm turn left in front of the farm and then turn right beyond the buildings, passing behind the farm and coming out into the field to the north east of it. Carry on along the left-hand hedge to Tregurnow.
  6. Going through to Tregurnow Farm, ignore the farm drive on your left and the lane on your right to take the lane ahead, running roughly north east to Lamorna. Turn left on Well Lane to return to The Cove Cornwall.

Nearby refreshments

 At The Cove Cornwall and in Lamorna.

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