Walk - The 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 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the entrance to the car park at Lamorna Cove, turn left onto the South West Coast Path, signed to Penberth. The path carries on around the bottom of Tregurnow Cliff before climbing Rosemodress Cliff above Carn Barges and continuing high as it passes the lighthouse on Tater Du.
All around the district you will see the remains of extensive granite quarries. Lamorna has long been a source of granite for construction work, and buildings using the stone include the docks at Dover and Devonport and New Scotland Yard (see the Lamorna & St Loy Walk).
- As you head towards Boscawen Point, you pass above Zawn Gamper and Chough Zawn. Bear right to stay high as the path starts to round Boscawen Point and then drops into the stunted oak and sycamore trees on Boskenna Cliff above Paynter's Cove and St Loy's Cove.
Paynter's Cove is named after the Paynter family, who owned Boskenna for many generations before it was sold in 1957. Author Mary Wesley lived in Boskenna for a number of years, setting several of her novels here, including 'The Camomile Lawn', which was televised in 1992.
St Loy's Beach, a 'boulder storm beach', is a nationally important geological site (see the Lamorna & St Loy Walk).
- At St Loys Cove the path heads inland towards St Loy. Cross the small bridge to carry on uphill, crossing a track, to the stile at the top.
- Turn immediately right after the stile to take another one, then cross the stream on stepping stones, turning left on the far bank. Turn right on the lane as the path opens out through the trees.
- Carry on along the lane beside Boskenna, taking the footpath to the right on the left-hand bend, crossing the field diagonally to come out onto a layby on the B3315 at the far right-hand corner.
Beside you is the Boskenna Cross, one of many ancient stone crosses in West Penwith (see the Lamorna & St Loy Walk).
- Cross the stile in a corner of the Boskenna Cross layby and take the footpath along the right-hand hedge, carrying on ahead to the stile when the hedge turns to the right.
In the middle of the next field is one of the Boscawen-Ros menhirs, one of a pair of standing stones thought to date from the Bronze Age, around 3000-4000 years ago. Its seven-foot partner is in the hedge to the west, but is thought to have been moved from its original position sometime in the past when the field was ploughed. Many of West Penwith's ancient monuments were moved in this way, sometimes even being reused in the construction of a barn or a stone wall. In 1861 a local farmer decided to convert the famous Zennor Quoit into a cattle-shed. He had already removed one of its pillars and drilled holes into the capstone by the time a shocked archaeologist offered him five shillings to build his shed elsewhere.
The footpath crosses the north-eastern corner of the standing-stone field to a stile. Follow it alongside the hedge of the next field and into the long field beyond. Cross to the far left-hand corner and cross the stile beside the gate. Turn left and cross the next stile by a gate, onto the road. Turn right past the farm buildings and take the stile into the field on the left at the end of the track. Cross the field to come out onto the road beyond.
- On the road turn left and walk to the entrance to Boscawen Rose, going through the gate opposite to take the footpath straight across the field. Go through into the next field, to follow the hedge to the far right-hand corner. In the field beyond bear left to the middle of the far hedge, and in the next field again, bear left to the lane leading from the far left-hand corner. From here the footpath travels straight along the hedge ahead to the far right-hand corner. Go out onto the lane and into the field on your left. Follow the left-hand hedge to the footpath to the left, about halfway down. Take this into the field on the left to visit the Merry Maidens, in the middle of this field.
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 Boscawen-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 nearby Tregurnow Cross, with its 'crucified' figure in relief on the granite slab may be an example. As well as the figure with outstretched arms and feet on the front of the cross, there is a four-armed wheel cross on the rear. In its original position the cross marked the churchway between St Buryan and Boscawen-Rose.
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. It 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.
- From the Merry Maidens retrace your steps to the corner of the field, going back into the field beyond. From here bear left on the footpath across the field, to the main road ahead.
In the field across the main road, 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, and dating from sometime between 400 BC and AD 300, the purpose of fogous 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.
- Coming out on the main road, carry on ahead along the minor road just right of it, bearing left at the converted chapel to carry on ahead.
- This will bring you back to the road into Lamorna. Turn right to follow it seawards through the village and back to the quay.