West Penwith is a large area of moorland on the Penwith peninsular, which is the most southerly point of the UK where Lands End is located. In Cornish language ‘penn’ means ‘headland’ and ‘wydh’ means ‘at the end’. Bleak and shrouded in mist and mystery, as moores so often are, West Penwith is home to more ancient monuments and sites than any other place in Britain.
The Nine Maidens of Boskednan is one such ancient site. The Nine Maidens are a stone circle formerly of 19 upright stones set on a hilltop mid-way between Mên-an-Tol and Bodrifty Iron Age Village. They date from the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age – about 2000 BC to 1000 BC. The circle has been ravaged by time and nearby mining, so much so that now only six uprights remain with five others leaning or completely horizontal.
Mên-an-Tol is small formation of standing stones. It is thought that the Mên-an-Tol, translated literally as, the hole stone, dates back to Neolithic or Early Bronze age. In Cornish folklore the Mên-an-Tol is supposed to have a fairy or piskie guardian who can make miraculous cures. In one story, a changeling baby was put through the stone in order for the mother get the real child back. The mischievous piskies had changed her child and the ancient stones were able to reverse their spell. It is also said that a women who climbs through the hole will find herself pregnant that year.
The mooreland views are nothing less than breath taking, whatever the weather. They are vast and wind battered. Trees lean lopsidedly. Sea mist often lingers above the ruffled carpet of bracken, ferns and heather. The wild flora of this area will delight the walker. Old, disused farms with all their out-houses sit decrepit and crumbling and are slowly being reclaimed by nature’s ivy, which curl and grapples at the bricks like spindly fingers of an old women. Walking along the tracks, the landscape brings to life the characters and stories in Cornish myth and legends.
The Magic Ointment by Eric Quayle and Michael Foreman, is a beautifully illustrated collection of Cornish legends of fairies and giants, many of which are set on West Penwith Moores. It is a highly recommended read for someone interested in walking the trails of West Penwith while recalling the folk stories behind the unusual geographic formation, landmarks and monuments. Some of the hills, according to legend, were put there by giants, who are currently sleeping.
For more information on walking trails and historical sites visit: http://www.cornwallaonb.org.uk/west-penwith