Access: See the Hurlers. About a quarter of a mile from the Hurlers on a fairly good path leading to the Cheesewring. About halfway to the Cheesewring is an almost non-existent path to the right (east), which takes you to the barrow. It is a distinct cratered mound, a little to the SE of the highest point on this part of the moor. Probably just as easy to find by heading NNE straight across the moor from the Hurlers.
Saturday 6 March 2004
Can't add much to previous posts, other than to support the view that for 'bump' fans (I'm one) it's well worth a visit.
Battered and pretty wild, the barrow bears many scars from treasure-hunters over the years. The exposed stones of the spot where the famous cup and other artefacts were found are surprisingly diminutive and not visible from 'ground level'. We thought we'd got the wrong place on the way from the Hurlers to the Cheesewring, but luckily we had another look on the way back and realised our mistake. I'd have been really disappointed to miss it. Good view of the Hurlers from the top of the barrow too.
Situated more or less half way between the Cheesewring and the Hurlers this barrow survives as an uneven tump which is actually quite difficult to spot in the heavily mined landscape. Indeed, we walked right past it first time.
The entrance is part way up the mound and hidden from view unless you start climbing up the mound. I was disappointed that I couldn't get in (partly to get out of the cold wind) but I suspect its quite unstable in there.
It's nothing to write home about now, but once this must have been massive, before the treasure-seekers got to work on it to dig up the most glorious ribbed golden cup, now in the British Museum.
Slightly overshadowed by the numbers at Stonehenge, there was still quite a gathering on Bodmin Moor early saturday morning. About 30 people gathered to watch the sunrise and then walk over to Craddock circle whilst approx 40 bikers from the Plymouth area also joined us on the barrow. Add to this those camping out and you have numbers approaching 100.
The sun rose right on time over the northern edge of Dartmoor before dissapearing into the cloud cover, the mist sitting in the Tamar valley making for a wonderful vista. The bikers departed to visit a friends grave, we headed off towards the Hurlers and Craddock Moor.
Rillaton Barrow is well worth a visit (ref SX260719) when at the Hurlers. It is exactly 500 metres North North East Of the Northern most Hurlers circle, and is the funny looking mound on the brow of the hill. This bowl barrow is just open on its east side. The cist once contained a skeleton lying full length, a bronze grooved ogival dagger, and the famous Rillaton Cup, a handled beaker of corrugated sheet gold, which is similar in style to gold and silver vessels from Mycenae, Greece. Both cup and dagger are in the British Museum but an exact copy of the cup is also in the County Museum in Truro.
If you are taking a walk from the Hurlers to the Cheesewring, take a right turn about half way and investigate this barrow.
While the other two sites will probably be swarming with visitors, it seems no-one ever comes here which is a shame (or a good thing, depending on your point of view), as this is where the Rillaton cup- a corrugated gold beaker- was found. The cup was discovered in 1818 when the stone grave to the east of the barrow was opened, along with a skeleton and bronze dagger.
There is also a rather large hole in the top of the mound, probably caused by treasure hunters looking for more burial 'goodies'
The Cheesewring and the prehistoric remains near it were explored, after a capital luncheon at the Cheesewring Hotel. Mr. Harris, superintendent of the Caradon Railway, added much to the interest of the visit by his explanations and local information. A visit was first made to what is known as the Rillaton Barrow - so named from the manor on which it is situated - in which a remarkable gold drinking cup was found in 1837. Mr. Iago produced an enlarged drawing of it. It is 3 3/4 inches in height, and the bullion value of it is £10.
Mr. Harris stated that before the cup was found there was a curious legend current in the neighbourhood. Whenever hunters came round that way, the Arch Druid would receive them sitting in his chair, and would offer them drink out of a golden goblet; and if there were forty or fifty of them, they could all drink from the cup without emptying it. One day a party were hunting the wild boar in the Widdecombe Marsh, to the west of the Cheesewring, and one of their number took an oath, or laid a wager, that if the Druid was there then, he would drink the cup dry. They thereupon saw the locks of the priest floating in the air, and hastened up to him. The hunter drank of the cup until he could drink no more, and was so enraged at his inability to finish it that he dashed the wine in the face of the Druid, who immediately disappeared. In connection with this legend, it is curious that within a quarter of a mile of the traditional seat of the Druid this gold cup was found.
The story is in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall v13, relating the annual excursion for 1895. Baring-Gould was a subscriber at this time, and a few years later he made it to President. So it's possible that he was there at the outing and that's where he initially heard the story. B-Gs has a better ending. So shockingly the exalted Mr Grinsell is a bit wrong - this is an earlier record of the story (although not by much admittedly). But Mr Grinsell didn't have the benefits of the Internet and its search engines.
A party were hunting the wild boar in Trewartha Marsh. Whenever a hunter came near the Cheesewring a prophet - by whom an Archdruid is meant - who lived there received him, seated in the stone chair, and offered him to drink out of his golden goblet, and if there were as many as fifty hunters approach, each drank, and the goblet was not emptied. Now on this day of the boar hunt one of those hunting vowed that he would drink the cup dry. So he rode up to the rocks, and there saw the grey Druid holding out his cup. The hunter took the goblet and drank till he could drink no more, and he was so incensed at his failure that he dashed what remained of the wine in the Druid's face, and spurred his horse to ride away with the cup. But the steed plunged over the rocks and fell with his rider, who broke his neck, and as he still clutched the cup he was buried with it.
The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, 'Book of Cornwall' (1899) p107-8.
You will note that the golden cup itself was unearthed much earlier. So any romantic notions that the story preceded the cup's discovery are unfortunately on shaky ground. There are variations of the story from other British sites, and it is also common in Scandinavia. Mr Grinsell notes that B-G's "story seems unsupported by any other published source prior to his own. One suspects that he was unable to resist the chance for a good story offered by the find of the gold cup [a Bronze Age cup was found at the barrow in 1837], combined with his own immense erudition." (see Grinsell's 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain' (1976)).
There seem to be two dates quoted everywhere for the discovery of the cup - 1818 and 1837. But it definitely seems to be 1837.
You can't really beat the King's collar-stud holder anecdote for a good story connected with the Rillaton barrow ( the cup was claimed as Duchy Treasure Trove to William IV and remained in the royal household until King George V died - he kept it on his dressing table).
Leslie Grinsell visited the site and spoke to some boys who lived nearby - they said they knew the barrow as 'King Arthur's Grave' (this from his 1936 'Ancient Burial Mounds of England).