On previous visits we’d just parked up in the lay-by and walked down the track to the stones, but today Men-an-Tol came at the end of our circular walk over the moors.
We approached down the path from Ding Dong mine, and all was well until we reached the dip at the bottom of the hill where all the accumulated rainwater runoff from the moors had collected into a swampy morass. Ellen was a bit perturbed about crossing the quagmire but with the famous last words of ‘Don’t worry I’m sure it’s not that deep’ I strode forward and plunged knee deep into sucking mud. Fortunately Ellen was able to extricate me from the bog whilst miraculously managing not to loose my wellingtons, and we gingerly picked our way through some tussocky areas just visible above the water.
After this it was all plain sailing on the rest of the walk. The stones are so small though they’re not really that noticeable from this direction until you get right up close to them, then seeming to magically appear from the moorland in front of you. We’ve got the place to ourselves, a rare occurrence, and it’s nice to rest in the sunshine by the diminutive stones. I’d forgotten how small they were, and despite lacking the grandeur of some of Penwith’s other sites, and if you wanted to be unkind, perhaps looking a bit like a garden feature (although this is exactly the sort of thing I’d give anything to have in my garden!), there is an indescribable something to this place, that grants it a magic all of its own.
I’m pleased to see no signs of cattle damage or erosion as I walk around the stones, although today I’m too tired and muddy to squeeze myself through the holed stone. Instead I bend down and look through the aperture, loving the perfectly smooth roundness of the holed stone as I run my hand around it. I know it was once supposed to be a stone circle, but it just seems to me so unlike any other monument of that type, I do wonder. Making the hole in the stone would have needed tremendous effort, and if the monument was once a circle with the holed stone as a just a perimeter stone set obliquely to the rest, why go to all that effort? I would have expected it to be more of a feature, perhaps a portal entrance or setting within the circle, or perhaps it was the case that the hole was made later in an orthostat, perhaps after the circle had fallen into disuse. It all just adds to the enigmatic mystery of this lovely place.
So after a good long ponder, we finally set off down the track which takes us back to the lane and the end of our walk, tired, happy, and with the prospect of a nice lunch in the Kings Arms at St Just ahead of us, exactly what a day out megalithing should be!
Not been here for fifteen years so was rather eager to see them again, plus I'd poo pooed the notion of crawling through the holed stone, even when an American tourist said in a southern drawl " have you crawled through it ? you have to crawl through it.
So far my daughter Phil had abstained from any old stoning, so I twisted the truth somewhat and told them if you crawl through it three times you get good luck or a wish comes true, we can all do with some of that, so it was with both my kids that we made the short/long walk to these stones.
Elation, we have the place to ourselves,but upon checking the footpath people were coming, quick get through it now, the kids looked at me and said "you first" so through I go, luckily I avoided the fairy dimension and came through safely on the other side. Eric wasn't so lucky so we had to spend three weeks rescuing him from the evil clutches of the wicked fairy queen, returning at the exact moment we'd left, which was nice.
The other people soon were upon us and they immediately got their dowsing rods out, soon they were detecting fag ends sweet wrappers and the odd inter dimensional portal, the kids ran round playing whilst I looked on. Then two dog walkers came through, and with more on the path behind us it was time to go. At least we don't have to worry about Scrofula or Rickets.
We return to the path and carry on south-westwards. Here we see the first people we've seen since getting off the bus – it's time to visit Men-an-Tol, where you rarely get a summer visit to yourself. We seldom come here for that very reason and today I almost take us past the stile before deciding to brave the contact with Other People. The other people in question turn out to be Germans – it's an internationally renowned site, this. When they leave, we have maybe ten minutes to ourselves before the next visitors and we leave them to enjoy it – the ones after that are probably five minutes behind on the path. So don't expect peace and quiet, but it's still an intriguing site. The famous holed stone and flankers are generally accepted as being part of a stone circle now, and other stones in the arc are readily visible.
A fantastic site, on a fantastic day, combined with two or three other sites on the moors. 2 - 3 hours walk in all but well worth it. Easy access to the stones from the small car park at the road side and then on to 9 maidens (via ding dong mine - interesting), mulfra quoit and Men Scryfa.
Ah. I had heard about it. Sang Men an Tol (Levellers classic) for many years and seen pictures of it. Everyone had told me its a dissapointment so I wasn't very hopeful. In Cornwall so I may as well...
And it was lovely. The sun was low, there was nobody else there, peaceful and calm and an easy 10 minute walk up the hill. Beautiful. You may as well go if youre down there anyway!
Oh, any guesses about those large stones used in the wall on the opposite side of the track on your way up? They just seemed too BIG and oddly positioned to be just wall stones. I like to speculate...
This is such an iconic site I just HAD to visit.
There is a small sign post pointing the way from the car park opposite the house. Park here and it's an easy 15 minute stroll up the path to the site. You will pass a couple of derelict farm buildings on your left and the stone stile into the field where Men-An-Tol lives is just a bit further - on your right. Men-An-Tol is only about 100 metres from the stile and easily seen. This is a small but wonderful site and I would highly recommend a visit. And yes - I did crawl through the hole - couldn't resist it!!
By the way, there is a (half?) scale reproduction of Men-An-Tol outside the Tourist Information Centre in St Just!!
Having read the Cornwall Archaeological report from 1993 last night, I'm more convinced that this was a circle at some point in the past. On previous visits, I'd not noticed the buried stones, and the approach path from the track has what could possibly be a fallen (and now semi-buried) outlier across it. To me, this only adds weight to the theories.
I first heard about this site when The Levellers wrote a song about it, so I always wanted to go here. Not at all disappointed. The gallery at the end of the footpath by the road had some good info and some fantastic paintings. I wish I had bought some. There is so much to see in this landscape, how can you be disappointed. Time to have a quick look at Nine Maidens before that storm arrives!
We visited on 24th June, parked in the layby and walked up to the site, after spending a while there in the sunshine we took a circular walk up to Men Scryfa, Nine Maidens (Boskednan) and Ding Dong Mine then back down to Men-an Tol. It was a beautiful walk and with time to linger took around 3 hours. There's a fantastic view of St Michael's Mount in the bay from the path between Nine Maidens and Ding Dong mine and a lovely clear babbling stream to dip your feet in and jump over on the way down between the mine and Men-an Tol.
We approached this site with eager anticipation having seen and read so much about it before. Ironically, this exposure meant that once we arrived at the site we were a little disappointed. Needless to say, it is a great site, and the surrounding landscape wonderful, but it didn't really have any surprises left to offer us. It was exactly as I'd expected it to be, nothing more, nothing less. We hung around for a while, and took the obligatory shots, then left as a dogwalker approached the site.
Despite it getting late and have to brave the aftermath of last nights torrential rain which resulted in mud baths and streams were footpaths should be, I just had to see Men-an-tol. It’s just one of those ‘must see’ sites that you’ve seen a million times in books and on postcards. It is actually signposted from the main track close to it, and it proved to be as strange and enigmatic as I expected. I can well believe that in the summer truckloads of people come to look at the site because this is one of the most famous ancient sites in England.
I had come up via Carn Galver and the Nine Maidens. I think it’s fair to say that the other way is probably the easier and more normal route, especially without a map. Men-an-Tol is actually signposted from the main Trevowhan to Madron road (at approx SW418347), and has a lay-by to accommodate about 4 cars.
We visited this on Sunday 9th Sept '02. It was very busy, a long line of visitors were streaming from Men-an-tol as we arrived we met two German tourists who joked about the stones as a fertility object and said we had to pass through several times, we then amazingly had the stones to ourselves for 15 mins. There has been a camp fire built here recently but the stones were in great shape.
I dunno what it is but don't they just make you feel Good to visit?
Great week in Cornwall wish I'd seen a Fougou though.
Visited on o foggy morning 30/8/02/. I'm sure it looked more impressive than on any picture I have seen. In my opinion this is definitely the remains of a stone circle. Climbed through the hole and I now feel invigorated.
Well, on my travels across the moors by night, I prefer the night!, the moors really do come to life!, I heartily recommend it! (if youve got the bottle!), called in at Men an Tol about 11.30pm, been here many times in the day, never really felt anything positive there!, probably due to the huge amount of tourists!, well different story this time, such a lovely welcoming energy there!, I sat a while, it was hot!, I'd just marched up the side of Carn Galva!!!...hehe!. Absolute silence all around really made it special. No wind, nothing!!, perfect calm!!, the night is truly the time to appreciate these sites, they do come alive!, sit a while and absorb your surroundings, be as one with everything!, not trying to sound too hippy-ish!!, but I'm sure you understand what I'm saying!, stayed a while but then strange animal like grunting sounds close by ruined the silence so I opted to carry on with my trekking!
Visited several sites during a magical holiday. Men-An-Tol was second or third that we visited in a compressed area littered with with megalithic structures. I think they had to plant stones because trees are few and far between in Cornwall.
At each site we visited we sacrificed jelly babies. Men-An-Tol was the site of one of our most barbarous executions.... A funeral pyre for a yellow jelly baby! Then we were off, tramping through the gorse to some iron age hill fort and a stone mushroom who's name escapes me just at present.
There is a BIG sky, a flock of Golden Plover circle overhead before landing in a nearby field to roost for the night. This is my first visit to the stones, expected them to be bigger, there is no way I am going to squeeze my healthy body through there!. i take a couple more photos and head off towards Ding Dong mine. The colours are amazing today, just what I needed after a few heavy weeks of work. The view from the mine into Mount's Bay is breathtaking, the sun catching the coast all the way down to Lizard Point. I head back, two others have now found the stones and others are on the way, I say hello and head back to the car to drive to Cape Cornwall to watch the sunset over the Scillies before heading for home contented.
So very gutted that I can't fit through this mysterious stone- will I ever be healed of this modern day grime? I think that this visit- beyond all expectations- will help. I think that I could sit here (and become another 1 for a 1011) for a long time-wind swept, megalithic contentment.
we arrived here after visiting some of the other sites in the area.
It was better than any of the pictures you see of it, it had a great calming effect, especially as we were there on Sept 11th this year, after hearing about all the trouble in the U.S.A. A lovely walk just a bit to breezy to get the scetch pad out.
A superb setting and very peaceful, but I didn't feel a great deal here. I guess all the emmets, including myself, have drained the living daylights out of it.
I too crawled through the holed stone, three times against the sun, and my back pain returned with a vengeance. I've had it ever since. Don't go expecting a cure, but if you're after a level head, it's a great place to get it.
I visited the stones in October expecting the worst. Fortunately the stones seem to be in a good condition and natural weathering should clear up the damage over the next few years. The surrounding vegetation has suffered really badly, but again given a few more years and all should be well again.
Joe Strummer's inspiration for the 101' ers ? Did he ever squat here ? Well sign-posted and certainly worth the short walk. We all scrambled through, inspired by an earlier visit to the seal sanctuary, Laura did her impression of a stranded seal with 'Guy-Fawking' of the legs and needed dragging through. Served her right though the muddy puddle was not avoided.
Should have done more homework, couldn't find the scribed stone, the bracken was too thick and the possible stones too numerous.
I first came here when I was really sad. Things had not been going my way, especially with my health. I was brought here by someone with incredible gift for healing and she often came to this site to assist her. We spent an afternoon and she worked on me. Apparantly the folklore says that if you go through the holed stone three times you will be healed. Well i don't know if that is true or not, but I do know that I felt better just being there. I did go through the holed stone three times and my friend did a lot of work on me that day. And yes it worked. I won't go into what my problems were, but one month later I was fine.
I've been back there many times since and I was so sad to hear that it was recently attacked. I visit many sacred sites on a regular basis, but this one will always hold a special place in my heart.
In the Tenement of Lanyon stand three Stones-erect on a triangular Plan. The shape, size, distance and bearing, will best be discerned from the plan and elevation of them (Plate XIV. Fig. I. and II.) The middle Stone (A) is thin and flat, fixed in the ground, on its edge, and in the middle has a large hole one foot two inches diameter, whence it is called the Men an Tol (in Cornish the holed Stone); on each side is a rude Pillar, about four foot high; and one of these Pillars (B) has a long Stone lying without it (C), like a cushion, or pillow, as if to kneel upon. This Monument as is plain from its structure, could be of no use, but to superstition. But to what particular superstitious Rite it was appropriated is uncertain, though not unworthy of a short enquiry.
[...] It is not improbable, but this holed Stone (consecrated, as by its structure and present uses it seems to have been) might have served several delusive purposes. I apprehend that it served for Libations, served to initiate, and dedicate Children to the Offices of Rock-Worship, by drawin gthem through this hole, and also to purify the Victim before it was sacrificed; and considering the many lucrative juggles of the Druids (which are confirmed by their Monuments) it is not wholly improbable, that some miraculous Restoration of health, might be promised to the people for themselves and children, upon proper pecuniary gratifications, provided that, at a certain season of the Moon, and whilst a Priest officiated at one of the Stones adjoining, with prayers adapted to the occasion, they would draw their infirm children through this hole.
It is not improbable, but this Stone might be also fo the oracular kind; all which may, in some measure, be confirmed by the present, though very simple, uses, to which it is applied by the common people.
When I was last at this Monument, in the year 1749, a very intelligent farmer of the neighbourhood assured me, that he had known many persons who had crept through this holed Stone for pains in their back and limbs; and that fanciful parents, at certain times of the year, do customarily draw their young Children through, in order to cure them of Rickets. He shewed me also two brass pins, carefully layed a-cross each other, on the top-edge of the holed Stone. This is the way of the Over-curious, even at this time; and by recurring to these Pins, and observing their direction to be the same, or different from what they left them in, or by their being lost or gone, they are informed of some material incident of Love or Fortune, which they could not know soon enough in a natural way, and immediately take such resolutions as their informations from these prophetical Stones suggest.
In a croft belonging to Lanyon farm, and about half a mile north of the town-place, there is a remarkable group of three stones, the centre one of which is called by antiquaries the Men-an-tol (holed stone), and by country folk the Crick-stone, from an old custom - not yet extinct - of "crameing" (crawling on all fours) nine times through the hole in the centre stone, going against the sun's course, for the cure of lumbago, sciatica, and other "cricks" and pains in the back. Young children were also put through it to ensure them healthy growth. [..] The notion is that going against the sun will backen a disease but in all other cases the sun's course must be followed.
This is actually from a letter from William Borlase to William Stukeley:
There being no other stones in this plain within some hundreds of yards, I imagine that these several stones were brought together and placed in such a mysterious manner in order to compose this efficacious (as the vulgar think) and salutiferous monument.
A farmer of the neighbourhood, then with me, assured me gravely that he had known many persons who had crept through this hole for pains in their back and limbs, but with what success he could not then recollect.
However, on looking attentively on a little wrinkle, in the top of the Men-an-tol he perceived 2 pins lying cross each other, by which we soon concluded that they were deposited there by some one under so much anxiety, that we thought it would be great pity any way to interfere and defeat his enquiries, and so left the pins as we found them.
From p59 of 'The family memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley' published 1883. The letter is from November 1749.
For what superstitious purpose this stone was used it is vain to conjecture. The only tradition connected therewith is that persons afflicted with the crick, or rheumatism, who crawl, or are drawn, through it, are cured by this operation. Hence it is called by the neighbouring villagers the "Crick-stone."
On page 19 of "The Land's End District: Its antiquities, natural history, natural phenomena and scenery" by Richard Edmonds (1862).
Online courtesy of Google Books.
[A village charmer or 'pellar' from a Cornish town] can only pass his charm onto a member of the alternate sex, and once passed, [it] cannot be recalled. The "alternate sex" belief is of course a widespread one: for instance, at the Men-an-Tol in Cornwall, where children are passed through the hole as a cure for certain ailments, a boy must be passed by a woman to a man, and a girl by a man to a woman.
Present-Day Charmers in Cornwall
Folklore, Vol. 64, No. 1. (Mar., 1953), pp. 304-305.
Passing now to the curious and enigmatical holed-stones so numerous in Cornwall, thirteen being enumerated by a local antiquary, Mr. Millett, of Bosavern, to whom I am much indebted, as known to him within the district already alluded to west of Penzance.
Both holes and stones differ greatly in shape and size, the holes varying from one not larger than a half-crown to the Men-an-tol, the dimensions of which are given by Borlase as 1 foot 2 inches in diameter, and the size of which will be better understood if I say that I crept through it with ease. Local superstition still ascribes a curative property to this stone through which people creep for rheumatism.
Another ailment for Men-An-Tol to fix - it's quite the panacea. From p 154 in
Notes on Some Cornish and Irish Pre-Historic Monuments.
Miss A. W. Buckland
The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 9. (1880), pp. 146-166.
At the Men-an-Tol there is supposed to be a guardian fairy or pixy who can make miraculous cures. And my mother knew of an actual case in which a changeling was put through the stone in order to get the real child back. It seems that evil pixies changed children, and that the pixy at the Men-an-Tol being good, could, in opposition, undo their work.
'The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries' p179, W Y Evans Wentz, 1911.
Mentioned in the wonderful novel The Little Country by Charles de Lint. I don't want to give anything away but it's set in Mousehole, Cornwall and contains lots of local folklore (and music and places and magic and...)
Holed stones have a long tradition of healing properties. At Men An Tol children were passed through the hole as an act of baptism and to seure good health during their lifetime. Engagements were sealed at new year by young people holing hands through the hole and for young women in particular it was considered to help in having easier childbirth and to cure infertility, as well as promote an abundance of crops and cattle.
From Ian Cooke's 'Antiquities of West Cornwall', 1990.
Men An Tol means 'stone of the hole' in Cornish - the stone's also been known as 'The Devil's Eye'. Holed stones are often thought to have special powers, especially for healing.
If scrofulous children are passed naked through the Men-an-tol three times, and then drawn on the grass three times against the sun, it is felt by the faithful that much has been done towards insuring a speedy cure. Even men and women who have been afflicted with spinal diseases, or who have suffered from scrofulous taint, have been drawn through this magic stone, which all declare still retains its ancient virtues.
Hunt also described how the holed stone could answer your questions:
"If 2 brass pins are carefully laid across each other on the top edge of the stone, any question put to the rock will be answered by the pins acquiring, through some unknown agency, a peculiar motion."
Unfortunately he didn't mention how to interpret the peculiar motion. You'll just have to give it a go.
The site as it is has obvious sexual / fertility symbolism - but maybe it wasn't always as we see it now: there is a lot of debate over whether the stones have been rearranged, were part of a circle, tomb or cairn. The Avening Burial Chamber had a porthole style entrance - maybe this was the same.
Tilley and Bennett's article describes the unusual 'solution basins' (rocks wiv big round holes in) that are a product of erosion in the West Penwith area, and the apparent relationship between rock outcrops (where these basins are) and nearby Neolithic sites. This excerpt suggests an origin for the holed Men-An-Tol stone:
The southwest face of the [holed] stone is virtually flat, while the northeast face has a distinctly bevelled edge. It has been variously suggested that these stones formed part of a circle here or are the remains of a chambered tomb. Neither explanation is very convincing. It would seem best to maintain that this monument is a distinctive stone setting associated with the Boskedan stone circle, which is sited on the skyline and visible from the Men-An-Tol stones on top of a hill 750m to the ENE. The overall axis of the Men-An-Tol stone alignment is NE-SW, the direction of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset.
The holed stone almost certainly rested originally in a horizontal position on the very top of a tor stack, with its flat southwest side forming the flat bottom of the basin while the bevelled northwest side was the uppermost surface holding water until the base eroded through. Thus, the Men-An-Tol holed stone, set upright, is a direct inversion of the original position of the stone in its natural state. A form that once held water has now become dry and transformed into a material metaphor for the setting and rising sun. This conceptual transformation is strengthened by the stone's alignment on the rising and setting sun at important times of the year.
The rocks nearest to the Men-An-Tol with solution basins of the requisite size and form occur on the southern end of Zennor Hill, 4.75km NE. Here, there is an extant example which has completely eroded through of slightly larger dimensions: 50-80cm in internal diameter and about 30cm thick. The overall alignment of the stones might thus also be making reference to the origin of the holed stone in the complex, a mnemonic statement.
Holed stones of the type used at Men-An-Tol and found on Zennor Hill are extremely rare. In almost all instances solution basins erode through the sides. We should also note that the main process of erosion effectively ceases when water can drain out of the basin. Large holed basins are therefore very special and almost certainly of great antiquity. The Men-An-Tol needs to be considered as a very special stone which has been curated in a uniquely meaningful way.
An Archaeology of Supernatural Places: The Case of West Penwith
Christopher Tilley; Wayne Bennett
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 7, No. 2. (Jun., 2001), pp. 335-362.
Reading my old, tattered and much-loved copy of the 'Reader's Digest Guide to Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain', I had to laugh... Men-an-Tol is described as the 'entry to a burial chamber'... ahh, bless...
Seriously - does anyone know of a site where a holed stone like this - which must have taken a phenomenal amount of work to create - is used just as a doorway?