Merry Maidens Stone Circle
Merry Maidens stone circle
NGR: SW 4327 2450
The Merry Maidens is one of the few ‘true’ stone circles in Cornwall, being perfectly circular; it comprises nineteen stones today but is thought to originally have consisted of just eighteen. Restoration works carried out in the middle of the 19th century replaced some of the stones incorrectly and altered the originally even spacing between the uprights. Individual stones would appear to have been carefully chosen for their shape and size. Their flat inner faces are arranged along the circumference of the circle, their tops are flat and level, and they are graded in size, the tallest stones lying in the south-west quadrant of the circle. Early reports of the site refer to traces of an earth bank, particularly noticeable around the south and west sides.
Another popular name for the stone circle is ‘Dans Maen’ which can be transaletd from the Cornish as the ‘dancing stones’. Both these names are commonly associated with Cornish stone circles and have inspired folk tales of dancing maidens turned to stone for merrymaking on the Sabbath. This could reflect long preserved memories of rituals carried out at the site, or more recent attempts by the Christian church to impose a particular morality on the local population and to deter them from surviving pagan practices.
There is some evidence for the existence of a second stone circle close by, although its exact location is unknown. From accounts by Dr Borlase it would have been of a similar size to the Merry Maidens, although by the 19th Century only seven remaining stones were to be seen, four of which were still upright. There are no traces of this site today.
The Merry Maidens is part of an extensive ceremonial landscape. A large Bronze Age barrow cemetery lies to the south-west of the circle, and excavations recovered traces of cremated human bones from several cists. Several urns were also found along with a stone spearhead. Beside the road to the west of the circle the disturbed remains of Tregiffian barrow consists of a possible Neolithic entrance grave that appears to have been reused and remodelled in the Bronze Age. A cup-marked stone was found incorporated into the chamber and this has been removed to the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro for safety. There are several standing stones in the nearby area, including two very large uprights known as the Pipers in a straight alignment with the circle to the north-east. Collectively these monuments seem to demonstrate a distinct south-west to north-east trend among the contemporary monuments. As a demonstration of the continuing fascination exerted by megalithic monuments on the popular imagination, one of two holed stones known in the area, now the gatepost to a field to the north, was recently known as a ’betrothal stone’ through which engaged couples held hands.
The Merry Maidens stone circle lies adjacent to the B3315 Newlyn to Treen road, and access is from a lay-by at the western corner of the field.
Barnatt, J, 1982. Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments. Turnstone Press Limited. ISBN 0 85500 129 1
Payne, R, 1999. The Romance of the Stones: Cornwall’s Pagan Past. Alexander Associates. ISBN 899526 66 8