The Lizard is a Cornish peninsular, ending in the southernmost part of mainland Britain – Lizard Point. The peninsular proper stretches south from the A394 between Helston and Falmouth, but for the purposes of this brief tour, we’ll concentrate on the area south of a rough E-W line along the Helford River to Helston. We’ll visit several prehistoric sites, and mention some other sites that may be of interest. Our journey however starts just north of this line, a short distance from Gweek, a small village that lies on the river. Gweek is famous for its Seal Sanctuary, signposted from the major junction by the river. To begin our journey, take the minor road heading directly north from the village, from opposite the local pub the Gweek Arms, to Tolvan Cross.
The Tolvan Stone (SW706277)
This unique granite menhir stands in the back garden of a cottage at Tolvan Cross, and is over 7 foot tall. The stone is spectacularly close to the wall of the cottage (mere inches!), and permission must be sought to view the stone from the cottage owners. I’m told they’re friendly toward visitors, but on the few occasions I’ve personally been there no-one has been home. Towards the base of the stone, a large round hole measures 17 inches in diameter. This was used in fertility rites – the couple wanting a baby had to pass through the hole, or it could have been used for healing purposes.
In 1862, JT Blight in a journal for the Royal Institute of Cornwall described it thus: ”formerly a conspicuous object by the way-side. In the past 12 or 14 years a house has been built betwixt it and the road. It now forms part of a garden hedge“. Blight also wrote of a low barrow about 20 yards in diameter in a field adjoining the stone. Beside this was a cist which he referred to as a cradle used to place children in after they had been passed through the Tolvan. The site of the barrow is also Scheduled, and can just be made out as a slight rise in ground level in the field to the NE of the crossroads.
Slightly further north, and to the west is the Merther Euny Holy Well (a Cornish Cross marks the footpath to the well), but on this occasion we’ll return south to Gweek, and continue on to Mawgan-in-Meneage.
Mawgan Cross (SW707248)
An inscribed stone on the village green at Mawgan in Meneage on the Lizard, standing at just under 7 feet high, this granite stone is placed on an ancient boundary line. The inscription is in Latin, and reads `CNEGUMI FILI GENAIUS’ which translates as `(the stone) of Cnegumus, son of Genaius’. The style of the lettering and the phrasing of the inscription have been considered to indicate a seventh-tenth century date. Above the inscription is a row of three incised stylised letters, written across the face and arranged one above the other. The upper and lower letters are versions of the religiously symbolic Greek letters ‘Alpha’ and ‘Omega’ respectively. The central letter is the letter ‘M’, which has been considered to represent ‘Maria’. The upper end-face of the memorial stone bears a square-section mortice to receive a missing cross head. Early Christian memorial stones were free-standing slabs lacking a distinct or separate carved head. The insertion of the mortice for the head on this slab reflects a later adaptation of the stone for a wayside cross. (Extracted from English Heritage’s Record of Scheduled Monuments)
Just east of Mawgan is an area investigated by Channel 4′s Time Team, the twin settlements of Gear and Caervallack. But we’ll head SW toward Garras then SE on the B3293.
Halligye Fogou (SW714239)
This fogou sits within a ‘Round’ in the Trelowarren Estate, and is home to hibernating bats. As such, access is restricted between October and May, and the site may now only be visisted between June and September. There is a good description of the Round and Fogou in English Heritage’s Record of Scheduled Monuments.
Driving past the Trelowarren Estate signs, after a mile or so we come to the Goonhilly Earth Station/BT Goonhilly, recognised by the enormous satellite dishes on the site. Just past this is a sign ‘National Nature Reserve’. Turn right and park in the small car park here. Walk from the car park via the pathway, turning right at the junction. Follow the path across to the fence of the compound. Turn left, and keep the fence on your right. The path swings round to the right, then round to the left again. After a short distance, the Dry Tree menhir can be seen on the right. Watch out for adders in season, apparently!
Dry Tree Menhir (SW725211)
This stone was re-erected in the 20th century, having been removed during the war when this area was part of RAF Dry Tree Station, one of a chain of secret radar stations built along Britain’s coast to provide early warning of an aerial attack. There is a barrow here too, just further on from the menhir, topped by an OS triangulation pillar! The menhir itself gives ample opportunities for comparative photographs – a standing stone with a massive satellite dish in the background!
Back onto the B3293 and continuing SE, those with a fondness for minor lumps and bumps can take the first turn on the left at Traboe Cross to see the Traboe Barrows. These have recently been the subject of a site cleanup by LAN (Lizard Ancient Sites Network). I may have been looking in the wrong place, but there wasn’t much to see on my recent visit.
Continuing down the B3293, after passing a couple of farm houses a garage appears on the right. Turn right after this garage (Zoar Garage) and park immediately. Walk along the lane until you reach the open ground on the right. Tucked away behind the garage is the first of three sites that may be related to the legend of St Keverne and St Just.
The gist of the legend is that St Just was visiting St Keverne, and enjoying the hospitality, having been given a fine chalice to drink from. When he left to make his way back to Penwith, St Keverne noticed the chalice was missing. This angered him, so he gave chase, picking up some boulders on his way. Seeing St Just, he called, and threw a stone, which landed close. St Just dropped the chalice and ran, whilst St Keverne threw two more stones after him before discarding the rest. We’ll visit the sites in reverse order:
The Three Brothers of Grugwith (SW761198)
This site is somewhat enigmatic – even the name is uncertain: Gugrith, Grugoth, Grugith, Crugith are all alternative names for this cist site that may be a collapsed dolmen, or may even be natural. It can be difficult to reach when the gorse and heather is in growth, and this is another site where adders may be found, so watch your footing! Telephone wires run overhead near the stones.
As far as the legend is concerned, are these the stones that St Keverne threw, or are they the ones he discarded after retrieving his chalice?
Continuing toward St Keverne, a cross roads has a pull in on the left. Park here and walk up the lane to the left.
Crousa Common Stones (SW776200)
These stones are in the field on the left. The entrance to the field is in the NE corner of the field. There are usually four horses in the field. They can be very friendly/curious – I had two nuzzling my shoulders all the way to the stones on my last visit. Two stones, one standing, one fallen, about 15 feet apart, close to telephone wires again. What is it with telephone/electricity companies running wires close to prehistoric sites?
And the legend connection – were these the stones thrown after the departing St Just?
Leaving the field the way you came, and returning to the car, you pass a lane on the left. This lane is the next destination. Follow the lane for about 3/4 of a mile, to a sharp righthand bend. There is just room to briefly pull off the road here to follow a footpath to the left.
Tremenhere Menhir (SW778210)
This 10 feet high stone stood surrounded by thick deep mud on my recent visit, but provides totally different profiles dependent upon the angle it’s viewed from. Again, three or four horses often occupy the field, but these ones seemed content to leave me alone when last visited.
Was this the stone that convinced St Just to drop the chalice?
Our brief tour ends here, but Roskilly’s Farm is not too far away to indulge in an ice cream or other refreshments.
In addition to the above sites, the coastline of the Lizard area is blessed with a multitude of cliff castles and forts, and the major area of downs around Goonhilly is scattered with tumuli, barrows and settlement remains. But beware, as several of the ‘barrows’ are disguised buildings left over from WWII.
A Google map of the sites listed above is available.