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In the first of a short series in which we intend to highlight several Cornish Stone Circles, we start in deepest West Penwith with Boscawen-ûn.
Boscawen-ûn is a Bronze age stone circle in St Buryan, some 4.5 miles from Penzance. Boscawen-ûn is a Cornish name, containing the syllables bod (farmstead) and scawen (old tree). The suffix -ûn denotes an adjacent pasture. Therefore the name translates as the ‘pasture of the farmstead by the old tree’.
It is considered to be one of Cornwall’s most popular prehistoric ceremonial centres as well as one of extreme aesthetic beauty. It lies beneath the southern slopes of Creeg Tol. Several years ago, the circle was almost totally obscured by gorse and bracken which had got out of control, but the site is now maintained by the good people at CASPN for everyone to enjoy.
To visit the site for the first time is a journey of discovery. There are two main access routes, from the East via the farm track to Boscawenoon Farm and from the A30 to the North via Creeg Tol. On both routes, the circle is largely hidden from view as it now sits within a gorse covered circular bank, although glimpses can be seen from Creeg Tol if you know where to look!
Up until 1862 the circle was disected by a hedge until the landowner, Miss Elizabeth Carne, in an early example of archaeological conservation had it removed, replaced some fallen stones and built the enclosing hedge wall that can still be seen today.
The circle consists of 19 upright stones in an elliptical pattern roughly 25×22 metres, with another stone with a pronounced lean just south of the centre. This stone leans towards the north-east sector of the circle where an arrangement of stones may represent an earlier, possibly contemporary cairn or cist. There is a west-facing gap in the circle, which may have formed an entrance. Most of the stones are of local granite, but one in the WSW is made of quartz which feels quite cold to the touch, even in the summer sun.
The Victoria County History states:
The very first reference to this circle that we find is in a Welsh triad, quoted by the Rev. John Williams ab Ithel. It runs as follows :
The three principal Gorsedds of the Isle of Britain :
the Gorsedd of Meriw hill ;
the Gorsedd of Beiscawen ;
and the Gorsedd of Bryn Gwyddon.
This the author quotes as among the ‘Triads of the Bards the Triads of Privilege and Usage,’ from the book of Llywelyn Sion. Sion was born about 1516 and died about one hundred years later ; he had access to the Welsh MSS. of the earl of Pembroke, stored in Raglan Castle, which were destroyed during the wars of the Commonwealth, and he is supposed to have compiled his book from these. There is no certainty that he did not compose the triad himself, but its topographical character makes this unlikely, and without doubt this reference to Boscawen-un is not later than the sixteenth century, probably much earlier. Gorsedd means ‘a great seat,’ or ‘a session,’ such as is held by the bards before an eisteddfod to declare it open, and the use of the word here implies that Boscawen-un was a traditional meeting place for secular or religious ceremonies, perhaps both.
Certainly the circle is still an important spiritual meeting place for local Pagan groups and ritual offerings are often placed here beneath the leaning stone.
Archeoastronomers, Dowsers and Ley-Hunters all have an interest in this site, and an internet search on these subjects will prove fruitful for those interested in these areas.