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Continuing a series in which we look at Cornish Stone Circles, Tregeseal in West Penwith is next on our list. The circle at Tregeseal has been mentioned several times here on the Journal already, almost exclusively to report on damage to the stones or surrounding monuments.

The stone circle at Tregeseal now stands alone on the gentle slopes of Truthwall Common to the south of Carn Kenidjack about a mile from the town of St Just, but originally it was part of a ritual complex comprising two and possibly three circles in a roughly east-west alignment.

Tregeseal, looking NW, Carn Kenidjack on the horizon. © AlanS.

Sadly, damage and desecration seems to be a recurring theme with this circle, as now only the single easterly circle remains, but there was a second (and possibly a third) in the past. Of the second circle, only a single stone remains, and that is included within a ‘Cornish Hedge’ field boundary to the west. But in the past, the second or West circle was likened to Castlerigg in Cumbria, due to the fact that there was an assortment of stones forming a small area adjacent to the circle on the SW. This can plainly be seen in a plan in the Victoria County History, dated 1902.

1902 Plan of Tregeseal, from the Victoria County History

The third circle is only detectable now through aerial photos at certain times of the year. The surviving circle has undergone extensive repair and restoration over the years, and now consists of 19 stones where once it is thought there were at least 21.

Tregeseal, looking NW. © AlanS

Dr Borlase mentions the circles in his MS. Parochial Memoirs (1738):

‘On Tregaseal-downs are two circles of stones placed on end, standing east and west of each other. In the eastern, 17 stones are still standing, two prostrate, one broken off. Diameter, 23 paces. In the western, 10 standing, four prostrate, about 26 paces diameter, called Tregaseal Dancing Stones.’

In 2004, a planned gorse fire got out of control and many of the stones were blackened, damaging the lichen thereon.

Tregeseal in 2004, showing extent of gorse fire. © AlanS.

More recently, a controversial scheme to ‘manage’ the open access moor has seen fences erected, and long-horn cattle free to roam amongst the stones, several of which are now loose. So more restoration work will doubtless be required in the near future.

Longhorns within the circle.

The name ‘Dancing Stones’, as used in the Borlase quote above, refers to the common legend that the stones were young girls found dancing on the Sabbath, and thus turned to stone for all eternity for their sins. Although there are barrows and a line of holed stones nearby on the moors to the east, there is no surviving sign of an outlier stone here. Such outliers are often referred to as the musicians at the dance (cf. The Blind Fiddler at Boscawen-Un, the Pipers at the Merry Maidens and also the Hurlers complex on Bodmin)


October 2011

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