The Pipers are two stones in adjoining fields, just south of Boleigh Farm in West Penwith, Cornwall.

The Pipers, © Tim Clark

They are considered as ‘outliers’ for the Merry Maidens circle, associated by the ‘standard’ legend of dancers and musicians petrified for dancing on the Sabbath.

Extract from Cornwall Sheet LXXVIII.NE & SE, Surveyed: 1876, Published: 1887

First recorded by William Hals (1655-1737) as “two admirable great stones in perpendicular manner”, the northeastern stone developed a dramatic lean at some unknown period prior to 1865. The stone measures just over five metres high from base to tip.

The southwestern stone, 80 metres away in the next field is more upright, and at 4.7 metres tall is noted as ‘the tallest surviving menhir in Cornwall’ in the HER. This discrepancy is due to the slant of the northeastern stone, which while at over 5 metres is the longer, it is shorter from ground to tip.

Use of stones to commemorate Iron Age tribal leaders and kings (such as the Men Scryfa), and their connection with personified divinities in earlier times, strengthened beliefs that the stones themselves were the petrified remains of human beings – beliefs later used by Christian preachers to frighten their rural flock from attending, or organising, ceremonies at megalithic monuments.

As well as the ‘petrified musicians’ tale, another local story recounts how there was a great and bloody battle at Boleigh. The dead from the battle were subsequently buried in a long trench close by, the two massive long stones representing the two chieftains in front of their armies – the Cornish King Howel and the victorious Anglo-Saxon King Aethelstan.

No associated burials have yet been found.