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A guest article by Myghal Map Serpren

“Long, long ago, stones were alive. They spoke and delivered judgments, distinguishing the rightful king from the usurper, the honest man from the thief. They made men, strong and true; women, loving and fruitful. Once upon a time stones behaved just like mortals; they ate; walked down to the nearest river to drink; grew tall and strong; they even reproduced their kind! Now they do none of these things; they are inert, lifeless, dead; indeed “stone dead” has passed into a proverb.”

T.G.F. Dexter Ph.D., B.A., B.Sc. ‘The Sacred Stone – Origins of Stone Worship in Cornwall’ 1932

One of these mysterious standing stones, Boswens Menhir, in West Penwith is the mute ‘star’ of Cornish filmmaker Mark Jenkin’s movie ‘Enys Men’, the experimental Cornish folk production which premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim and which has subsequently been seen in packed cinemas elsewhere.

Mark knows a thing or two about Cornwall. He was born there and understands the significance of the ancient sites.

‘Enys Men’ which translates into English as ‘Stone Island’ from Kernewek, the autochthonous Brythonic Celtic tongue of Cornwall, has most certainly highlighted many things, amongst them the fact that these ancient sites remain an important part of indigenous Cornish life and that the Cornish language is far more common than many wish to believe.

In Cornwall is to be found one of the most intensive prehistoric landscapes on the island of Britain. There are probably more ancient sites here than almost anywhere else in Europe and a vast number of them are so aged that they predate the Egyptian pyramids.

Furthermore, such ancient sites including the many menhirs, are very much cared for, respected and even worshipped, particularly by Cornwall’s growing numbers of Pagans, with those who follow this path forming the Duchy’s third largest faith community.

Penwith, the district of Cornwall which has so many archaeological riches, is fortunate enough to have the services of the Cornwall Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN / RGHL) whose members keep a caring watch over the various monuments and structures, reporting on them and occasionally carrying out valuable clearances.

Together with many other such relics, the Boswens Menhir has a character of its own. Situated on the northern hillside of Dry Carn, this long stone was probably erected in the Bronze Age.

The name ‘menhir’ is again a Cornish language word, a word common in the other Brythonic Celtic tongues translating to English as ‘Long Stone’ (‘men’ being ‘stone’, ‘hir’ being ‘long’).

The place name ‘Boswens’ was first recorded as ‘Boswyns’ in 1329, Cornish meaning ‘windy dwelling’. ‘Dry Carn’ was recorded as ‘Tricarn’ in around 1300, literally ‘three cairns’ from the Cornish ‘try carn’.

The moor at Boswens Croft also contains a barrow and remains of medieval field strips.

The menhir in question stands some 2.7 metres (nine feet) high above ground and extends to an unknown depth below ground, and until more recent times, it protruded from a small cairn of stones of which vague hints remain. The cairn was certainly visible when Dr William Borlase, that great antiquary, geologist and naturalist visited the site 250 years ago and wrote about it.

It has been said that Boswens Menhir strongly resembles the shape of a woman dressed in a long robe and hood, but what really adds to the air of mystery is that the stone’s shape alters quite dramatically when seen from differing viewpoints. It is almost as though the hard rock is malleable and changes its form.

Myth has it that animals fear approaching the stone and this is hardly surprising in that this rather eerie monolith has stared across the landscape for 4,000 years, perhaps staring at other ancient sites at Tregeseal Stone Circle and Chun Quoit which are visible from the site.

A further strange and currently unexplained property of this stone can be seen on the rare occasion when snow settles leaving clear a circle of ground around the menhir roughly the extent of the former cairn.

Clooties are a common sight at Cornwall’s many sacred wells and springs although perhaps rather sadly, many of these are not biodegradable. It is also common to see votive offerings at menhirs and cromlechs and they are often found at Boswens comprising heather placed into a fissure in the monolith.

Pagan and Druidic ceremonies are very common at these ancient sites together with seekers of earth energies and dowsers, as well as those who merely visit to view them and absorb the atmosphere and perhaps pay homage.

In 2014, when the cromlech at Carwynnen Quoit on the Pendarves Estate near Camborne in west Cornwall was skilfully restored by The Sustainable Trust to its 5,000-year-old glorious completeness, literally hundreds of volunteering people were involved with both the restoration of this portal dolmen and celebrating its ‘reopening’ day and the return of its capstone to its home, as queues of cars and crowds blocked the roads and loud cheering and clapping was heard at the return to life of ‘The Giant’s Quoit’.

Perhaps life is returning to these granite monoliths erected millennia ago and that they are not ‘stone dead’ as asserted by Dr. Dexter?


  • The Sacred Stone – The Origins Of Stone Worship In Cornwall – T.F.G. Dexter Ph.D., B.A., B.Sc., Ne Knowledge Press, Perranporth, Cornwall 1932; reprinted Oakmagic Publications, Penzance 1998
  • The Principal Antiquities Of The Land’s End – Professor Charles Thomas M.A., F.S.A., P.A.S. Pool M.A., F.S.A., Craig Weatherhill, Cornwall Archaeological Society 1954; 16th Edition reprinted 1980
  • Placenames in Cornwall and Scilly – Craig Weatherhill, Wessex Books in association with Westcountry Books, Launceston, Cornwall 2005
  • Cornovia – Ancient Sites of Cornwall & Scilly 4000 BC – 1000 AD – Craig Weatherhill, Halsgrove, Wellington, Somerset 2009
  • Cornwall Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) Roesweyth Gwith Hen Leow Kernewek – Lelant Downs, Hayle, Cornwall
  • The Giant’s Quoit, Carwynnen, Camborne – The Sustainable Trust
  • Agan Tavas – The Society for the promotion of the use and study of the Cornish language – Portreath, Cornwall


March 2023

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