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My mother and I travelled to St. Ives for a long weekend in December. We met a woman who worked in our hotel who agreed to show us some of the Neolithic sites around Cornwall in her car. First we visited Lanyon Quiot situated just off the road in a deserted hilly landscape. The original stone monument was destroyed in a storm in 1815 and was subsequently re-erected. It was difficult not to feel slightly wrong- footed. The idea of reconstructing a spiritual monument seems paradoxical to me. I was annoyed that I did not know which stones were there originally but then confused as to whether that even mattered. We took some pictures and left.

Our second destination, Men-an-Tol was quite a walk from the road, down a muddy path. The land was green and the sky was grey. On our way we met a boy from Holland. He had, he said, been travelling around England in his car looking at Neolithic sites. We suspected he had been sleeping in the car too; he looked thin and dirty. Now a party of four we arrived at Men-an-Tol. Locally known as “Crick Stone”, the site contains three large stones aligned precisely with the sun’s passage from East to West. The middle stone is hollowed into a ring shape and flanked either side by standing stones. Famously Men-an-Tol was used for healing. Our guide said she had used the stones to help her conceive a child. Barren women or sick children were to pass through the ring and they would be healed. If affected with rheumatism a pilgrimage would be made to Men-an-Tol in May. It was advised that the infirm crawl on all fours around these stones from East to West. If your children suffer and are weak-backed, parents should carry them around. “To work the charm properly there must be two people, one of each sex who stands on each side of the stone. The child, if a male, must be passed from the woman to the man and vice versa. Always from left of the one and to the right of the other.” [Courtney 1809] We stood self-consciously with the stones for a while.

Next we visited Madron Well. On walking to the well the path was surrounded by bare branches covered in silver lichens, a sign of air purity. The walk was fraught. The tiny muddy path was overcrowded with dog walkers and tourists. We came to a tree that stood in the middle of a shallow pool. It was covered in rags and ribbons that were torn and muddy. The tree is called a Cloutie, and is traditionally used for healing. The ailing tie a rag or ribbon on to the tree; as the rag degrades, health restores. Having no ribbon or rag on me I carried on down the path. A short way further along the path were the remains of Madron Chapel.

Our final visit was to the Merry Maidens Stone Circle. As we drove the sun was beginning to set. It was a silent place. There are nineteen stones stood in a large ring on top of a hill. It is said that this was a ceremonial site, and the immediate area is littered with archaeological evidence that it was used for burial and rituals. The name derives from the legend that each of the stones was once a dancing maiden that was turned to stone, although this is thought to be a rumour spread by Christians to deter Pagans from using the site. I trudged around the circle. We watched the sunset.