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Merry Maidens Stone Circle

merry maidens stone circle

Myths & Magic of the Merry Maidens Stone Circle

Surrounded by wild Cornish countryside between lies one of Britain’s best preserved Bronze Age sites – the enchanting Merry Maidens stone circle. Get ready to step back 4000 years roaming this intriguing piece of ancient history!

Consisting of nineteen weathered standing stones encircling a flat central area, myths swirl about rituals, petrification of dancing girls and connections to other ancient landmarks dotted across from here.

Whether you’re already exploring magical west Cornwall or planning a trip, don’t miss your chance to uncover the secrets of the mystical Merry Maidens. Here’s everything you need visit this lesser-known gem.

merry maidens stone circle

Getting There

The Merry Maidens stone circle lies just over 1 mile inland from Porthcurno Bay near St Buryan village along a minor country lane. It sits halfway between Penzance and Land’s End making it possible to combine with other ancient sites across west Cornwall like Men-an-Tol, Chun Quoit or Lanyon Quoit.

Roadside parking around the site is very limited but St Buryan village offers public parking areas a 10 minute walk away.

Opening Times & Tickets

As an unstaffed ancient monument in open farmland, the Merry Maidens stone circle can be visited at your own pace year-round. In the summer, early mornings or late afternoons often coincide with fewer other visitors too for a more atmospheric experience.

Entry is completely free of charge. You’re able to wander right inside the circle – just be respectful not to touch or climb on stones as it’s a protected scheduled site. An honesty box is on site for donations towards upkeep.

the merry maidens

History & Theories

Constructed during Cornwall’s Bronze Age around 2500-2000BC, the Merry Maidens originally consisted of nineteen upright stones up to 4 feet high plus a large central pillar. Some now lean at jaunty angles!

Its purpose still remains unclear today – theories abound about ritual meeting points, pagan celebrations related to harvests and equinoxes or sacred feminine/masculine connections with the land.

Spookier tales speak of a human petrifying curse by either King Arthur or Lady Margaret turning a group of drunken maidens to stone forever for dancing on the Sabbath!

One prevailing theory suggests that the Merry Maidens stone circle served as a ritual site for ancient communities, possibly linked to agricultural practices or celestial observations. The alignment of the stones is believed to have astronomical significance, potentially marking important solar or lunar events such as solstices or equinoxes. The precision with which these stones were placed suggests a sophisticated understanding of celestial movements and their importance in the agricultural calendar.

Another theory proposes that the circle was used for ceremonial or religious purposes, serving as a gathering place for communal rituals, celebrations, or burials. The circle’s circular layout and the presence of an outlier stone may have symbolized concepts of unity, fertility, or spiritual connection with the land and cosmos. The site’s proximity to other ancient landmarks, such as burial mounds and standing stones, further supports the idea of its ritual significance within the landscape.

Legend and folklore also surround the Merry Maidens, adding layers of mystery and intrigue to its history. According to local legend, the stones are said to represent a group of maidens who were turned to stone as punishment for dancing on the Sabbath. Another tale tells of how the stones were once living women who were petrified for bathing naked on a Sunday. While these stories are likely embellishments created over centuries, they reflect the enduring fascination and reverence people have held for the site throughout history.

merry maidens cornwall

Archaeological excavations and studies have provided valuable insights into the history and construction of the Merry Maidens, yet many questions remain unanswered. The exact purpose and significance of the circle continue to elude definitive explanation, leaving room for speculation and interpretation.

Today, the Merry Maidens Stone Circle remains a popular destination for tourists, spiritual seekers, and those interested in Cornwall’s ancient past. Its atmospheric setting amidst the rolling hills and moors of West Cornwall continues to inspire awe and wonder, inviting visitors to contemplate the mysteries of the past and the enduring legacy of our ancestors. Whether viewed through the lens of archaeology, folklore, or spiritual belief, the Merry Maidens stand as a timeless reminder of humanity’s enduring connection to the land and the cosmos.

What to See & Do

Today visitors can freely wander inside the intriguing circle along earth pathways examining information panels detailing key theories and excavations here.

Take time to think about the amazing feat constructing such a monument would have involved without modern machinery. Count the stones – can you spot the nineteenth fallen one?

Top highlights include:

  • Reading the storyboards explaining site history and purpose
  • Gazing out from the centre of the atmospheric circle
  • Letting your mind contemplate rituals occurring here
  • Identifying outlier stones said to be pipers and a fiddler!
  • Snapping that perfect photo between the aged mossy pillars

Stone Circles Book

old stones

Old Stones: The Megalithic Sites of Britain and Ireland” by Andy Burnham explores the rich history and cultural significance of ancient megalithic sites, including the Merry Maidens Stone Circle. Through vivid descriptions and captivating imagery, Burnham delves into the mysteries and marvels of these enduring monuments, offering readers a fascinating journey through time.

Buy Now

Frequently Asked Questions

What facilities are available at the Merry Maidens? – The site does not have any facilities such as restrooms or visitor centres. It is a natural and historical site.

Can I bring my dog? – Yes, dogs are allowed at the Merry Maidens stone circle, but they must be kept on a lead at all times and owners are responsible for cleaning up after them.

Is the site wheelchair accessible? – While the site is outdoors and on relatively flat ground, it may not be fully accessible for wheelchair users due to uneven terrain and grassy areas.

Is there any signage or information available at the Merry Maidens? – There are informational signs at the site providing some historical context, but visitors may also want to research the site beforehand for a deeper understanding.

Can I touch or climb on the stones? – Visitors are discouraged from touching or climbing on the stones in order to preserve them for future generations.

merry maidens

Nearby Attractions

After your visit to the Merry Maidens Stone Circle, you should have a look at some of these nearby places too:

  • Chysauster Ancient Village – Explore the fascinating remains of this Iron Age village, including several stone round houses interconnected by passageways, occupied since Roman times near Gulval.
  • Zennor Quoit – This mysterious Neolithic monument consists of a huge capstone balanced atop rough stone pillars on moorland between Zennor and St Ives. Nearby are other ancient sites like Chun Quoit.
  • St Michael’s Mount – Catch a ferry or walk across the causeway at low tide to explore this tidal island topped with a medieval castle and church, linked to legends of giants, with stunning views across Mount’s Bay.
  • Minack Theatre – Watch an open-air performance etched into the dramatic clifftop backdrop overlooking the sea at this famous theatre near Porthcurno between April and September annually.
  • Mousehole Harbour – Walk the narrow lanes of this classic Cornish fishing village dotted with cafés and independent shops which lead down to the picturesque tiny protected harbour.
  • Trengwainton Garden – Dating from the 1820s, this National Trust garden near Madron contains exotic flowering plants and shrubs from across the globe, set amongst ponds, streams and wooded areas.
  • Levant Mine & Beam Engine – Go underground at this 19th century Cornish tin mine near St Just and discover the huge steam engine used to power what was once Europe’s deepest mine shaft.
  • Geevor Tin Mine – Take a guided tour into the depths of the largest preserved mine site in the UK, operational until 1990 but mined since ancient times. Surface buildings also explore Cornish history.

Intriguing and mystical, the beautifully preserved Merry Maidens stone circle near St Buryan opens a doorway right back to Cornwall’s Bronze Age inhabitants over 4000 years ago. Just beware the petrifying curse of the dancing maidens as you visit!

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