Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Environment World News

Visiting a remote stone circle in midwinter | By Alex Pearce-Broomhead

Upon my arrival, the sun is setting and casting a low light in the sky. The winter landscape of the heath appears desolate, but the hawthorn bushes are adorned with lichen and bright red berries, resembling festive decorations.

Penwith is a rugged and ancient region known for its dense growth of bracken and bramble. Primarily used for agriculture and heathland, it is exposed to strong winds. In a secluded location within Penwith stands Boscawen-Un, a monument constructed between 2500BC and 1500BC. It features a circle of 19 upright stones, one of which is unique for its white quartz composition. The central stone, which leans slightly, bears engravings of two axe heads at its base. These engravings are only fully visible during the sunrise on the summer solstice. Near the entrance of Boscawen-Un, there are also a few horizontal slabs that are believed to be part of a burial chamber.

A quartz-rich stone at the Boscawen-Un stone circle in Penwith, west Cornwall.

The true purpose of Boscawen-Un is unknown, but it is believed to have been used for ceremonial and ritual purposes. Even in modern times, offerings such as flowers, letters, and hair are found placed in holes in the quartz stones, representing hopes and prayers. Some suggest that the circle may have had connections to the moon, with the number of stones corresponding to the metonic cycle, a calendar that aligns the moon’s phases every 19 years. During the Bronze Age, quartz was considered sacred due to its reflective properties under the moon’s light.

Whether due to its historical value, its sense of mystery, or the way it connects the landscape, this place still holds a certain enchantment, further enhanced around the time of the solstice.

We have idealized the concept of the solstice. We often view the middle of winter as a time for contemplation and tranquility, or as a time for merriment, but research has shown that our predecessors also indulged in feasting during the winter solstice. However, we must remember that winter was also a time of fear. The possibility of succumbing to harsh weather conditions or lack of resources was a very real threat, so their rituals and offerings of animals or crops may have been efforts to safeguard themselves during the darkest time of the year.

As the day turns to night, I observe the shadows growing longer until they completely encompass the circle. The nearby West Penwith is recognized as an international dark-sky park, and on a cloudless evening, this ancient monument is lit up by the starry sky. Above, Ursa Major and Sirius become visible; the deities of old have gathered to oversee the group of granite below.

Source: theguardian.com