Most everyone is aware of England’s usual prehistoric suspects, Stonehenge and Avebury. And yes, they are certainly majestic (if you don’t mind the tour groups and flash photography). But there is something special about the lesser known monoliths that can be found off the beaten path.
Southern England’s most impressive, less travelled prehistoric sites are undoubtedly those found in the antique landscape of Cornwall. And the Merry Maidens neolithic stone circle is right up there with the finest.
Sure, the stones are no where near as large as Stonehenge or Avebury, and there isn’t a fridge magnet in sight. But the Merry Maidens does boast its very own bus stop (called simply ‘The Merry Maidens”), served by the number 1 bus from Penzance. Which means it is accessible for those without cars, and yet inaccessible enough to escape the seething hordes drawn by its larger easterly counterparts, even at the height of Cornwall’s bustling tourist season.
The local legend is that the monoliths were formed when 19 young maidens were turned to stone for dancing on a Sunday. The site is also known as Dans Maen (or the butchered version, “Dawns Men”) from the Cornish term for “Stone Dance.”
Yet the Merry Maidens site also feels… well, merry. Even for those disinclined to neo-paganism or spiritual healing, a sunny summer evening spent amongst these 19 happy ladies feels somehow restorative, like good things went on here in distant antiquity and continue to do so today. While Stonehenge inspires a sense of sublime awe, the Merry Maidens, in their modest, simple way, seem to be inviting you to join in a dance that’s been going on since before history began.
Know Before You Go
The Merry Maidens bus stop is directly next to the site. There is also a car park and a number of footpaths. Down the road is an ancient grave; it is well sign-posted and well worth a visit. There are also various standing stones and ancient Celtic crosses in the area, all marked on OS maps.