The Merry Maidens is a stone circle close to St Buryan. The circle dates from the late Neolithic Period or early Bronze Age. This makes the circle about 4,000 years old! The surrounding area of West Penwith has lots of evidence of Neolithic activity. It is home to a number of other stone circles as well as Celtic crosses, burial chambers and ancient wells.
The Merry Maidens circle is 24 meters in diameter and perfectly round. There are 19 stones making up the circle with the stones placed 3 to 4 meters apart. The stones have levelled tops and flat sides facing the circle’s interior. There are also two other large stones nearby.
The actual stones are made of local granite and range in height from the smallest at 0.9 meters high to the tallest at 1.4 meters high. The stones are arranged in order of their height, gradually getting smaller as you move from southwest to northeast. It has been suggested that the circle was designed to mirror the waxing and waning of the moon throughout its cycle.
The circle looks very well preserved. Archaeologists have suggested this is probably because it was restored between 1862 and 1869. There have also been suggestions that the original circle possibly had 18, not 19 stones. It is also possible that not all of the stones are original and some of the old stones might have been moved to give the circle its perfect appearance.
Local legend has it that the stones were once nineteen dancers from a wedding party. They were dancing in the field to the music from two pipers on a Saturday night. At midnight as Saturday turned into Sunday they continued dancing to the wild music. This was forbidden on Sundays and so they were turned into stone for their impropriety. The pipers were similarly punished, and they now stand as two nearby standing stones. This story sounds very similar to that surrounding another of Cornwall’s stone circles – the Hurlers on Bodmin Moor.
Visiting Merry Maidens Stone Circle
The Merry Maidens Stone Circle is in a field beside the B3315 road about (6 km) from Penzance. Use Postcode TR19 6BQ for your satnav. There is a small car parking area at the bottom of the field, this has room for about 4 cars. Access into the field is over a stile and once in the field, you’ll see the stone circle ahead of you.
There are no signs marking the site, so it is easy to miss. There are also no information boards. It is possible to get to the site by bus, the Penzance to Land’s End bus stops here.
OS Explorer 102 Map. The Explorer 102 Ordnance Survey Map covers this part of Cornwall. The map displays the area of Land’s End, Penzance, St Ives and the South West Coast Path. With this map, you also get a code for use on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The Explorer Map is available in both the standard paper version and the weatherproof ‘Active’ version.
Functions of Stone Circles
No written records were made in Neolithic times, so it’s only possible to make educated guesses about the use and function of stone circles (there are over 1000 all over the British Isles). It seems likely though that they were places for rituals and ceremonies.
For Neolithic people, observing the passage of the sun and moon may have played a part in the ceremony and ritual at places like this.
Merry Maidens Picture Gallery
The Merry Maidens stone circle is a beautiful and mysterious ancient site that is definitely worth a visit. I hope this guide has helped you to learn a little more about its history and legend, as well as giving you some practical information on how to find it. If you do decide to go and see it for yourself, I’m sure you’ll be enchanted by its magic.
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