There are places in the UK where you feel like you’ve stepped back hundreds, or even thousands of years. We’ve just returned from one of these places. Bodmin Moor in Cornwall is one of the spookiest, history-drenched places I have ever visited.
The edges of Bodmin Moor are webbed with narrow one-lane roads lined by tall hedges. The few breaks in the hedges show glimpses of farms and a rugged barren landscape. During our first experience on one of these tracks Richard was convinced we were heading up someone private drive but the SatNav insisted it was an “unnamed road.” Sure enough, we did eventually arrive at our destination, a gypsy caravan in a place called “Lost Meadow.”
Our host mumbled genially but unintelligibly as he guided us around. Vine and moss-coated tree branches reached from the edges of the forest over the meadow. The woods were so thick that the trail and the creek were both covered by a canopy of trees.
Our 100-year-old restored caravan was detailed and gorgeous, plus we had a solar powered outdoor kitchen and a chiminea. The shed housing the toilets and shower was a bit of a hike from the caravan, but with all the Cornish tea* we consumed, the exercise was not necessarily bad thing. (To tell the truth, I eventually stopped drinking liquids past 7pm once I discovered that walking the trail with a torch** at night was embarrassingly scary. Even so, during the morning hike to the shed I did heartily wish I'd kept up with my Kegels.)
*Cornish tea is part of a secret plot to get tourists so fat they can’t leave. It’s tea served with scones, jam and clotted cream. I believe Cornish ice cream is in on it as well.
**Torch is British for flashlight
In keeping with Galloway tradition, it rained or drizzled for almost our entire holiday. This is not entirely surprising considering it rains about 180 days a year on the moor and has an average humidity of 86%.
The rain did not slow our exploration of the area. Walking on the moors as the ancient standing stones of the Hurlers gradually appeared out of the mist was pretty incredible.
The Hurlers are a set of three stone circles from the later Neolithic and Bronze Age. There are also two standing stones called the Pipers, also know as the gateway. A local Cornishman told us the folklore surrounding the stones. Three groups of men were playing an ancient game called hurlers, while being entertained by two bagpipers when they were all turned to stone. In truth, no one really knows the purpose of the Hurlers in the Bronze age except that they probably had some ritual significance. More recently, we do know they were used by cows as scratching posts, one the reasons that not all the stones are still standing.
There are cows, ewes and horses all over the moor, and there has been since about 2500 BC when the area was settled. There are ewes and horses meandering all around the Hurlers and our only traffic jam was caused by a group of sheep crossing the road. We stopped once to take some photos of horses wandering on the moor near the road. Many of the horses were friendly and curious and it was all very magical until one turned it’s backside to me. Having some experience with horses I quickly retreated. Shortly afterwards the beast kicked both hind legs into the spot I had just vacated. We also came across some Highland cows, but wisely carried on driving.
The second day we went to the Hurlers the driving rain was occasionally interrupted by blue skies and sunshine, giving us a nice view of the Cheesewring, a granite tor on Stowe's Hill. These natural formations look like precariously balanced piles of flat stones but were actually formed by wind erosion.
Bodmin Moor is peppered with historical sites for those brave enough to tackle the narrow roads. All the places we explored, we had pretty much to ourselves. We stopped in at Trethevy Quoit, a Neolithic dolmen burial chamber and King Doniert's Stone, 9th century remains of a carved Celtic cross.
Besides the moors we found plenty of interesting places in Cornwall, including a domed rainforest, an underwater throne and a museum of magic… but those stories are for another day.