Men-an-Tol

Stone "Row" - Cornwall

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SW 42653 34950 (GPS 15min)
Visited August 1991/June 2000 No magnetic anomalies

The Men-an-Tol in its present form is a unique monument, there are no other holed stones in comparable alignments in the UK. The name is Cornish for "holed stone", although the individual holed stone is also known as the "Crick Stone" or the "Devil's Eye". 

The arrangement of stones that you see today is almost certainly not original, as late as 1754 William Borlase (1) drew a plan of the site showing the stones in a triangular formation. Recent investigations suggest that the monument may have originally been a stone circle, evidence was found for eleven stones from a projected nineteen to twenty. Even a cursory glance at the site shows a fallen stone near the western upright, two more a few metres to the west, and an area of small exposed stones around the holed stone itself looks suspiciously like the remains of a cairn. These findings are somewhat at odds with Hencken's1932 account (2) of the monument, he discounted the extra stones at the site as having "lately been moved about and certainly represent no ancient structure", he also saw the holed stone itself as "the solitary survivor of a destroyed tomb."
When we first visited in 1991 it was difficult to find, being buried in gorse and bracken on the moor, in 2000 we were surprised to see signposts, neatly cut grass, and pathways to the site, it seems that it has become quite a tourist attraction. Unfortunately this popularity is not without its downside, recently someone tried to destroy the Men-an-Tol by covering it with a homemade napalm mixture and setting it on fire. Fortunately the stones survived the ordeal, but the residue from the attack still thickly coats some parts of the stones and is easily visible in our photos and panoramas.

William Borlase (1) visited the Men an Tol in 1749 and was told of its uses by "a very intelligent farmer of the neighbourhood", the Men an Tol seems to have been a veritable Swiss Army Knife of paranormal cure and divination.  Borlase was told of the "many persons who had crept through this holed Stone for pains in their back and limbs" and also that "fanciful parents, at certain times of the year, do customarily draw their young Children through in order to cure them of Rickets." The farmer also showed him "two brass pins, carefully layed a-cross each other" on the top of the stone, placed there by the "Over-curious" and that by "recurring to these pins, and observing their direction to be the same, or different from what they left them in, or by their being lost or gone, they are informed of some material incident of Love or Fortune, which they could not know soon enough in a natural way".
Borlase was not convinced by these accounts and had his own theories about how the "Cornish Druids" used the holed stone, "I apprehend that it served for Libations, served to initiate, and dedicate Children to the Offices of Rock-Worship, by drawing them through this hole, and also to purify the Victim before it was sacrificed".
One hundred and sixty years later, Hencken (2) was told by a local farmer that his grandfather remembered people using the Men an Tol as a cure for aches and pains, and that "the stone is locally called the Crickstone because people crawled through it for a crick in the back".

It seem as though superstition may have saved the Men an Tol from an ignominious end, as W.C.Borlase (3) tells us of the fate of many chambered cairns near by. "On the downs lying between Morvah hill barrow, and the Men-an-Tol, or famous holed stone, were a large number of these graves, until their granite sides and covers were, a few years since, carried away to make some waterfalls in the gardens at Castle Horneck."

UPDATE. We have recently (2003), been informed that the residue from the burning compound has now been removed from the stones. Unfortunately we did not have time to revisit the site this year so there are no photos of the cleaned stones, but the Men an Tol should now look much more attractive without the residue of the vandalism.

(1) Borlase W. Antiquities Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall, Bowyer and Nichols, London 1769
(2) Hencken H.O. The Archaeology of Cornwall and Scilly, Metheun, London, 1932
(3) Borlase W.C., Naenia Cornubiae p78, 1872 Longmans

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