Cornish Chronicles: prehistoric sites

The Penwith peninsula is as rich in prehistory as it is in industrial archaeology. We spent a morning walking round Mên-an-tol and Nine Maidens, also visiting Lanyon Quoit and Madron a short drive away.


Mên-an-tol means “stone of the hole” in Cornish. It consists of two menhirs (monumental stones) on either side of a hollow stone. Crawling through it was said to be a cure for infertility and rickets, according to my Lonely Planet guidebook. We stayed firmly on our feet.

Nine Maidens

Nine Maidens stone circle was a short walk away. Maedn is another (older) Cornish word for stone, so the name has nothing to do with young women.

Lanyon Quoit

Quoits (known elsewhere as dolmens) are three or more uprights topped by a capstone and built on top of a chamber tomb. This capstone weighs 13.5 tonnes, and in the 18th century a man on horseback could have sheltered underneath. A storm in 1815 blew the quoit down and damaged it, but the version rebuilt nine years later is still big enough to stand under.

Madron Chapel and Holy Well

Madron’s Holy Well was a sacred site for pre-Roman Celts. It still is, judging by all the offerings and prayers hanging on the tree. The nearby chapel ruins date “only” from the early Middle Ages.

After an enjoyable pootle round ancient sites, in the next instalment, we go back to the coast.


  1. I love these ancient sites-so cool to think that you are standing and touching sites that were created by the ancient Celts. Oh apparently my name is Celtic! The Celts went all over Europe