April 2008 - St Dennys

St Breock and St Dennys

Despite a dire April weather forecast, a mixed group of Tamar Dowsers and West Cornwall Dowsers set out across the fields of St Breock downs, high above Wadebridge in North Cornwall, in the brightest of spring sunshine.

Our first target was the remains of a once extensive stone structure, now called The Nine Maidens, of which half a dozen Menhirs remain standing in situ, a few lean and others lie on the grass; some half hidden. It was apparent that these sad remnants are the residue of a lengthy row, possibly aligned to the midwinter moonrise, which once stretched further to the south west of the visible stones - and way to the north east, at least as far as the broken Menhir, shown on the OS map of the area as TheBlind Fiddler (formerly marked as the Magi Stone). The residual stones appear to be just the partial outer edge of two double rows, which, although they have fallen victim to field drainage, stone cutting and land clearance over the last 500 years, can still be dowsed by the trademark intertwined energy braiding we have found several times before in the South West, and also in Brittany.

Within the rows, and between them, energy leys appear to trace the astronomical alignment – their overlapping banding echoing back to a time when this was a significant and powerful site. Rather like a sudoku puzzle, there was just enough available information to allow the dowser to work out the rest from questioning and experience.

Near to the stones, we found the remanence of human habitation dating back to a time before the stones were brought to the site from the surrounding area. The round houses and animal pens of subsequent generations were also easily dowsed.

In this field, and in the fields beyond the A39, are the remains of many tumuli – some difficult to access on private land, while others closer to the bustling Atlantic Highway have been largely ploughed out in recent centuries.

A foray by the WCDs to investigate some of the more inaccessible mounds was rewarded by the discovery of a series of alignments, which are not so apparent on the map, as the map only includes some of the more significant of the remaining structures. Given the straight sight lines from these tumuli to others in the distance - and from The Blind Fiddler to the stones at the other end of St Breock on the horizon - it is just possible to grasp the original visionary scale of this Neolithic undertaking.

While it is sad that so many of the working population of the area did not, and do not, value the cultural wealth of their heritage, we must be grateful that the protection provided in ancient times allowed the site to survive into the era of cartography and cyberspace - and the turning of the spiritual tide.

We had hoped to carry out further dowsing on this site, but the intervention of the farmer - who indicated strongly that we had strayed beyond the permitted access (albeit in an empty and unmarked field of grass) - led us to reconsider our plans for the afternoon. So, most of us set off in convoy to a very different type of dowsing site - the nearby hilltop church of St Dennys.

Most people ‘from away’ will think of the Cornish peninsula as a pleasure haven of safe sandy beaches and picturesque rugged cliffs. But there is another contemporary Cornwall - and one that can be viewed in all its glory from the elevated bastion of St Dennys churchyard. A vast landscape to the south and west of this still active mining community has been transformed into a surreal moonscape of pale mountains and enormous quarries. In fact, gargantuan excavations have been going on for so long around here that the earlier ranges are gradually morphing into strange great green stepped- pyramids - which may give future archaeologists something to ponder.

On the map, St Dennys church is shown as a fort. However, there was no evidence that this site had ever been used militarily, even in the most distant past. With its excellent visibility and hilltop water (the local churchwarden told us that grave diggers often had problems with water close to the surface and that in times past graves had to be lined with straw, at least during burial ceremonies), this has been a place of both habitation and reverence since the earliest of times.

The church itself, rebuilt in 1847 and re-roofed after a fire in the latter part of the last century, is externally an unremarkable mixture of styles, but the surrounding circular wall (or llan) is as complete an example of its genre as any I have seen. There are later (13th century) additions and 20th century alterations for vehicle access - but these are obvious and fairly sympathetic to the original ground plan. Other than the modern entrances, the wall itself is breached only by a series of substantial stys (stiles) - each accommodating ancient paths leading away to nearby villages. The trackways used by the local communities over many centuries were easily dowsed.

Outside the south door of the church stands an ancient Celtic cross - not a modified Menhir, but still of deep antiquity. It has an awkward energy, having been moved at some point, apparently after it had fallen, and then reset in concrete a few feet away. The original energy lines were still in place, bereft of their marker, while weaker ones had been attracted by the re-sited stone. Nearby, there is also replaced and relocated ancient font - bizarrely and inexplicably left to the elements.

Two strong leys of consciousness cross amongst the gravestones to the east of the Victorian church and the building itself exhibits the standard energy hallmarks of a sacred site. A strange and uncomfortable vortex of energy towards the North West wall of the llan, perhaps stemming from an energy blockage in the outer wall, had caused the oak trees to twist into strange spirals - no doubt assisted by the persistent strong winds that must pummel this eyrie through much of the winter. There is much unbalanced energy on this site, seemingly generated in part by the extensive mineral workings, but the churchyard itself was quiet and calm and, in its way, quite spectacular. It deserves another visit, on a day when the building is not locked against the predations of modern lifestyles.

A smaller group took their afternoon dowsing to the little-visited site of Pawton Quoit, where they found a massive capstone embracing the crossing point of two strong lines, intriguingly aligned to the cardinal points of the compass.

Many thanks to Bart of the WCDs for setting up this trip - and to Larry for leading the convoy and for talking the farmer out of an unwelcome confrontation!

Nigel Twinn

Tamar Dowsers

April 2008