Most of the major historical sites of Cornwall are well documented. Most of them are also swathed in legend and folklore. Strangely, the extensive and prominent earthworks at Warbstow Bury are neither. It is precisely the lack of hard evidence and a dearth of documentation that makes this enigmatic site so interesting.
It was a welcome return to this relatively uncommercialised part of North Cornwall by the Tamar Dowsers. On previous visits, we have concentrated on the archaeology of the area, which is as intriguing as it is sketchy. However, as the TDs have matured, we have widened our approach to also take in some of the more esoteric aspects of the sites that we visit.
Despite being described as a Hillfort on the OS map, there is little dowsing evidence to suggest that any physical conflict took place here. The concentric embankments and ditches may be impressive, but their use as a defensive site is questionable. It is likely that the wooden gates and stockade, that appear to once have been part of the structure, were aimed more at keeping domestic animals in, than Vikings and Saxons out. So, was this great undertaking just a corral for livestock on a fertile platform of high ground?
Our dowsing led us to examine the ‘grave’ in the centre of the bury. The oblong mound now looks like something akin to an eroded long barrow, but at one time the top of this mound hosted two or three tall standing stones, in addition to a couple of cairns - the remains of which might still exist, albeit now a few feet underground.
At one end of this earthwork are crossing water lines, with one attendant earth energy line - and at the other end, two crossing earth energy lines with a nearby water line. These seemed to have lunar and solar connotations respectively. This is a naturally sacred spot, which was probably known to the locals long before the great circular banks were built around it. It was suggested that with the central mound higher in times gone by, and topped by tall stones, it would have formed an ideal celestial observatory. While the earthworks seem higher to the south and may have prevented a clear view of the horizon, to the east and the west, the all-important rising and setting of the solstice sun and moon look to have been clearly visible through gaps in the circular banks.
Still on the central mound, Alan Neal was dowsing not just the modestly concealed water lines, which formed a classic spiral pattern, but a more seriously subterranean watercourse. Deep within the earth, many hundreds of feet below the surface, he dowsed a major underground river with a huge flow of water. At a time when certain people had greater sensitivity to the natural world, such a place could have had quite an impact on the intuitive diviner - giving Warbstow Bury an unmistakeable sense of place.
Alan also found that the crossing water lines in the higher strata were part of a blind spring - a dome of water rising towards the surface, but meeting solid resistance before reaching it. Blind springs are often indicators of places that have previously been used as sacred sites, although there was little dowsable evidence of either spiritual or religious activity in the central area.
A ‘ley’ line was confirmed, having previously been map-dowsed passing through the entrance to a green lane at the entrance to the bury - and then running close to the field boundary on the eastern edge of the site. Further ‘leys’ were noted running broadly north-south, picking out hill-tops or tumuli on the horizon. One could be dowsed when standing on top of the southern arc of the earthworks pointing directly at the peak of Brown Willy on Bodmin Moor, which just raises its head above the mid-green horizon.
Some of us tried to find examples of the pictograms and manifestations, brought to the attention of dowsers by the late Hamish Miller. I found a symmetrical manifestation at the crossing point of two of the main earth energy lines, although this aspect of earth energy seemed rather muted on the site. However, we found several of the pictograms - with some surprising results.
As pictograms are such a new field of investigation for dowsers, that we are still struggling to come up with some of the basic questions, let alone provide credible answers to them. Pictograms do not seem to contain natural earth energy as such, yet they do appear to be part of the natural world, in that they dowse as being part of the biosphere.
After several negative, and quite a number of non-committal, responses, Annie came up with a positive response for ‘emotional energy’ in a pictogram. One can only presume that this could mean that the pictograms might be recording residual patterns on the emotional plane. We went one stage further by trying to pin down what types of emotion could be involved - and we received some reaction to fear, either human or animal, for one pictogram and love at another. It all seemed a bit strange, but I suppose you have to ‘get into the zone’ to unravel these phenomena, which is a bit difficult during a group outing. To add yet another layer of confusion to the mix, the shape I found for one pictogram did not correspond with the shapes found by either Ros or Peter, even though we had a good agreement on the specific location. Whether we were dowsing different aspects of the same shape or three different shapes on the same spot (or even three different emotional events!) will clearly require a lot more work to disentangle.
We felt we had built on the understanding gained on previous visits, but it is apparent that as we look through each new door another, more distant and even more intriguing, portal beckons.
Many thanks to Annie Holland for organising this event - and congratulations to Gordon Ratcliffe for teaching a couple of passing tourists to dowse even as they were en route to enjoying an al fresco game of scrabble!