Dowsing, farming and dancing are three words you won’t often find in one sentence - but they are a very apt summary of our intriguing visit to Rose Hip Barn in St Clether, East Cornwall.
St Clether is better known for its ancient Holy Well and parish church, but half a mile up the road is another building with a long and varied history. Rose Hip Barn is being converted from a disused shippen into a modern dance and arts studio under the supervision of its current resident, Gemma Kempthorne.
The Kempthornes have owned the barn, and the surrounding Trefranck Farm, since 1703, so they are deeply rooted in this place. Our dowsing dated the present structure to the early 1700’s, so it is likely that the first Kempthornes to arrive there constructed it for agricultural use. In fact they reconstructed it, as our dowsing found a previous stone building, on a similar footprint, dating from around 1450. The striking difference in the stone used in lower parts of the walls to that used higher up tends to give this finding some architectural corroboration. However, the history of the use of the site goes back further with the dowsed presence of a wooden structure, erected during the 12th century.
So, why would there be the sequential use of this site over such a long period of time? One clue is the presence on an ancient ley that seems to define the southwest wall of the barn, and appears to link up with the religious buildings of St Clether, a short distance away. Another indication was the discovery of the alignment of at least one ‘pilgrimage path’ running tightly adjacent to the northeast wall, and through some of the more recent additions to it. We also dowsed the remanence of a second trackway, running more or less at a right angle to the first, which would have placed Rose Hip at a crossroads, rather than beside a little-used C road, as it is today. The link to the nearby sacred sites and the dating of the barn’s construction led us to dowse that the barn was once a wayside hostelry, used by both religious pilgrims and lay travellers.
This history, derived from dowsing, is given further support by the presence of the head of an old cross, roughly made and even more roughly squared off at some later date. The stone cross was once rather larger, and stood on (or was part of) a pillar. Although recovered by the present owners from the hedge behind an oil tank, its rediscovery so close to the pilgrim path may indeed have been very significant. Over time, it had fallen and, in common with other such stonework, it had been reused. The subsequent crude shaping of it into a block dowsed as having coincided with the impact of the plague in this area (perhaps when there was no available stonemason to carry out the work) - the stone then being reused as a grave marker for a significant local woman. We didn’t get around to asking the question as to quite how it ended up behind the oil tank - but it’s always a good idea to have a good excuse to invite yourself back another day to a great site like this!
And so, on to dancing? Despite her upbringing in this little-visited part of east Cornwall, Gemma has spent many years on the road, becoming a well-qualified dancer with international experience. Her dream is to return home, and to establish a modern dance and arts studio in this redundant building on her parents’ farm. At the time of the visit, the revitalisation of Rose Hip into a viable and vibrant functional place was well underway - with heaps of builder’s materials and equipment humped out of the way for our benefit.
The huge empty floorsapce was a delight for a dowsing group, especially on such a damp and dismal day. In addition to the ley along the wall, another ley crosses the room, almost at a right angle to it. There are also a couple of water lines and several earth energy lines, which form spirals and manifestations at their crossing points. This latter finding helps to explain the substantial presence of a positive ambience to the emerging studio - and it probably did the cattle feed no harm either, in the days when this upper floor was used as a ‘mowhay’.
I found (what I thought were) a couple of pictograms, sharply cruciform in shape, which may have had something to do with the former use of the site as a wayfarers’ B&B. However, others found the patterns of infinity symbols in much the same places - so again, I feel we would need to revisit our dowsing to tease this out. It was noted that the north west end of the room appeared to be a little less comfortable, especially the space immediately adjacent to the window, which was presumably where fodder was once taken in and out of the hay loft. This seemed to be due to the angle of the minor road pointing straight towards it. This is a classic issue in feng shui, but it led me to ponder whether the eastern view of geomancy is subtly different to the modern western approach to dowsing buildings - and yet another door for research had been opened!
Back outside, we had a dowse around a huge spiral and its associated manifestation, situated right in the middle of the road, which expanded rapidly as we investigated it. Was this the original crossing place of the trackways, and might this have been the place where a wayside cross once stood? As a premature dusk crowded out the end of the afternoon’s activities, the group were still trying to study the location of a potential portal - with Gordon perched precariously on top of a plastic dustbin trying to confirm the height of it.
We had originally intended to look at an archaeological site in a nearby field - and not recorded on modern maps - a Donovan Wilkins borehole and a patch of detrimental energy that Alan had quietly moved away from one of the other inhabited former outbuildings. The drizzle and other distractions had taken us away from these features, but there was more than enough to mull over during the very welcome tea and cakes at the end of our visit.
Many thanks to the Kempthornes for their exceptional welcome and hospitality - and very best wishes to Gemma with her exciting new venture. It would be fascinating to discover what changes (if any) occur to the various energies at Rose Hip Barn as a result of its future use as a workshop and meeting venue.