Our next stop was only about half an hour’s drive from the Templar Church, and the road took us through the silent green of Bodmin Moor. With a long drive still ahead, I restrained myself, albeit barely, from turning aside at every interesting signpost, but I was determined to see one of Cornwall’s finest burial chambers… Trethevy Quoit.
The name, Trethevy, is thought to derive from the old Cornish for ‘place of the graves’. The locals call it the Giant’s House and there are tales of giants playing games with the stones. It has another name too, King Arthur’s Quoit, though I have been unable to find any reason why the legendary monarch should be associated with the place. The area, though, is rich in Arthurian sites, from his birthplace at Tintagel, just a few miles to the west, to King Arthur’s Hall and his Bed on Bodmin Moor… and Dozmary Pool, where the Lady of the Lake gave him Excalibur and to where it was returned on his death.
Since beginning our workshop only six days earlier at Cadbury Castle, one of the main contenders for the site of Arthur’s Camelot, we had been falling over references to King Arthur at every turn. Even at St Michael’s Mount there are tales of him battling a giant. We were beginning to come to the conclusion that there was something we needed to look at in the story… especially when we realised that our next two workshops would also take us to sites associated with the Arthurian tales. In September, we would be visiting a castle which, according to Malory in his Morte D’Arthur, was Lancelot’s Castle of Joyous Guarde, and in December we would see a Round Table… But that was still in the future. For the moment, as we parked the car and headed into the field, we were more interested in his Quoit.
Around five and a half thousand years ago, a community came together to raise a house of the ancestors. The stones stand nine feet tall and are capped with a single slab weighing some twenty tonnes… an incredible feat of engineering by our standards, yet the megalithic builders, who knew the secrets of working with stone, built this and even greater monuments across the whole land.
The Quoit would once have been hidden beneath a mound of earth and stone, of which traces are still visible, forming a ring about twenty feet in diameter. The stones at the entrance to the structure would have been left uncovered, forming a portal to the realm of the ancestors. The Quoit itself is walled with massive uprights, one of which has now fallen into the central chamber that would once have held the bones and cremation urns of our ancestors and theirs. who would act as intermediaries between this world and the Otherworld.
There are many similar dolmens, though this is one of the best in the area and has some rather curious features. Most obvious is the hole deliberately bored through the edge of the capstone. This would have been exposed and was probably used for marking an astronomical event, though without the rest of the monument… which may simply have been another stone or wooden posts, it is impossible to say for certain what it might have been.
Light was used to some effect in many of these ancient places, right across the world from Egyptian Temples to Newgrange in Ireland, marking the passage of the sun like a sundial, or illuminating significant features at astronomical high points of the year. Even now, in the ruined tomb, there is something in the fall of light between the stones that hints at secrets long-forgotten.
There are a series of cup marks carved on one of the stones…eroded now and faint. The uprights seem to be shaped like figures and forms, with faces revealing themselves as you spend time with the stones. One vast figure looks very like one of the moai of Easter Island.
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