Around Bodmin and its Moor

Bodmin Moor is a halfway stop between the wonders of Land's End and Dartmoor, but in no way is it lesser in its rich prehistory than either one. It might not contain the massive stone rows and avenues of Dartmoor, nor quite the diversity of Land's End, but it does have some excellent monuments that should be high up on anybody's list of sites to see when in the southwest of England.

fig. 1 : Duloe stone circle

My first stop was Duloe stone circle (SX 236 583). This small stone circle is constructed using only solid quartzite stones (see fig. 1), which when caught in full sunlight shine brightly against their dark green hedgerow backdrop.

There are seven stones, six of which are still standing. The shortest is just 50cm tall and the is largest over 2m. The beauty of this site is somewhat imposed upon by the close proximity of the village and modern field boundaries, but the total whiteness of the stones makes it a very special place indeed, especially (if like me) you have a thing for big quartz.

fig. 2 : The beautiful Trethevy Quoit

Access from the village of Duloe is fairly easy via a narrow, signposted lane. Parking is more tricky with the best place probably being by the cemetery just up the road.

fig. 3 : Trethevy Quoit - showing the angle of the capstone

A short journey up some tortuously narrow and windy roads takes you to one of the truly magical structures of the megalithic world: Trethevy Quoit (SX 259 688) (see fig. 2). Quoit is a word used in the southwest of England as a term for a dolmen and occasionally a standing stone.

This monument is of a classic portal tomb construction. The portal stones are over 3.5m tall and the capstone is pitched at a very perilous looking angle (see fig. 3). The rear stone of the chamber has, unfortunately, been pushed inwards, but this is the only blemish and can be easily ignored. There are some traces of the cairn that once covered the chamber.

There are two very special features here. The first is a hole drilled through the front edge of the capstone in front of the portal stones and doorstone. The second is a small doorway in the base of the doorstone that would have allowed access to the chamber if the backstone hadn't collapsed inside.

Portal tombs are what most people wrongly refer to as dolmens. They are, to me at least, the most strikingly designed of the megalithic tombs. They are called portal tombs because they have two large upright stones, usually very well matched, in front of the chamber that seem to form a doorway.

Resting upon the portal stones and the chamber a large capstone rests (sometimes there are two capstones - see Knockeen (County Waterford)), usually at an angle of around 22 degrees from the horizontal. Although these were originally incorporated into one end of a long cairn there are none left in this state today, although traces of the cairn can sometimes be seen upon the ground. The portal stones can be up to 3.5m tall, which combined with a thick capstone can produce an imposing monument over 5m tall. Capstones can reach in excess of 70 tonnes, with that of Browne's Hill (County Carlow) being estimated at over 120 tonnes.

Often betwen the portal stones there is a door slab, blocking the width of the entrance, but not always the full height. Door slabs are either half height, three quarter height or full height, describing the amount of the portal that they obstruct. All portal tombs would have had door slab, but this has often been removed to facilitate entry into the chamber.

Quite rarely the portal stones are the same height as the chamber and the characteristic slope of the capstone is created by the profile of the capstone (see Glendruid (County Dublin)).

Portal stones are a pair of upright stones that form the 'entrance' to a portal tomb. They are usually well matched, being of even dimensions. As well as forming this doorway they also act as the front support for the capstone and are usually taller than the stones that form the chamber.

Often there is a door stone in between them blocking off access to the chamber within.

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