Anyone who enjoys ancient history will enjoy coming to Minions. If you’ve come here by car, and most people do, then the Hurlers car park gives easy access to the well-known ‘Hurlers’ stone circle.
The Hurlers are a circle of standing stones dating back about 3,000 years to the Bronze Age. In actual fact there are three circles and a couple of ‘Pipers’. One of the circles isn’t that easy to identify, but even so, the experts tell us that they are all in alignment, which instead of providing us with answers about what they were used for, poses even more questions – but that’s ancient history for you.
Even if we don’t know why the Hurlers are here, then there’s an explanation as to how they got their name.
Not to be confused with the Irish game of hurling, Cornish hurling is a game which is a bit more like rugby, only with a small silver ball. Cornish legend tells us that the game was being played here one Sunday when the players, and a couple of Pipers who were supplying the music, were turned to stone in punishment for not observing the Sabbath.
About five hundred metres north-east of The Hurlers is the Rillaton Barrow and is marked as a tumulus on Ordnance Survey maps (Landranger Map 201 Plymouth & Launceston, Explorer Map 109 Bodmin Moor Ref SX 260719).
I must confess that seeking out ancient burial sites doesn’t set my pulse racing too much, especially as they’re not always easy to find, but you can’t miss this one because it’s the largest in Cornwall.
On the eastern side of the mound is a stone lintel above a small opening, which is where, in 1837, stone workers discovered a human skeleton, a bronze dagger and a gold cup. As was the norm in those days, the finds were presented to the King (William IV), and was forgotten about until the death of George V in 1936. The Rillaton Gold Cup was an important find, dating to about 1700-1500 BC, and yet King George V, unbelievably, only found it useful for keeping his collar studs in.
It’s now safely tucked away in the British Museum, but there’s a replica in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, should you want to take a look.
Before leaving the area it’s definitely worth checking out a few other points of interest which can be found around St. Cleer, just a couple of miles or so away.
Just along the road from Minions in the direction of St Cleer is a standing stone known as Long Tom. There’s not much doubt that it’s a medieval wayside marker, but it’s date is not known for sure, and there’s also a school of thought that it may have been a Menhir that was Christianised. People who know more about these things than I do reckon that the stone is in alignment with The Hurlers and the Rillaton Barrow, and who am I to argue?
If you continue along the road from Long Tom for a short distance, there’s a road off left towards Darite, and this is where you’ll find Trethevy Quoit.
This 2.7 m high ‘House of the Dead’ is one of the best examples of a Neolithic (c3500-2500 BC) dolmen to be found anywhere. It consists of five standing stones topped by a twenty ton capstone. How our ancient ancestors lifted it into position I really don’t know, but what I do know is that you don’t need to be a keen archaeologist to admire this quite remarkable prehistoric monument. Don’t miss it.
If you return to the Minions road and turn left, you’ll soon arrive at our final point of interest – King Doniert’s Stone.
This English Heritage site is managed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust who have thoughtfully provided a convenient layby for anyone wanting to stop and take a look.
You’ll see the remains of two ornamental stone crosses, one of which has an inscription bearing the name of King Doniert, the last recorded King of Cornwall who appears to have drowned at sea in 875.
These are the only two surviving 9th century stone crosses in Cornwall and probably replaced earlier wooden ones erected by Celtic missionaries.
King Doniert’s Stone is the short, stumpy one, and has a Latin inscription “Doniert rogavit pro anima” which roughly translates to “Doniert has asked (for this to be made) for his soul’s sake”.
In this article I have included the most celebrated examples of how granite has been used by humans over the course of the area’s history, but there are plenty more around, especially for anyone who has a keen interest in archaeology.