I continued along the winding roads around the coast of Cornwall. Just after two particularly sharp corners, I caught sight of a collection of standing stones in a field.
Remembering the magic stones called The Hurlers, I felt I must go and investigate. I crossed the field until I came to a circle of stones. There were sixteen of them, and places where another three had obviously stood. I walked around the circle, and came to see that each stone had its own personality.
Then I realized it was getting late, and I decided to retrace my path rather than become lost in the wilds of Cornwall. As I again rounded those sharp corners, I saw two more stones, so tall that I wondered how I had missed them the first time. There was a farm nearby, so I walked over and talked to the farmer, hoping to get the story. He told me that the tall stones were known as The Pipers, and the stones in the circle I had seen are called The Merry Maidens. He told me the story of how they were formed.
It happened many years ago, when magic was still strong in the world. The Church had reached Cornwall, and most people were starting to believe in the new ways, but there were still some who clung to the old beliefs. One Sabbath evening, near the end of a particularly hot summer, some maidens from a nearby village chose to wander the fields rather than stay at the church and learn more prayers. As they walked, they told each other stories, and laughed at the new beliefs of the church.
As they entered this field, they were seen by twin spirits of the old times. These spirits, glad to see that there were still some who remembered the true ways, took out their maythorn pipes, changed their shape to resemble humans and danced down into the field, playing joyful tunes.
The maidens were delighted by the company and began to dance. They sang and laughed and danced as the day gave way to night, and the power of the ancient beliefs grew greater.
But the saints of the new church grew angry. They sent one of their messengers down to the dancing maidens and warned them that they were dancing with evil. The girls simply laughed at the saint and told him to leave. But the saints of the new church were powerful, and did not like to be mocked.
The saint rose to a great height above the field and called out to the Lord. Suddenly, from the clear sky, there was a flash of lightning and all the dancers were frozen in place, turned to stone where they stood.
The ancient spirits abandoned their disguises and ran from the circle, but they were not fast enough. With a second flash of lightning, the two spirits were also transformed to stone and left as a warning of the power and anger of the new God.
As I said goodbye to the farmer and turned my wagon to leave, I felt a new respect for the magic of this area. A few miles later, I found another standing stone which, according to a nearby farmer, was called the Blind Fiddler, though he could not tell me the story behind it.
I returned to the hotel in Sennen Cove, but the nearness of Cornish magic had left me restless. I decided to walk along the coast to Land's End before supper. But I'll tell you more about that next time...
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