MULFRA HILL, NEWMILL: December 1985

MULFRA QUOIT 2Mulfra Quoit – after rain

In the bleak midwinter, when weather forecasters enthuse over rising temperatures and mild westerly winds, you may be sure of depressions approaching Cornwall – of climate and spirit alike. Winds from the east bring little merit certainly, but by the time they reach us in the far west they are drawn and landlocked and generally dry. Turned around, winds from the west sprawl across Cornwall redistributing the Atlantic. Then you either stay indoors in the permanent twilight, or you head for high moorland where it is wet, windy and mist-bound. It is chillier there too, thus offering the very best brand of outdoor masochism.

Mulfra Hill and the rough bounds of Greenburrow and The Galvers fit the bill. Mulfra deserves a castle rather than a cromlech but the ancient quoit on the summit of the hill will do nicely. This is a Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age site, strill impressive in spite of its great capstone having slipped to one side. It is an ideal place to find shelter from wind and rain. A flask of fortified coffee enhances the experience.

Crossing open country in wild weather merges discomfort with the pleasure of isolation. Not much else intrudes, other than wind and rain and the bracing smell of wet ground. If you meet another wandering soul there is little scope for social graces. Last Sunday was such a day. There was no one else to worry about within the shifting world of mist and rain. The heathland was awash, the heather and purple moor grass lank and dull, and the peaty soil waterlogged.

The stretch of moorland between Mulfra and the Galvers is minuscule compared to Dartmoor and the vast wild lands of Wales and Scotland. You can soon walk off it in any direction and stumble across a road within ten minutes or so. It does lack the challenge of the great uplands where dense mist and hard weather demand cool heads and where you move your world along step by step with the aid of map, compass, experience and instinct. However, it still pays to know even this small stretch of Wild Cornwall well and to carry a compass. Between Mulfra and the Galvers you can simulate the wilderness in a nostalgic world of salt rain and driving wind amid the keen smell of the damp moor to match the pleasant aftertaste of well-laced coffee.

MULFRA HILL, NEWMILL: December 2015 

 It’s still there is Mulfra Hill – and its sturdy quoit – and the same kind of claustrophobic weather in December 2015, that had its queasy grip on West Cornwall thirty years ago. This is, sadly, the default weather of our present winter of discontent; unrelenting greyness and not even fifty shades of it – just the same dispiriting blankness of water in transit, in fog, mist, mizzle and murk. Today, the moor and mountain wanderer would probably carry a GPS device for navigation, although I still prefer to sniff my way across any wilderness, with a map and compass for back up.

Even in foul weather, there is still something reassuring about the doused moorland of Mulfra and its signature quoit. I never cease to speculate about the latter’s provenance. These quoits, or dolmens to give them a more particular label, are common artefacts worldwide. I have seen similar grave sites as far apart as Spain, Indonesia and North Pakistan. What else would the people of the Neolithic/Bronze Age periods worldwide have used than the natural stone of their hinterland? What else would they use than these simple structures to encompass a space, a haven, within which they might place those of their dead whom they wished to honour.

The quoits are elegant in their simplicity. Contemporaneous ‘memorials’ include such vast structures as the earliest known Pyramids. Yet, we should not feel diminished by the majesty of the pyramids. Each to his own; northern climes were unlikely to have encouraged such huge edifices in rugged terrain that was sparsely peopled. The simple unsophisticated forms of the ancient burial chambers and stone circles of Cornwall have unforced beauty of line and form. They seem to grow naturally from the ground.

Best Christmas gift I could ever imagine..? To be transported for a day back to the Neolithic/Bronze Age, simply to observe, with awe and admiration, how these intriguing artefacts were put together… regardless of the weather.

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