In Cornwall the landscape around us is alive with stories. As a people we seem to have always formed a close relationship with the natural geology that surrounds us. Here it is nearly impossible for a rock to be just a rock! There is always a tale attached and sometimes more than one!
Men-amber rock is a large natural granite outcrop on the summit of a hill near the hamlet of Nancegollan. It’s name probably derives from the Cornish men-an-bar meaning ‘stone on top’.
The striking formation towers above the surrounding countryside at roughly 20ft high and perhaps significantly also stands on the crossroads of two ancient track ways.
There are a number of stories attached to this tower of stone, dating back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. From ancient times, it is believed to have been a place of pagan ritual, there is a strange tale of a wandering tribe of Mediterranean descent coming here to worship at the stones. Local historians have hypothesised that this unknown tribe were the Phoenicians, once thought to have visited Cornwall for trade.
Another less far-fetched story is that this stone was once a finely balanced logan rock (for other logan rock descriptions and footage try HERE and HERE). In 1650, during the upheaval of the civil war a man called Shrubsall, one of Oliver Cromwell’s army and governor at Pendennis, came to the Men-amber and toppled it. Apparently the locals claimed the wizard Merlin had prophesised “Men-amber would stand until England had no king!” so of course it had to fall.
The historian William Borlase has a different theory however. He wrote in his book Antiquities of Cornwall that the stone was thrown from its balance because of “the vulgar used to resort to this place at particular times of the year and paid this rock more respect than was thought becoming to good Christians.”
Many rocks in Cornwall are thought to have special powers, perhaps the most famous in Men-an-tol on the Penwith, which is thought amongst other things to be an aid to fertility. Mark Dale, a local who first told me about the stone, says that people would often crawl through the small window in the stones as a cure-all. Although he did add that he has done so himself and now has 4 children . . .
He also told me one more tale to add to the legend of this fascinating place. Mark says that the tree close to the stone marks the burial place of the an old farmer’s ancient, trusted horse.
I have also read that up until recently a religious service was held at the rock on Sithney Feast Day, so if anyone can tell me more about this I would love to hear!
Personally I think that it is only natural that these usual features in our landscape should draw us to them and become a focus of our communities. However we see them and however we view them they are like companions watching over our lives.