When I first read about Merther Uny I was intrigued. I was fascinated to see this ruined place. A place that had once been so important. A site of peace and pilgrimage.
It is still a peaceful place today. Isolated down a dead-end farm track and hidden in a shady glade above a wooded valley. This is the upper reaches of the Helford River where the fast flowing stream tumbles towards Gweek. There is little to distinguish this beautiful valley from any other patch of Cornish countryside, apart from a beautifully decorated wheel cross.
Merther Euny was first recorded as a chapel in 1302. Known as Sancti Euni it went out of use around the time of the Reformation in the 1600s.
The medieval chapel was dedicated to St Uny and burial ground was built on a much older ancient enclosure. This oval enclosure still survives and measures about 220m long by 110m wide. Covered in trees and undergrowth, it has settled into the landscape.
By 1745 the chapel is recorded as a ruin but the tower was apparently still standing until the beginning of the 19th century. It was eventually demolished in 1820. Within the enclosure what survives isn’t easy to interpret but I did see a tumble of granite stone which I assume was part of the structure. According to Historic England the original chapel was rectangular and roughly 9m long by 6m wide.
A mysterious place, the cross still stands guard over it all.
According to Andrew Langdon, in his fantastic guide Stone Crosses in West Cornwall, the Merther Uny cross had fallen and was re-erected in 1886. Mr S J Wills was present for this and he reported that human bones and an oak coffin were discovered close to the base of the monument. The cross is well preserved, about 1.6m (5’6”) tall and quite beautiful. Andrew Langdon writes that it is:
“Crudely carved yet richly decorated”
Made of granite, on both faces the head has a central boss and four holes. (Which don’t actually penetrate right through the stone). All four sides of the shaft are decorated with a pattern of irregular dots and lines.
The site’s history continued to change. During the 19th century there was a failed attempt to build a Methodist chapel on the site, of which all traces were removed in 1918. Later the enclosure was used as a vegetable garden.
There were partial excavations conducted by Cornwall Archaeological Society in 1968/69 which revealed that the burial ground was on the site of an earlier round with at least two hut circles. The enclosure was occupied from the 1st century BC until the 2nd century AD. The dig also revealed several cist graves were associated with the medieval phase. The position of a possible backfilled holy well was also identified, although I could see no trace of it.
The site is just off a public foot path just past Merther Uny Farm. I parked near the junction to the track that leads to the farm and walked from there. (TR13 0NU)
Walk past the farm and you will see a footpath sign pointing to the left follow this and just past the converted barn on your left you will see a gap in the hedge. It is easy to miss as the cross is tucked out of view.
Just a note of caution: I had a rather unpleasant altercation with some dogs while walking to this site. I am guessing that the public footpath doesn’t see much use and they felt I was trespassing. Just be aware if you are nervous of dogs or taking your own with you.