Perhaps Cornwall’s oldest tourist attraction, the Cheesewring has been drawing people to the lonely moors near Bodmin for centuries. This dramatic granite rock formation can be found halfway up the west side of Stowes Hill. Completely natural, this monument is the result of thousands of years of weathering.
Many other similar rock formations can be found on the tors across Bodmin Moor but perhaps none of them are quite as spectacular as the Cheesewring.
The Cheesewring is roughly one mile northwest of the village of Minions. It measures roughly 32ft (10m) high. But Stowes Hill rises to 1250ft (381m) so that the views on a clear day from this dramatic setting, across the landscape of Cornwall and into Devon, are stunning.
Cyrus Redding observed in 1842:
These enormous rocks, thus resting upon each other cheese fashion, overhang their base so much that the wonder is how they sustain their position . . . Standing on the shady side of the Cheesewring, when the sun was shining, the imposing character of the pile is particularly striking, not un-mingled with apprehension. The stones which compose this singular work of nature are much rounded and possess none of the sharpness of angles shown in some representations of the subject.
Origins of the name
Several early writers refer to the Cheesewring as looking like a stack of cheeses. However, it is more likely that the name derives from cider making. The apple plup which is left behind by cider production is known locally as cheese. Old fashioned stone cider presses, many of which can still been seen in old farmyards today, resemble these strange stacks of natural granite.
This remarkable pile of rocks has been drawing people to it to marvel for thousands of years. The area around the hill is alive with numerous prehistoric remains. These include Stowes Pound, the Rillaton barrow and the three stone circles known as the Hurlers.
Local historian Borlase was of the opinion that this wonderful rock formation had been worshipped as an idol by the ancient druids.
And indeed there are a few legends associated with the Cheesewring. The first is that the top stone magically spins around 3 times whenever it hears a cockerel crow. Another is that this is not a natural rock formation at all that it is in fact the work of giants.
Before Christianity arrived in Cornwall this area of Bodmin Moor was the home of giants. One named Uther had a rock stacking competition with Saint Tue. The winner would be the one to place the last stone on the top of the pile. Christianity won, because Saint Tue sort of cheated. He had an angel come from heaven and help him to place the final stone on top of the Cheesewring.
The Cheesewring Quarry
The Cheesewring Quarry has taken a huge bite out of the hill on which the rock formation stands. Quarrying began here in 1845 and continued until the early 20th century. The quality of the granite is particularly fine and was much sort after. Granite from the Cheesewring Quarry was even used for cladding during the construction of Tower Bridge in London.
But when the continual blasting threatened the area’s most iconic landmark local pressure eventually forced the quarry to close. The site was abandoned in the 1930s and is now an attraction for rock climbing enthusiasts. During its heyday, however, the quarry contained a number of workman’s cottages as well as its own connection to the Liskeard and Caradon railway. The village of Minions was once called Cheesewring Railway.
When Black’s wrote their Guide to the Duchy of Cornwall in 1879 the quarry was still working at full capacity. The guide suggests that “the tourist might find some amusement in watching the labours of these Cornish athletes”. They were of course talking about the hard working men in the quarry.
The smaller pile of rocks you can see to one side of the Cheesewring was in fact put there at the beginning of the 20th century. The idea was that the smaller stack would act as a support to prevent the landmark from collapse. But on closer inspection you can see that this so-called ‘support’ is pretty ineffectual. It doesn’t even make contact with the mighty Cheesewring itself.
The Surrounding Landscape
The landscape that surrounds the Cheesewring is very special. The area around Stowe’s Hill and Craddock Moor is one of the richest and best preserved prehistoric landscapes in the country. It is covered with numerous prehistoric remains including ancient hut circles, cairns, stone rows and barrows (burial mounds) as well as standing stones and stone circles. One Bronze Age barrow known as the Rillaton Barrow stunned the archaeological world when it yielded up a magnificent gold cup in 1837.
The pre-iron age, most probably Neolithic, hill-top enclosure of Stowe’s Pound surrounds part of the ridge close to the Cheesewring. After thousands of years it’s walls are now a tumble of loose stone but are still 5m high in places. It’s construction is similar to other hill forts found at Carn Brea and Helman tor. Excavations on the hill uncovered a Trevisker pottery urn which contained more than 100 flint arrowheads, spearheads and a flint dagger. (Please resist the urge to move the stones or rearrange them into stacks or ‘fairy castles’, this is a protected ancient monument.)
Around Stowe’s hill and the Cheesewring the ground is scattered with worked stone abandoned by the quarrymen. You will also find the house of Daniel Gumb. This amazing local character, astronomer and mathematician, built himself as house here out of enormous boulders. You can find more information about him and his life HERE.
This moorland has altered very little in recent years. Wilkie Collins describes a visit to the Cheesewring in his book Rambles beyond Railways from 1861.
The cheesewring and its adjacent rocks were visible a mile and a half away on the summit of a steep hill. Wherever we looked, the horizon was bounded by the long dark undulating edges of the Moor. The ground rose and fell in little hillocks and hollows, tufted with dry grass and furze, and strewn throughout with fragments of granite. The whole plain appeared like the site of an ancient city of palaces, overthrown and crumbled into atoms by an earthquake. Here and there some cows were feeding; and sometimes a large crow winged his way lazily before us lessening and lessening slowly in the open distance until he was lost to sight.
The Cheesewring is a spectacular site to visit if you are lucky enough to find yourself on Bodmin Moor. This wild and wonderful place has plenty to offer the walker, the naturalist and anyone interested in ancient history.