Review: Matter of the Otherworld – the Ancient Stones & Megalithic Structures of Cornwall by Samuel S. Davison

I first spoke to Sam Davison two years ago, back in 2020, when he contacted me to tell me that he was on a mission to visit and photograph every ancient standing stone in Cornwall! I remember thinking at the time that it was a pretty ambitious project (that’s an understatement!) but the images he sent me as a little preview were wonderful and I secretly hoped I would hear more from him. A few weeks ago I did!

And cannot express to you how excited I am about this book! It’s just wonderful!

Beautifully designed and thoughtfully curated, with a clean, modern layout that really shows these enigmatic sites off to their greatest advantage. Of course Matter of the Otherworld does not contain images from every single stone that Sam visited (that would be one massive tome!) but it does gather together a wide range of ancient monuments from the familiar to the much more obscure.

Each individual place comes with a short description of the site’s history, some vital statistics and coordinates are included which is interesting, helpful and welcome but for me Matter of the Otherworld is not really about words, it is all about the images.

This book is more than 400 pages of megalithic porn (sorry, that sounded better in my head!), full of exciting, unusual and atmospheric photographs of these incredible Cornish sites.

Each entry contains multiple images of the featured stone. Taken at all times of day and night and in different seasons or weathers, capturing the different faces, moods and personalities of these amazing, immovable monuments.

Ultimately what shines through in these pages is the author’s love for these stones and I really think that this book is a must for anyone who feels the same way. Anyone who will to tramp through nettles, gorse, brambles and mud just to stand beside these stones. Anyone who feels a connection to these ancient places. Anyone who just loves the prehistory of Cornwall.

I spoke to Sam about this incredible project, how it all came about and why he loves these megalithic giants . . .

Interview with Samuel Davison

  • Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your background, your connections to Cornwall?

I was born in Cornwall, and grew up here around the north coast. I work as a luthier, jazz
musician and landscape photographer.

  • Where did your interest in prehistory start?

I think like so many people, I guess it started with The Great Pyramid and all the mysteries
associated with it, probably about six or seven years ago now. From there, I just began
relentlessly reading and watching everything I could find out about it. Which then led on to
researching all kinds of other ancient mysteries associated with megalithic architecture all
around the world; esoteric science, geomancy, sacred geometry, quantum mechanics,
ancient eastern philosophy… you name it, I was reading a book about it! It sounds strange
now, but for a while I had no idea on the parallels between the ancient stones in Cornwall and
the rest of the world.

  • Which site in Cornwall means the most to you and why?

There are so many that have come to mean so much to me now, for all kinds of different
reasons really, but if I had to say, it has always been the mighty celebrity that is Men Gurta. I
have no idea how many times I’ve been to see her… but it’s a lot! I was even there today!
She is located only around 2 miles away from where I live, but until about 3 years ago I had
absolutely no idea about her. Aside from her being such an incredible stone in so many
ways, she means a lot personally as I never stop being amazed at how this magnificent and
many thousands of years old part of prehistory (which seems like it could be in a museum),
has always been so close by, a constant reminder for me of how something so special can
be right in front of you.

For anyone reading this that has not seen her in the flesh, she is such an incredible menhir; covered
in streaks of feldspar and quartz that spiral around her, and so unique that when viewed from different
angles, she could be four completely different stones. She also has her own small patch of
heath/moorland all to herself, that she kind of rules over – protecting it in this maternal and humble-like way. The St Breock Downs Menhir is only a few hundred yards away as well, which is a really
stunning and curious stone. The pair remind me of the ancient Egyptian goddesses Isis and
Nephthys; Men Gurta as the dominating presence and St Breock Downs Menhir, acting as her
mysterious magical sister behind the scenes; the two of them keeping guard for thousands of years,
then turned to stone! I think anyone who regularly visits the stones has their favourites which they
form a bond with; you can’t really explain it, you just get to know which energy suits yours I guess. 

  • This book is the result of an amazing but pretty ambitious project. Why did you decide to set yourself the challenge of visiting all of Cornwall’s standing stones?

I just became completely drawn to finding and photographing them as best I could. It then
turned into a sort of treasure hunt I guess and became impossible to stop. It wasn’t until I
started capturing certain stones in a certain way that I began to see them in a different light,
and then the idea to create a book about them was just something I had to do. Little did I
know the challenge ahead and the 400 plus page book later! 

I started ruminating a lot about how I wanted the book to be and look and how to create it in
a different way that would show much more of their personality and magic; how I saw them. I
had no idea at the time this would involve re-visiting individual stones many times to get the
right shot, and at different times of the day/year, whilst enduring all kinds of weather in the
process. I’m certainly not complaining, it’s been one of the best experiences of my life, but I
didn’t quite realise the task at hand to be honest! Some of the stones were so difficult to find
as well, at times it almost felt like I was being put through some kind of initiation process by
them, and only through sheer determination would they reveal themselves to me! . . . nothing
to do with my inexperience of trekking in the wilds of course.

A big part of what making this book has all been about, is from trying my absolute best to
make it appeal to not only those who know and love the stones already, but also in the hope
to attract people who may be less aware of them to go and visit and get to know them. We
all secretly want to keep them all to ourselves, but the more people who do get to know
them, is to a large degree, what will keep many of these extremely important sacred sites
alive.

  • Do you have a favourite image from your collection?

I think it’s probably the horse using the large, deliberately leaning end stone at Colvannick
Stone Row to give itself a good old scratch. The horse is stunning, and to see it acting
peculiar is really funny, but mostly for me it highlights in a very natural way how these
beautiful peculiars in stone act as a kind of medicine, for all who encounter them, in all kinds
of ways.

A close second is the one of St Breock Downs Menhir that’s on my website. It’s by no means
a high quality photo but it’s a very sentimental shot for me, as whenever I see it, it just takes
me back to being right in the thick of the hunt for the stones. It was taken just before sunrise,
in pretty much the dark, and as you can see from the drops of water on the lens it was
raining too, also pretty cold out there! I’m not exactly sure why that particular photo conjures
up those feelings for me, but every time I see it, it just reminds me of how this adventure was
such a big part of my life at the time and what I was drawn to do.

  • What got you into stones?

From living in Cornwall, and from a young age, I had always known about Roughtor and
Brown Willy, nothing really particular about them, just that they were this strangely special
kind of place nearby, I had also visited Stonehenge a couple of times, obviously just looking
at it as opposed to ‘seeing’ it type thing. I think that’s probably quite a common occurrence
with most people, we look at these grand, epic curiosities but they are so far removed from
our general understanding they can be easily overlooked or brushed under our thoughts
altogether.

Anyway, until much later in life that was my only experience with the stones. At some point I
just became fascinated with many of the world’s most famous megalithic structures,
particularly The Great Pyramid, and then one day it just dawned on me to see what was
here.. you can imagine my joy! Before I knew it me and Cody (my dog) were travelling all
over the place in my beat up 20 year old car, trekking across all kinds of moorland and all
sorts of off the beaten track places in all kinds of weather, and often getting chased by large
animals in the process too!
From going to some of these places you really get to see parts of Cornwall you would
never normally know about, there is just so much to explore. You never really know what’s
going to be beyond that hill, across that field, or hidden in those woods. Whenever I’m
driving around now I’m always looking for where the next hidden stone might be!

Get Your Copy of ‘Matter of the Otherworld’

If you would like to buy this book you can do so HERE

Further Reading

You can find more of my book reviews HERE

Review: ‘Whistling Jack’ by Josephine Gardiner

Review: The Western Kingdom – The Birth of Cornwall by John Fletcher

From Granite to Sea – A Review of Alex Langstone’s latest book

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