Os grid reference 4021 3395. On the windswept moorland of south Cornwall at the northern edge of Woon Gumpus Common stands the famous and well-preserved mushroom-shaped Neolithic burial chamber or portal dolmen, Chun Quoit, which is also sometimes called a cromlech (cromlech being a Welsh term). It’s not an easy monument to get to but it is probably best reached from footpaths coming off the B3318 (north road) to the west and walking in a north-easterly direction. The author John Hillaby in his book ‘Journey through Britain’ sums up the approach to the ancient burial chamber like this: “It loomed up over the horizon like a huge stone mushroom”. A quoit is the Cornish term for a burial chamber, of which there are several in this part of the country. The little village of Morvah lies about 1 mile to the north on the B3306 road, while the Cornish town of Penzance is 4 miles east on the Lanyon-Madron road.
In myth and legend giants used these megalithic monuments for games practise and, according to author Sally Jones in her work ‘Legends of Cornwall’, she says “It is easy to see why it was said to be the plaything of the local giants in their games of bob-button and why a group of Saxon kings are thought to have used it for a dining table” though “here” she is referrering to another megalithic tomb, Lanyon Quoit, a mile to the south-east. They are though just like giant tables with supporting legs and, so down the centuries have come to be called prehistoric ‘table tombs’. We can still see table tombs in old graveyards in Britain today
Chun Quoit sits within a low, round-shaped mound 35 feet in diameter, all that now remains of the original soil mound (round barrow) that covered the burial chamber before erosion took over. A number of small outer boulders stand in this kerbed mound that was probably the forecourt. The quoit stands proudly over 7 feet in height with a huge boat-shaped granite capstone that sits quite comfortably on it’s 3 upright granite stones all roughly 5 feet high; but at one end it overhangs – looking precariously like it could slide off at any time – this is because a fourth upright stone has itself slipped to one side and does not “now” support the monument. The rounded (convex) capstone measures 10 feet by 9 feet and is over 2 foot thick; and is said to have a single cup-mark. Almost certainly it weighs several tonnes. It’s inner chamber is closed or blocked off by the 3 large upright stones thus stopping any would-be intruder from entering the grave and so allowing the body and soul of the dead chieftain to ‘rest in peace’. It obviously worked too because anyone would have great difficulty squeezing through to the chamber’s inner sanctum. Chun Quoit is thought to date back between 4,000-6,000 years to the Neolithic Age. The name ‘Chun’ means ‘House on the Downs’.
Some 300 yards (100 metres) to the east of Chun Quoit are the round-shaped earthworks of an Iron-Age hillfort, Chun Castle, which is more recent in date, roughly 2,000 years or so. But all around this area there are other prehistoric sites:- Lanyon Quoit, the sacred Men-an-Tol holed fertility stone with its adjacent phallic stone, and the Men Screfys standing stone, being just three other local antiquities within a couple of miles. This particular part of Cornwall appears to have been a Neolithic trading route to and from the coast of Brittany and probably northern Spain as well.
Sykes, Homer., Mysterious Britain, Cassell Paperbacks (Cassell & Co), London, 2001
Hillaby, John., Journey through Britain, Paladin Books (Granada Publishing Ltd)., London, 1983.
Jones, Sally., Legends of Cornwall, Bossiney Books, St Teath, Bodmin, Cornwall, 1980.