Rocky Valley Carvings

Near Tintagel the River Trevillet descends through a wooded gorge, passing the ancient hermitage of St Nectan and spilling over the waterfall known as the Kieve. The river flows through beautiful woodland before plunging once more through a jumble of jagged rocks to the sea. This final section of the river's descent is known as Rocky Valley. The power of the water made it a natural source of power for two mills. One of the mills, Trevillet, is now a private dwelling, but the other, 18th century Trethevy Mill, produced cloth and yarn until 1861 but now stands derelict.

Near the decaying mill buildings is an exposed rock face of dark shale, and onto the surface of the rock face have been carved a pair of mysterious labyrinth symbols, with concentric circular lines very much in the same style as the turf mazes that were popular in the medieval period.

There are (at least) three schools of thought on the age of the carvings. The most commonly quoted version suggests that they date to the early Bronze Age (1800-1400 BC). Supporters of this view point to the similarities between the Rocky Valley carvings and carvings from Galicia, in Spain. There are some notable difference, however. The Spanish carvings are made on high ground, not in a valley bottom, but perhaps more tellingly, they are carved into relatively soft shale. Could they have survived 4000 years in such good condition?

A second theory is that the carved incisions in the rock face are so deep and cris that they would have required metal tools, suggesting a date in the Celtic (Iron Age) period, roughly between 500 BC and AD 200.

A third theory is that the carvings are relatively modern, perhaps made by one of the mill owners. In support of that theory there are several examples of dates and initials carved into stones on the mill. Could one of the mill's tenants have carved the labyrinths?

What makes the Rock Valley petroglyphs so fascinating, and so controversial, is that there are no comparable rock carvings anywhere in southern England. The theme just doesn't appear. The most complex carvings elsewhere in Cornwall are simple cup-marked slabs connected with burial sites.

The labyrinth symbols have been interpreted in many different ways. They are said to be a Celtic fertility symbol or as a representation of the tree of life. Modern writers have suggested that the labyrinth was used by local witches to help induce states of altered consciousness. Alternatively, they are said to be a reminder of the Classical Greek cult of Ariadne and Dionysus.

Below are a selection of photographs from my visit there.