Men-An-Tol - Cornish for "stone of the hole" - is a unique monument. It consists of a circular central stone (approximately 3.5ft tall and 4.5ft wide), two flanking stones and a fallen outlier. The central stone is the aforementioned "stone of the hole", the perforation being about 18 inches wide and aligned with the two flanking stones. The central stone is also known as "The Crick Stone" or "The Devil's Eye". It's worth noting that the alignment we see today may not be original. A plan of the site from 1754 shows the stones in a triangular arrangement.
It used to be suggested that this monument was the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber, but more recent theories postulate that there was once a stone circle at this site to which the surviving stones were central. When the Cornwall Archaeology Unit cleared the surrounding area of gorse, they discovered evidence to support the existence of at least 11 stones, suggesting a circle of roughly 50ft in diameter with maybe 20 stones in total. It's possible to visually identify a number of fallen stones around the site, but it's impossible to verify whether these are incidental or of greater significance.
The surrounding landscape certainly suggests that this was an area of great importance in Neolithic times. Further up the lane that leads to the site, Men Scryfa ("Lone Stone") can be seen off in a field to the left. A little further still, The Nine Maidens of Boskednan can be found overlooking a windswept slope. All along this journey, the suspicious eye will no doubt identify a number of stones of dubious origin embedded in the local dry stone walls.
Suggestions regarding the significance of the central stone include astronomical alignments and rebirthing rituals. The stone has also been attributed with healing properties, but it's impossible to say whether this is a surviving echo of an original practice or something later. Whatever the case, the stone has been rumoured for hundreds of years to be effective as a cure for rickets and other back complaints. Children were once passed three times through the stone at particular times of the year as a cure for such conditions. Tradition holds that they were then drawn three times through the grass to the East. Adults, however, needed to pass through the stone nine times against the sun to have their pains relieved.
The antiquarian William Borlase recounts a conversation in 1749 during which a Cornish farmer advised him how the supernatural movement of two brass pins placed on the stones would be utilised by the "over-curious" as a means of divining the future.
It's not uncommon for people to come away from Men-An-Tol with a sense of disappointment. Dramatic pictures have a habit of lending the stones an exaggerated stature at odds with their actual size, leaving some visitors a little surprised at their diminutive proportions. Don't be put off though - these stones are really special and the whole surrounding landscape is just oozing Neolithic mystery.
Another bonus worth noting is that the short walk from the road is enough to deter the vast majority of tourists, so it's not unusual to find the site deserted. We spent at least 15 minutes here on a sunny Saturday in August without any disturbance. You'll probably encounter company if you linger long enough, but not in sufficient quantity to disturb your visit.