Goodaver: Then and Now

Please be aware Goodaver circle is on private land and permission must be sought before visiting it.

Within the digitalised Stanley Opie collection of photographs in Penzance’s Morrab Library, there are three images entitled “Unidentified stone circle. Possibly on Bodmin Moor”. The photos give an impression of a typical Bodmin Moor circle in the style of the Stripple Stones, situated on open moorland with extensive views. But on closer inspection, it cannot be the Stripple stones as the stones and landscape do not match details in the images.

Stanley Opie was an archaeologist who liked to take photographs of historic sites and archaeological digs in Cornwall. Born in Barncoose, Redruth in 1884 he used an Ensign Cameo No. 2 camera with Imperial Eclipse plates to take his photos between 1930–50. The collection is housed in the Morrab Library in Penzance and has been digitalised and is now accessible online and through authorised visits. During his career, he imaged many sites around Cornwall and some further afield and it must have been a huge job to try and identify some of the places in the images.

Examination of the three images shows them to be of Goodaver stone circle on Bodmin Moor. This may surprise people as a visit to the circle today is an entirely different prospect. The circle is surrounded by trees that have been grown as part of the local plantation. It gives an enticing view of how the circle may have been positioned and the possible sightlines. It allows us to postulates about astronomical alignments which may have been of importance to the original builders.

In recent times the whole site has become encircled by trees, other than a view to the west where the hillside drops to the farm and river bed below.

There was an opportunity to visit the site and image the circle before an attempt was made to match the orientation of the Opie photos and the landscape features within. It would be interesting to identify the possible sightlines from the circles if the trees were not in place, sightlines that the original builders may have had when choosing where to position their circle.

The Rabbit stone helped orientate the circle in the photos (to the left of the image

It helped that there are a number of unusually shaped stones. One in particularly got named the rabbit stone after having a similar profile of the Lindt rabbit, it can be seen on the left of this image. (I should say at this stage that the circle was heavily restored in 1906 and some of the stones are thought to have been replaced incorrectly, even upside down).

Opie Photograph no 1

This image took a bit of matching. The two central blocky looking stones and the rabbit-shaped stone on the right of the image helped orientate it. In my image below the rabbit, the stone is also to the right and slightly obscured by the rocks in front of it.

The rise in the ground beyond the circle is Brown Gelly, this is towards the southwest. This Tor is obscured by the trees in the left of the more recent image. The area has a number of interesting ancient sites on it including a number of Cairns on the top, which can be seen on the ridgeline of the image. There can be no solar or lunar alignment with these local cairns as they are too far to the south when standing within the circle.

Stanley Opie, “Unidentified stone circle. Possibly on Bodmin Moor,” Morrab Library Photographic Archive, accessed January 4, 2022, http://photoarchive.morrablibrary.org.uk/items/show/6371

Image 1 match

Opie Photograph number 2

This second image gives a more expansive view looking out from the circle to a number of ridgeways and hills beyond.

Looking at the stones in the image, the tall pointy stone and gap, next to the man at the front of the circle helped orientate the image, as did the rabbit-shaped stone behind him. The image looks from the south of the circle facing north.

The hill towards the centre-left of the image is Leskernick, it is possible that Bronn Wennili (Brown Willy) is visible to the left of the image. This is exciting as it means that standing in the circle you could have seen the summer solstice sunset over the distant hill. This is an extension of the line which starts at the newly discovered menhir on the ridge above the Hurlers circle, extends through Craddock Moor circle and the avenue at Craddock Moor, onwards to Goodaver circle. Making it possible to see the same summer solstice sunset at a number of important prehistoric locations across the moor.

Continuing to the centre-right of the image is the local plantation ridge. Fox Tor which is relatively local to the circle would have been to the right of the image.

The pointed stone which the man is stood beside in the Opie image is front left in the recent one. My image is orientated slightly differently from the old image. It would have been pointing directly down the field to the right of the modern image. Looking down the neighbouring field in recent times there is no possibility of seeing what hills lay beyond.

Stanley Opie, “Unidentified stone circle. Possibly on Bodmin Moor,” Morrab Library Photographic Archive, accessed January 4, 2022, http://photoarchive.morrablibrary.org.uk/items/show/6370

Image 2 Match 

Opie Photograph no 3

The Opie photo shows stones in profile against the sky above with no plantation beyond, the rabbit-shaped stone is in the front row of the circle on the central left. Matching it to my photos of the circle, it has been taken from the northwestern side of the circle down the ridge a little way. Kilmar Tor would have been visible if the photo had been taken with slightly increased elevation. This Tor is directly east from the circle and in the position of the rising sun at the equinox (midpoint between the solstices).  The modern photo has been taken from higher up the hill and the craggy tops of Kilmar Tor can still be seen through the gaps made by the less dense boundary of trees.

Stanley Opie, “Unidentified stone circle. Possibly on Bodmin Moor,” Morrab Library Photographic Archive, accessed January 4, 2022, http://photoarchive.morrablibrary.org.uk/items/show/6372

Image 3 Match

A plan of the matched direction of the photographs taken by Opie numbered 1-3

From matching the photographs old to modern I was able to make a plan of the directions that the Opie images were taken in: The plan below it is as follows:

R = Rabbit stone

L = taller long stone

Credit: Annotated Google maps image

Finally, I should add that within the Opie photographs none were taken in the direction of Hawks Tor in the west. This has been identified by Cheryl Straffon and John Barnett as an equinox setting position when standing in the circle. When visiting the circle in more recent times the Tor can still be seen in the gap made by the plantation to the west and is the one remaining solar alignment that could be viewed in action. Maybe one day the larger plantation trees will be replaced with smaller saplings and make the other viewpoints possible.

Access to the Stanley Opie collection and all the other wonderful historic digitalised images that the library has can be made here:

http://photoarchive.morrablibrary.org.uk/

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