King Doniert's Stone
SX 23377 68867
1. Two Crosses
2. Doniert's Stone
3. Other Half Stone
4. Info Plaque
Tuesday the 22nd August + Cornwall + damp + muggy + narrow Cornish lanes = total frustration. Having driven to Axminster and then to Okehampton followed by Launceston, I ended up at Liskeard. The weather was not what the holiday brochures would describe as, "sun kissed" which meant all the tourists were not on the beach getting 'kissed'. They were causing a 20 mph 'embuggerance' on the small, narrow lanes of rural Cornwall. You have never seen such a pantomime, drivers of huge great 4 x 4's that can't reverse, most of which had no idea of the width of their vehicles. You know you are going to have a problem when an 'elderly' driver suddenly darts out of a side turning causing the loss of 10 mm of your expensive tire tread and then proceeds to trundle along at 15 mph. They must be visually impaired because the sight of your front grill and two headlights on full beam filling their driving mirror never seems to encourage a faster rate of travel. Well, that is until you come to the only straight stretch of road for 10 miles then they accelerate to 98.7 mph and then return to 15 mph once the road has returned to 'S' bends.
To add to this frustration, just imagine following about 8 of such drivers and the realising your fuel gauge is reading empty 20 miles ago. The convoy was going so slow I saw one old boy take his cap off because he thought it was a funeral cortège. It was whilst in this snaking caravan of travellers that I realised another thing, where have all the rural petrol stations gone? I had never really given it a thought as like most reps I normally fill up on the motorway but literally village after village was 'pumpless'. Then I got to thinking about Dartmoor and from memory I think there are 3 petrol stations on the whole of the moor. Then in the distance a garage looms into sight, thank god for that, but the relief is short lived because although it still retains its canopy it now sells motor-homes. By now the touch paper has been lit because I am just waiting for the final cough as the engine gives up the ghost due to fuel starvation, and where is the new petrol can I bought last week? back home in the garage. The other annoying fact is that when I did pass a garage earlier it was full of groc.., visitors filling up their 4 x 4's and I was too impatient to queue. I did however finally reach a garage and managed to get 60.3 litres into a 60 litre tank so that shows how much fuel was left - minus point three of a litre?
Having re-hydrated the car I rejoined the country lane shuffle and soon became embroiled in a line consisting of three camper homes, two 4 x 4's, one bus and what seemed like forty-seven Ka's, all lead by a 1962 ford popular driven by its original 'careful lady driver' at a really 'careful' speed of thirteen miles per hour. What were the lines from Robert Frosts poem... "I have miles to go before I sleep". I had just opened my fourth packet of cigarettes when I noticed through the miasma of smoke a brown tourist sign in a lay-by so I swung in to allow my blood pressure to drop from critical to its normal 'high'. The thing I like about the Cornish tourist signs is that most of them have the cross of St. Pirran plastered over the English Heritage logo, pity we don't do the same in Devon now we have a flag. Anyway it transpires I had arrived at King Doniert's Stone, only I couldn't actually see it because it was surrounded by a canopy of translucent pink plastic pac-a-macs under which I presume was a family of holiday makers. Eventually they all climbed into their 'miracle car' and shot off down the road, why was it a 'miracle car', simple, they spoke with a northern accent and by the look of the car it was a miracle it made it down to Cornwall.
King Doniert's Stone is in fact two stones - see ill. 1, encompassed within only what could be described as a stone auditorium. By the look of the ample seating the stones are used for some sort of gathering? The information plaque - see ill. 4, was as usual relatively lacking in what it informed and I managed to glean that:
"Two granite cross bases are decorated in the late 9th century style and probably date from that time. The shorter stone carries a Latin inscription. "Doniert Progavit Pro Anima" saying "Doniert ordered (this cross) for (the good of) his soul". Doniert was probably Durngarth, King of Cornwall who was drowned in AD 875. The two stones have regular sockets on their tops and probabaly carried wooden crosses".
So there we are, King Doniert's Stone is in fact two stones, both of which were cross bases, Oh, and he drowned in AD 875 and had the stones erected for, "the peace of his soul". The sign also warns that, "historic sites can be hazardous", yeah, like two deeply embedded cross bases that have stood on the site for centuries could suddenly topple over? Ok, time to go home and do some research.
Langdon, 1996, pp 29 - 30, tells us that the inscribed cross pedestal - see ill. 2, carries the Latin inscription, "Doniert rogavit pro anima" which he translates as reading, "Doniert has asked prayers for his Soul". The other faces of the pedestal have panels which contain six and four cord plaits and interlaced knots. He concurs that the inscription probably dates to the 9th century. Apparently in 1685 some tinners in search of treasure dug under the stone and found a chamber. Their excavations undermined its stability and it fell over, in 1849 another excavation was carried out by Charles Spence after which the stone was re-erected.
The other cross base which Langdon calls the, "Other Half Stone" is nothing to do with the inscribed stone and is probably of an earlier date. The only decoration visible today are two panels, one containing an eight cord plait and the other a plain empty panel. The National Monuments register (No. SX 26 NW5) states that the 1849 excavation revealed what was an Iron Age tin mine or a subterranean oratory, it also adds that these two cross bases are the only 9th century examples to be found in Cornwall. The inscription is also only one of two in the county which mention the name of a Cornish King. There is also a tradition that the 1849 excavation found the skeleton of a horse under the stone but of this there is no proof.
So who was King Doniert or Durngarth? According to the Caradon Council website he was the last true Cornish King prior to the dreaded English bringing the 'Celtic' rule to an end. Celtic, I hate that word, what does it mean? It's not a race of people, it describes a very broad culture and no lesser person than Francis Pryor, 2003, p.118, considers that Simon James cogently argued that, "the Celts themselves probably never existed as a distinct cultural identity". I digress, so he was the last of the native Cornish kings, He was the son of king Caraduc of Cornwall and drowned in 875, some sources say this happened whilst on a hunting expedition.
So there we have it, if ever your are doing the 'Emmett Amble' along the lanes by St. Cleer stop off and have a look at these old cross remains, they are literally beside the road. On the way back I also came across a sign for Dupath Well which is a new one on me, sadly time did not allow a visit but it's definately on the 'to do' list - now done see here!
Langdon A. 1996 Stone Crosses in East Cornwall, The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies.
Pryor. F. 2003 Britain BC, Harper Collins, London.
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