Rocky Valley Labyrinths

Picturesque valley with rock carvings near Tintagel

Trewethett Mill - Rocky Valley
Trewethett Mill - Rocky Valley

The aptly named Rocky Valley lies less than a couple of miles north of Tintagel. This beautiful wooded valley has been carved by the Trevillet River over the millennia as it cascades down towards the sea. A popular riverside walk, the valley draws a reliable stream of visitors who come here for the tranquil surrounds and magical ambience. 

From top to bottom Rocky Valley is a place of natural beauty which changes in character as you progress towards the ocean. Towards the upper reaches of the valley the little river meanders through woodland forming pools and shallows before it begins to gather pace further down. Here the scenery is at its most dramatic as the stream has cut a deep gorge through the soft slate. At some points the craggy rocks rise up to 70 feet above the valley floor shortly before it plummets into the sea.

This alone may sound sufficiently enchanting but Rocky Valley is also a place of history and some mystery. Powered by the forceful little river there were once two mills located here; one has now been converted into a house whilst the other, further down the valley, has gone to ruin.  Now derelict, Trethevy Mill has various dates carved into the stones the earliest of which is 1779. It is also known to have produced cloth until the mid 1800s.

Rocky Valley Maze
Rocky Valley Maze

Tucked away on a damp rock face just behind the old mill are a pair of mysterious rock carvings (or petroglyphs to give them their proper name!). Known as the Rocky Valley Labyrinths these were only discovered in 1948. Featuring a familiar maze motif, seen in other Celtic settings, it is unclear when and by whom the labyrinths were created. Suggestions range from the Bronze Age settlers to as late as Georgian times, but in reality nobody knows.

There have been a few ideas put forward about when and why the designs may have been carved. One possibility relates to neighbouring St Nectan's Glen, a waterfall and early Christian hermitage located a little further up the Trevillet River. Considered by some a sacred site, it is said St Nectan lived in a hermitage at the head of the waterfall. On stormy days he would venture down to the end of Rocky Valley and ring a silver bell to warn ships away from the treacherous rocks. The legend goes that St Nectan was buried under the riverbed at Trevillet, giving it magical powers. It seems possible that the labyrinths could have been carved by early Christian pilgrims, although they do not represent traditional Christian iconography.

Another suggestion is the rock carvings could be much more recent. During the 18th century mazes became all the vogue and can be seen in places such as gardens, buildings and other designs from the time. Whatever their source, the proximity to that hotbed of "Neopaganism", Tintagel, has made the carvings something of a New Age shrine. Ribbons and crystals can often be found hanging from nearby trees.