GARDENING / The druids' playground: Enchanted Gardens No. 5: A former quarryman turned arch druid has filled his plot with modern megaliths and stone circles. In the first of a series, Helen Chappell visits a Celtic temple in a Cornish village

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The Independent Culture
IN THEIR long, white robes, embroidered with strange signs and symbols, Ed Prynn and his ladyfriend Glynis are hardly typical gardeners. Their garden at St Merryn, near Padstow in Cornwall, is far from the average herbaceous-border- with-a-bit-of-lawn job.

There are no flowers. Instead, the grass is decorated with huge and mysterious hunks of rock, standing in circles, carved into triangles and hexagons. What on earth are they all for? 'This is our wedding stone,' announces Ed loudly, waving at a smaller triangular stone pierced by a hole. 'We conduct ceremonies for all sorts of couples. Some of them have already been married for 20 or 30 years.' These are not legally binding unions, he adds, but they do renew old vows with unusual style. Hence the white robes.

Just what qualifications does Ed have to undertake all this romantic ritual? 'He's an arch druid,' Glynis tells me, her face cracking up in a grin. 'Self-appointed, of course.' So that's all right then. The happy couples are suitably impressed, anyway. In their proper white dresses, brides stand on one side of the stone, grooms on the other, while Ed intones thrillingly. He has honed his preaching skills by listening to tapes of the Rev Jesse Jackson, he explains. Then the couple join hands through the hole in the rock and kiss.

Ed and Glynis are not above conducting their garden weddings for holiday-making couples who have just got together for a couple of weeks, either. And druid weddings are only half the story. Ed's garden also has a healing stone, an 'angels' runway' (a stone slab atop three granite monoliths) and a 10-ton rocking stone, meant to confer good luck in money and super-fertility upon whoever rocks it (this is half worrying as I have just given it a gentle shove). 'Eccentric people must be able to come here and do whatever they like,' insists Ed, 'as long as they don't bring the police down on us.'

I can't pretend the meaning of the Prynn garden is crystal clear to the casual visitor. It helps to know something about its creator, though. Ed is 57, illiterate and an ex-shovel driver in a quarry who was forced to retire after an industrial accident back in 1969 left him almost blind. Instead of settling for a life of sedate disability, however, he has found himself becoming more audacious as time goes by. He has always lived in the village of St Merryn and has owned this plot of land since his youth. A legacy from an uncle three years ago finally persuaded him to build his dream house and garden on it. Up went his bungalow and, with the assistance of friends and relatives in this still tightly-knit community, up went the bold stones. Nineteen chunks of best Cornish granite, weighing between two and 10 tons each.

At first, Ed was planning only to re-create some of the stone monuments he had admired in wild places such as Bodmin Moor. He had some vague thoughts about conferring good luck on his visitors. Then, having consulted faith healers and white witches all his life (this, he insists, was once quite natural in Cornish families), he decided to use his rocks to try out a spot of his own healing. The more research he did into ancient Celtic practices, the more convinced he became that some power from his stones could help people in physical or spiritual distress. 'You can't prove it,' he says. 'After all, I've got no education, not much eyesight and I was slung out on the scrapheap. I'm basically a Christian but I've got something magic working for me. This garden is my little temple. God gave it to me.'

And, like all enchanted gardens, Ed's outdoor temple is a perfect balance of the romantic and eccentric. It is set on a hill in the middle of rolling fields just outside a tiny stone-built village. Yet visitors come to see it from all over the country, fascinated by the weird but light- hearted philosophy behind it. It is not, stresses Ed, a mere exercise in wacky megalomania. 'You don't set things up to draw attention to yourself,' he says, 'because everyone round here knows you and that doesn't count at all. But Cornish people are different, they like anything eccentric. The wilder the better.' Perhaps that is why the county in general, and Ed's garden in particular, have become magnets for today's New Age enthusiasts. These earnest young folk turn up on his doorstep seeking rebirthing ceremonies and reasonably-priced bed and breakfast accommodation. Ed, of course, can provide both.

The most striking of the rocks in Ed's garden is the group of standing stones arranged in a circle. These towering slabs, glinting in the summer sunshine, are each dedicated to an important woman in his life. 'I call them the seven sisters,' he says enigmatically. 'That one there is great-aunt Hilda, this one is my mother, Marjorie, that's Jackie, an old ladyfriend of mine, and the tall one's Marion, the ex-Bluebell dancer. She drove me to the quarry for six months to collect the stones.' Several questions leap to mind as he pats the rocks with fond familiarity. Like a true druid, however, he has read my thoughts. 'The other one is the secret lady; my lips are sealed about her. The one in the middle is me, the 'peacemaker'.' He lowers his voice. 'I haven't got one for Glynis,' he says, sounding slightly puzzled. His ex-wife Marie is also absent.

Still, things change constantly in the garden and what is up one day may be down the next. It may even be 12 feet underground, like the replica of an ancient Cornish fogou, or round barrow, which he has just completed. 'You must see this,' he chortles, leading me down a flight of steps cut into the lawn. Like Alice falling down her rabbit hole, I find this a disconcerting experience. There is even a pool of tears at the bottom but this, admits Glynis, is the result of a rainy day and someone forgetting to turn on the electric pump. A flick of the switch later, the water disappears through some pebbles and we are free to admire this bizarre architectural feat. A perfectly round stone chamber with shaped blocks of granite for walls and 12 tons of granite over our heads. Others might make do with a reproduction Victorian conservatory, but Ed Prynn had to build himself the first round barrow for 3,000 years.

'This is where we hold the rebirthing ceremonies,' he says. 'We fit it all out with rugs and flowers and candles, of course. Some people look a bit frightened when I appear down here in these robes, but they soon get used to it.' He slaps a phallic-shaped stone protruding from the middle of the floor. 'And this is our drekly stone. The local coastguard gave it to me, after it had been under his caravan for 20 years.' Drekly (as in 'I'll do it drekly') is a Cornish equivalent to the ironic Spanish expression manana, I discover. This doesn't go very far toward explaining the purpose of this rock, but I am learning to suspend my logical faculties. 'We tell all our ladies that it brings good luck to be underneath so much rock,' says Ed. 'Of course, there is even more luck if you have no clothes on.' Apparently, some spiritually adventurous ladies sneak down here in the buff when nobody is looking.

Above ground again, Ed and Glynis offer me more conventional refreshment. Pausing briefly to admire a rock donated by the governor of the Falkland Islands (how did it get here? don't ask), we adjourn to the sitting- room for tea and crab sandwiches.

'I loved being a quarryman,' says Ed thoughtfully, 'but you always find something else to do, don't you?' No stamp-collecting or prize marrows for him, though. What is more, he has moved all his mountains on a shoestring budget. This miracle was achieved by persuading an astonishing number of local firms and willing friends to heave rocks, drive JCBs and mix concrete in the ancient druid cause. Their efforts are commemorated by inscribed slate plaques decorating the house and adjoining shed. 'Glynis did all those,' says Ed proudly. 'She taught herself to be a killer with the drill.' They have got a bit carried away with this spontaneous wall of fame. There are slate plaques covering most of the front of the house now, and the scope has been widened to include anyone the couple happens to admire, living or dead. Along with Florence Nightingale, Baden-Powell, Cliff Richard, Gazza, Annie Oakley, Leonardo da Vinci and Frank Ifield, there is a collection of the self-made celebrities to whom Ed is especially attached. He finds it hard to choose a favourite from the likes of Jesse Boot, Forrest Mars, Anita Roddick and Margaret Thatcher (who visited the garden with Denis during a golfing holiday). If pressed, he will plump for his spiritual mentors, Sir Jimmy Savile or Billy Graham.

'Glynis does all the research on these people,' says Ed, 'and finds out their amazing life stories.' Glynis also mixes concrete, makes druid robes and has embroidered the hangings of the mystical four-poster bed in which the bed-and-breakfasters sleep. She shows me these motifs (the cocksure giant of Cerne Abbas, the Zennor mermaid and Taurus the bull) as she tells how she and Ed met three years ago. Naturally, this involved both parties consulting fortune-tellers and (widowed) Glynis drawing up a list of eligible local men with bungalows.

She and Ed clearly belong together. 'My teenage children say it's like being part of the Addams Family,' she says cheerfully.

Outside, Ed and Glynis survey their little kingdom. 'If anyone out there is afraid of being laughed at,' says Ed, 'they mustn't be. Never be afraid of what your neighbours will say. David Icke said he blessed God for making him a bit loopy. But I wish He'd made me even loopier.'

Ed Prynn's garden is open by appointment. Contact him at The Stones, Tresallyn Cross, St Merryn, Padstow, Cornwall (0841 521045/520256).

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