For the past 5 years, the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) have held a Pathways to the Past weekend consisting of a series of walks and talks around and within the West Penwith area. This year is the 6th year for this event, and I was fortunate in my holiday timing to be able to attend one of the walks last Saturday afternoon, May 26th.
The walk was entitled ‘Sacred sites and Settlements’, and was led by local archaeologist David Giddings. We met (some 53 souls!) at Lanyon Farm for the start of the walk, and after financials and some H&S issues were dealt with, we set off along the road for a short distance before entering the fields to the south. We were fortunate in that the weather was fine (heatwave!) and the ground was dry, making progress much easier. Although, with 50-plus people there were inevitable delays waiting for stragglers at the various stopping points.
The first stop was at West Lanyon Quoit, not often visited as it’s on private property and not visible from the road. Once everyone had caught up, David gave an erudite summation of its known history, and pointed out that the capstone, which is leaning against the single remaining upright, would actually have been on the far side of the upright from where it now is. Looking at the site, this is contrary to what you would expect!
Close by to the quoit, in the corner of the field are the remains of a medieval long house, which may have been the original farmhouse owned by the Lanyon family. Again, a detailed explanation was given for what could be seen at the site, including details of how livestock kept in the lower (downhill) part of the house would have been used as an early form of central heating!
We then retraced our steps back to the road, and continued on to Lanyon Quoit, one of the most famous landmarks on the peninsula, being so close to the road and easily visible when passing. Despite almost everyone present being fully ‘au fait’ with the quoit and its known facts, David again entertained us all by going through them, and pointing out that the story of a man on horseback being able to pass under the quoit before its collapse in the early 1800s must have been a very short man on a shetland pony! The work done to truncate one of the taller uprights as part of the 1824 restoration can be quite plainly seen and felt, as the indentations from where the stone was cut down by drilling are still evident.
At this juncture, and possibly for comic effect (?) David temporarily ‘lost the path’ to our next target, Bosiliack Barrow, although the barrow could be plainly seen from Lanyon if you knew where to look. Once convened at the barrow, which was excavated 28 years ago (publication of the excavation is due ‘soon’) and is of the Scillonian type which are found only on Scilly and in Penwith, various discussions took place as to possible uses. Although a funerary urn had been found in the chamber, it is thought that it was not used for ‘burials’ as would be expected. An alignment with the solstice sunrise was noted for the chamber itself. The chamber is offset from the centre of the cairn but why this should be is not known.
The final stop of the day was at the Bosiliack Settlement, scene of a recent excavation. The settlement consisted of up to 17 or so Bronze Age round houses, the outlines of several of which are quite clear on the ground. There was extensive banter concerning lynchets, which I gather are a pet subject of David’s. Many of his audience were regulars and were aware of his passion for the subject. Indeed, after being left to browse around the extent of the village, several of us moved up the hill to see the lynchets for ourselves. Considering the length of time they have been in place, it’s amazing the evidence still exists so plainly.
It was interesting to consider what life must have been like in those days, and how the position of the settlement had an effect on the landscape which we see today. The water source of the stream at the bottom of the hill, the huts with their attached cultivation areas and the lynchets higher up, with what could be described as the bossman’s hut at the very top of the hill.
But all good things come to an end, and it was time to descend the hill back to Lanyon Farm, where several attendees managed to obtain a cream tea, before the Tea Rooms closed for the day.
All in all, a very enjoyable and educational walk. If you’re in the area next time, make sure to book yourself a place. The walk I attended cost £3 but was free for CASPN and FOCAS members, for which membership was available on the day.
All photos © AlanS, taken on the day.