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‘Fogou’ is derived from a Cornish word meaning a cave, and Cornish fogous are prehistoric underground passages constructed by excavating a trench and lining its sides with either large stone blocks or drystone walling, then roofing it over with large flat slabs. Fogous are all associated with habitation: usually a small farmstead surrounded by a bank, or a group of courtyard houses. Their purpose is unclear. 

Halliggye (plan shown below) is the largest and best-preserved of the Cornish fogous. It is now home to horseshoe bats and is closed during the winter. A torch is essential when visiting many of the extant fogous.

Plan of Halligye Fogou, from the on-site information board

There are at least twelve known surviving fogous in Cornwall, but many more may have been ‘lost’ over the centuries and new examples are revealed from time to time.

They were constructed from the 5th Century BC to the first two centuries AD, placing them in the late Iron Age and early Roman periods.

Their function remains a mystery; the most plausible explanations see them as places for storage, refuge, or as the setting for religious or ritual activities.

Similar sites are also found in Brittany, Ireland and Scotland where they are known as souterrains, but their architecture, date range, and possibly also their function, differ from the Cornish sites. In Ireland, for example, they may be constructed or continue in use into the medieval period.

The definitive guide to Cornish fogous is considered to be ‘Mother and Sun’ by Ian Mcneil Cooke (1993) – originally published as a limited edition of 1000 copies, and prices can therefore be high when copies do become available on the secondhand market. Earlier, Evelyn Clark had written ‘Cornish Fogous’ (1961) which is equally scarce these days, but also worth seeking out.

More recently, Lucas Nott has compiled a series of Youtube videos of his visits to many of the remaining fogous, which are well worth watching.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.


February 2022

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