Carn Galva (817ft), sometimes Galver, is the site of a Neolithic tor enclosure between Zennor and Morvah in West Penwith, Cornwall and is some 5,000 – 6,000 years old. Carn Galva sits in Zennor parish, within 1km of the coast, and provides a tremendous view of the sea to the north. 

In 1861 John Thomas Blight, the Cornish author, illustrator and antiquarian, described Carn Galva in his A Week at the Land’s End as:

“a bold and curious pile of granite rock, about 623 feet above the level of the sea, is a conspicuous object from the locality. With the golden furze, purple heath, whortleberry, and the bright mosses and lichens on the rocks, this cairn has in colour a gorgeous appearance.”

It was called Castle Anowthan from the Cornish ‘castel an oghen’ translating as ‘castle of the oxen’. Castle Anowthan was mentioned twice in the 1580s, and then lost until 1984. John Norden in 1584 described it as:

“A craggy rock on the top of a hill near Zennor, upon the north sea, sometime trenched about and built with stone, as appeareth by the ruins of the walls.” 

But no-one knew exactly where it was. Then a huge gorse fire on Carn Galva, exactly 400 years after Norden had last described it, exposed the remains of its walls, linking outcrop to outcrop, and its internal terraces. 

Investigations at Carn Galva were undertaken by Cornwall Archaeological Society over a two-week period in 2009. Field survey after the 1984 fire had revealed walling around the southern tor on Carn Galva and it was believed that the site would prove to be an Early Neolithic tor enclosure. Two trenches were opened within the enclosure. The trenching at Carn Galva confirmed the presence of a substantial enclosure wall. Although the enclosure could not be dated, it seems probable that it is of prehistoric origin and comparison with excavated tor enclosures suggests a Neolithic date. ⁠⁠

It’s certainly a “craggy rock” so, after 400 years in the wilderness – literally – welcome back, Castle Anowthan!

If Carn Galva means ‘lookout tor’, then that would logically belong to the hill’s northern peak, overlooking the sea, and it was raids from there that were potentially the greater threat, from prehistory right up until Napoleonic times. 

So, maybe the big southern peak should be ‘Castle Anowthan’. 

Toponomy

The difficulty is that the meaning of the name is not so clear. ‘Galva’ historic forms suggest ‘golva’, Cornish meaning ‘lookout’, but two ‘gallowa’ forms suggest ‘golowva’, Cornish meaning ‘beacon’. 

Hunt and Bottrell both refer to Carn Galva as a former alarm beacon site. 

‘Golow’ Cornish meaning ‘light’ and ‘va’ again Cornish meaning ‘place’ would be stressed on the first syllable, and that would tend to suppress the middle syllable, hence ‘gol’va’. 

Short ‘A’ and ‘O’ tend to be interchangeable in Cornish speech, for example, Falmouth people call their town ‘Folmuth’, so that would explain the ‘A’ in the historic and current spellings.

In Cornish, ‘carn’ means a crag or tor, but it can also mean an artificial cairn. Everyone pronounces it wrongly though. It’s not like ‘barn’ or as they say that in English, ‘bahn’. The ‘A’ is like ‘cat’ but very slightly drawn-out, and the ‘R’ is pronounced.

Considering the views north and south from the top of Carn Galva/Castle Anowthan,  the Iron Age cliff castle of Bosigran Castle can be seen off to the northwest, up on its 333ft cliff – the tallest vertical cliff there is in West Penwith. 

In the event of a seaborne raid approach, an alarm beacon from there would be easily seen on Carn Galva, where another could be lit. 

That, in turn, would warn most of Penwith, as several hill forts are visible from Carn Galva – Chun (which could signal to Caer Bran), Faugan Round, Lesingey and Castle-an-Dinas – which then signal to Trencrom and Carnsew Fort, even as far away as Tregonning Hill – Castle Pencaire. 

The whole peninsula would be on alert within minutes!

The late Craig Weatherhill, whose research notes these are remarked,

“If you place your hand on the ground on top of Carn Galva, you can feel the beating heart of West Penwith!”

Toponymy by the late Craig Weatherhill.

Folklore:

William Bottrell relates the tale of a friendly Giant of Carn Galva, who accidentally kills his human best friend, and subsequently dies of grief.

Links:

Davies, Simon R. (2010). The early Neolithic tor enclosures of Southwest Britain. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.   

Jones, Andy M (2019) Excavations at Carn Galva and Bosporthennis Quoit, West Penwith in 2009, Cornish Archaeology 58, 2019, 27–49

William Bottrell (1870) Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1