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The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) is extremely active all year round, monitoring and looking out for many of the prehistoric sites on the West Penwith peninsular. Once a month they organise a clearup session, staffed entirely by volunteers, to cut back growth on designated sites and ensure they are not entirely lost to nature.
October’s scheduled clearup coincided with my visit to the area, so I decided to once again go along and lend a hand. The designated site this month was the courtyard settlement at Bosullow Trehyllys, in the shadow of Chun Castle. The site lies on private land, so this was a chance to see a site that is not usually accessible to the public. I have been here once before, at a previous clearup session a couple of years ago, and it’s a wonderful site.
When I arrived, the clearup was well under way with half a dozen people dotted around the site, clearing bracken and brambles away from the stones to more easily discern the layout of the buildings. As usual, Luna, organiser Dave Munday’s dog was keeping a guarding eye out. Although she’s a softie at heart, she has a ferocious bark and growl when any strangers approach, and I got the full treatment!
After saying hello, I took some time to look around the site, orient myself and take a few photos. It’s quite a difficult site to photograph, especially when so overgrown. There’s no real viewpoint to get an overall picture of the layout of the settlement – I’ll have to invest in a drone one day…
Bosullow Trehyllys comprises of four identifiable courtyard house structures, with additional circular structures which may predate the courtyard structures. I was told that the settlement was much larger, but historical field clearance destroyed at least half of the original settlement. A large mound of stones in the adjoining field may attest to this.
Having had a look around, I was then put to work with a pair of shears, helping to cut back a section of one of the houses. I didn’t go too mad, being a novice and not wanting to cause any unintended damage. All too soon it was time to pack up for the day, and the piles of cuttings were evidence of the work that had been put in during the day. A nice tradition was the goblet of mead passed between the participants at the end of the day, with a small libation for the site itself too.
If you find yourself in the area, check out the CASPN web site or Facebook page to see if a clearup is scheduled – there’s one every month in Penwith, with additional clearups on The Lizard run by a separate team. It’s worthwhile work, helping to preserve some of our largely forgotten heritage for future generations.
It’s fair to say that every area has it’s fair share of ‘Hollywood’ or tourist archaeology sites – those must see monuments that aficionados such as us hunt down and visit on a fairly frequent basis. But it’s equally fair to say that those same sites are only the tip of the iceberg as far as sites worth a visit are concerned. And again, there are probably as many more sites again where there is nothing to be seen at all – all the archaeology is buried, or covered in dense undergrowth.
Once again, I’m visiting West Penwith in Cornwall, an area many would argue is one big Hollywood site. It’s difficult to travel down any of the lanes there without being within view of at least one prehistoric monument. And yet, after 15 years of visiting the area several times a year, I am continually surprised to find yet ‘one more site’ I’ve not previously visited. In the early days I relied upon the Modern Antiquarian and Megalithic Portal web sites to find my way around – both excellent resources in their own right. And the Defra Magic web site allows access to information on many Scheduled Monuments (and numerous other data layers). But more recently I have come to rely on the Cornwall Council Interactive Map for my jaunts to the southwest.
The site works in a similar way to the Defra Magic application, whereby different layers of data can be activated or deactivated as required. I usually start with a standard set of layers activated; Leisure: Rights of Way and Right to Roam land, and Historical: Sites and Monuments Records and Scheduled Monuments.
There are many more layers of possible interest to choose from, but even with this subset, when zoomed in the map gets very busy! Sadly, there’s no way to filter based upon era, but the prehistoric sites are designated by red markers which are easy to see. Clicking on the map on a specific point (or area) will pop up a key panel with links to additional information – for the sites we’re interested in these links usually point to the Heritage Environment Records (HER), held on the Heritage Gateway web site. If clicking on an area which may be covered by more than one item, e.g. a settlement site within a Right to Roam area crossed by a Right of Way, the Key panel will show the first item it finds, but other items will be indicated in the header bar (“1 of 3”). The items can then be scrolled through using the supplied back/forward buttons.
The system is very easy to use, though the amount of information presented can be a bit daunting at times! Of course, it would be equally simple to use the Heritage Gateway to perform a more precise search, but using the map enables you to see where the selected site sits in relation to other HER records in the immediate area (and those all-important rights of way!)
Using the Cornwall Interactive Map and the Heritage Gateway I now have a plan of sorts and a list of targets to visit for my upcoming trip, some of which will no doubt feature in forthcoming articles.
The Heritage Gateway is an excellent resource covering the whole country, and I’m sure other counties will have similar facilities to Cornwall to explore their own areas via mapping – if you know of any good examples, please let us know in the comments.
If I have one small criticism of the Heritage Gateway, it’s that despite the initiatives for Open Access Archaeology, it’s just not possible to link through to the source documentation and reports. Sometimes (especially for us non-academics), a citation is not enough.
Heritage Action member Mark Camp is an author and tour guide. Here, he relates some of his thoughts about the Colvannick stone row on Bodmin Moor.
According to the Modern Antiquarian website, it’s 11 years since I ‘discovered’ this stone row. At the time I was relatively new to prehistoric sites, being more interested in industrial archaeology, and so was happy just to snap a few photos and try to trace the row through the gorse bushes.
In the years since I think I must have visited every stone row on Bodmin Moor, from the tiny row at Carneglos to the undulating row on Fox Tor. I have talked about them on guided walks and given talks about them, but in all that time I have never been able to describe to people why they are where they are. On Dartmoor rows tend to have a reason, in that they nearly always terminate at a cairn or taller stone, but not on Bodmin Moor. They don’t follow any particular direction, often they are not on the skyline, or even high enough to be seen above the grass!
I came to the conclusion that Bodmin Moor’s stone rows were rows of stones and could be where they are for many reasons. I have not even found any proof to suggest they were all erected at the same time, whatever time they were supposed to be erected. I have always taken it for granted that they date back to the Bronze Age and were built by the same people who created stone circles and erected standing stones. But I don’t make any claims to being an expert and as I say to people who walk with me, I can only give you my ideas, I may be completely wrong!
But recently, through the Heritage Journal, the thoughts of Dr Sandy Gerrard have been brought to my attention. I was lucky to meet up with Sandy on Bodmin Moor a few weeks ago when he was giving a guided walk on industrial archaeology. After looking at humps and bumps and the occasional hole for a few hours we got to talking about stone rows and his thoughts on their setting in the landscape. Sandy has put forward the idea that rows lead to viewing points, maybe of the sea or a hill or other features in the landscape. To see an example of this check out his thoughts on Leedon Tor and his other posts on the same subject.
Bearing this in mind, I recently retraced my steps to Colvannick Tor, just off the A30 in the middle of Bodmin Moor. It’s not the most visited part of the moor and looking back on The Modern Antiquarian, I was the last person to add any postings from there… and that was August 2004! Which surprises me as it is only a short walk from a layby and much easier to access than say Fernacre Circle or even the Cheesewring! Saying that, I actually approached from a southerly direction, parking beside the Millpool firing range and walking via St Bellarmins Tor.
The first stone you come across is close to one of the range marker posts (a word of warning, don’t go looking for the row on a day when the red flags are flying – you might get shot!) and is all on its own. Is this the southern end of the row? It’s difficult to say, there are no other standing stones nearby and you cannot make out the main body of the row from here, so is it part of the row or was the row longer, or is it just a stone that is standing? Working on Dr Gerrard’s idea, the only feature in the landscape that comes into view at this point is the main tumuli/cairn on top of Brown Gelly to the east. Until this point it has been hidden by other hills.
From here there is no way of working out where the other stones are, it’s just a matter of walking in a general direction northwards. Recent cutting down of gorse in the area has cleared things a little but it’s still a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact I missed the next stone and had to double back to find it. This is the leaning monster that I first found back in 2004. And from here it is possible to pick up the row heading north (or to be correct NNW). There are four uprights/leaning/lying stones here, all a good size, and from them it is possible to continue on the same bearing to find the last stone further on. This stone is a good four foot high and there is another stone lying nearby on the same bearing. Like the southern stone, you ask the question, is this the end stone?
I am pretty certain there are no more stones standing between here and the A30 but that doesn’t mean there are not some lying in amongst the gorse. Like most of Bodmin Moor the area is also littered with stones, plus in the early 1900s there was a China Clay works built nearby and chances are some stone was sourced locally for building work. But let’s take it that this is the northern end of the row, what can we see?
Away to the north east are the two summits of Roughtor and Brown Willy, but we have been able to see them all the way up the row, so are they relevant to the end stone? Looking south you can see the sea, probably St Austell Bay in the distance and to the east several hills including Brown Gelly. But from here looking west we have Colvannick Tor blocking any view, its actual summit out of site and in the low evening light it is just a mass of shadow and gorse.
But then I spot something. Atop of the hill, in amongst the silhouettes of gorse there appears to be a stone. I might not have seen it in daylight, or I might have taken it for a sheep. I decided to make for it, just to check it out. It was a stone, not the tallest, only about two to three feet high, but from it the view west suddenly opens out and I can see down over the moor and out across the fields to the shining sea beyond the north Cornwall coast. Is that why the stone was put there? If I had continued northwards from the row I am not sure if I would have got the view before another hill came along, so this summit was a lookout point.
What’s more, as I stood there I thought I could make out a broken circle of stones radiating out from the standing stone. Now I have ‘imagined’ stone circles on the moor before and I am not making any claims here, but there are stones there and they create a circle of a similar size to others on the moor.
This is just an observation by somebody who enjoys walking the moor and has no archaeological expertise apart from what I have read in books along the way. I feel that the landscape offers much more than what a book ever can, but at the same time we need experts to decipher what we can see. Colvannick Row is there for everybody to look at and next time you hurtle down the A30 towards West Penwith, take time out and stop just past the Temple turn and have a walk across the moor, see what you can see?
Our thanks go to Mark for being inspired by Sandy’s work, getting out there to look for himself, and then submitting this article.
Afterword: Sandy Gerrard has subsequently desk-checked this row, and his findings will appear in a followup article in the near future.
Situated 160m above sea level, the Castle Canyke hillfort to the southeast of Bodmin in Cornwall, is not an imposing hillfort. Certainly not as imposing as, say, Old Oswestry Hillfort. And yet they have something in common – both are currently threatened by developers.
Although it is Cornwall’s largest Iron Age hill fort, Castle Canyke is certainly not as large as Oswestry – there is a small modern farm building at the centre of the fort, and walls/hedges running from this building split the fort into four roughly equal fields. The southwest quandrant boundary is the best preserved, with a large bank and small ditch. In the northwest (which provides public access via a kissing gate) the ditch is more substantial, but there is no bank remaining. To the south there are a couple of large industrial estates, to the east, the junctions of the A38 and A30 trunk roads dominate. Brown Willy & Roughtor are visible on the horizon just east of north on a clear day.
So nothing too remarkable, and not a lot to see on site itself, And yet there is a possible Arthurian connection, and a later historical connection which make this site important for the Cornish nation.
- The site is a possible candidate for Kelliwic (Celliwig), Arthur’s court in “Culhwch and Olwen” and the Welsh Triads. Callywith Wood is located about a mile to the Northeast.
- The fort is also the site where Cornish forces mustered for the Anglo-Cornish War of 1549. Nine hundred Cornishmen were subsequently executed in what has been described as “a bloodbath and the most heinous crime ever committed on British soil”
So what of the development threat here? According to the “It’s Our Cornwall” Facebook page:
Last week the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee voted by 17 votes to 2 to give Hawkstone Ltd of Surrey permission to build 750 houses at Bodmin (And a hotel, pub, shops, community building, allotments and public open space). This was despite only 1 in 4 of the houses being ‘affordable’ and calls for rejection from English Heritage.
According to one press report, “due to the steep topography of the site, it would not be financially viable for developers to adhere to the normal demand that 40 per cent of the homes should be in the affordable bracket. Instead, a compromise figure of 25 per cent, which amounts to 187 affordable homes, was reached”.
Apparently a ‘green buffer’ has also been suggested between the development and the hillfort (basically the three fields to the southeast on the plan below), but there is some discussion as to whether the buffer should consist of open space, sports fields, or be left as agricultural land. The full text of the Strategic Planning Committee’s Report can be found on the Council website (PDF link)
And there’s the question of the extent of the development. 750 homes in one of the most economically depressed areas in Europe sounds like a good idea to stimulate ‘growth’, but as only 1 in 4 will be designated ‘affordable’ – how I hate that word – who will be able to afford the non-affordable homes in such an area? The usual answer to such a question is larger corporations. But in order to get a return on their investment, they’ll either sell them on (who to?) or let them out at inflated rents. With very low employment and pay levels in the area, it’s difficult to see how local people will be able to live in the homes, however pleasant they may be.
Once again, it seems the only people to benefit will be the developers themselves, and to hell with the heritage!
A recent gorse fire on Carn Brea, near Redruth in Cornwall, could provide an opportunity for further investigation of this interesting site. The fire – cause currently unknown, but arson is suspected – covered an area of around 3 hectares on the night of 26th May. The gorse (which burns easily and gives off a lot of heat – it was a source of fuel in past times) had grown quite high and dense in the affected area, and strong winds hindered firefighters attempts at controlling the blaze. I was actually in the area only last week, and Carn Brea is a well know landmark, providing good views on a clear day to an extensive section of the north coast of Cornwall, from Godrevy to St Agnes.
Carn Brea was first investigated in the early 1970’s by a team led by Roger Mercer, and their findings led to a new site classification: the Early Neolithic Tor Enclosure. Dating from nearly 6000 years ago, stone walls were built up between outcrops of the granite bedrock to form defensive enclosures around the top of the hill. Signs of early habitation were found, in the form of ‘lean-to’ buildings against the insides of the enclosing walls. In addition, up to 700 leaf-shaped arrowheads were among some outstanding finds – evidence of a past attack on the settlement. Nearby outcrops of rock suitable for manufacture as axes and edge grinding stones, blanks and incomplete and finished axes found on the site suggest the settlement was used for the manufacture and trading of tools. These investigations showed that the east end of the hill was the focus of most activity, whilst the fire was on the northwest flank, which was most heavily covered in vegetation. The hill displays evidence of human use almost continually since the Neolithic, with mining, quarrying and the building of a monument and a castle in more recent times.
Whilst gorse fires are dangerous, and damaging, the eco-structure tends to recover quite well from such events and the clearance factor can open up the landscape to inspection where before only vegetation was visible. It is to be hoped that the opportunity will be taken (once fire investigations have completed) to further survey the area in the weeks to come.
For more information about Early Neolithic Tor Enclosures, see Simon Davies’ excellent paper (PDF link)
Update (1st June): The blaze, which covered an area equivalent to 10 football pitches, destroyed gorse, heather and bilberry and it is estimated that the area will take ‘years’ to recover, according to the environment manager at Cornwall Council. Nesting birds, small mammals and reptiles were among the casualties of the fire, which was apparently started by a disposable barbecue.
Once again, CASPN‘s ‘Pathways to the Past’ event, a weekend of daytime walks & evening talks among the ancient sites of West Penwith is rapidly approaching. 2015 is the ninth year of this event, which has only gone from strength to strength. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several of the previous year’s walks, but sadly my holiday dates don’t coincide this year – poor planning on my part!
There is a good mix of items this year, so to help you plan your time, here’s the full line-up for the weekend of May 30th/31st 2015:
Saturday May 30th
10.00-12.30pm Catching the light of the sun and moon
A guided circular walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis to visit prehistoric sites that were aligned to the sun and moon, including the Mên-an-Tol, the Nine Maidens barrow & stone circle and Bosiliack barrow.
Meet at Mên-an-Tol layby beside Madron to Morvah road [SW418 344]
2.00-4.30pm Living at the Edge
A guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the lesser-known Nanjulian courtyard house settlement, perched at the edge of the land between St. Just and Sennen.
Meet at Nanjulian off the B3306 St.Just to Sennen road [SW360 294] TR19 7NU
8.00-10.00pm Hot Metal: the discoveries that changed the world
An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington about the invention of metal making and the effect this had on the Bronze, Copper and Iron Age societies.
At the Count House at Botallack. TR19 7QQ
Sunday May 31st
11.00-12.30pm Sites on the Scillies
An illustrated talk by archaeologist Charlie Johns, exploring some of the unique and beautiful ancient sites on the Isles of Scilly and the prehistoric people who built them.
At the Count House at Botallack
2.00-4.30pm Stories in the Stones – the Merry Maidens and more
A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda to sites in the Lamorna area, including the Merry Maidens stone circle, associated standing stones and Tregiffian entrance grave.
Meet at Boleigh farm on the B3315 Penzance to Lamorna road. [SW436 349] TR19 6BN
8.00-9.00pm Community Archaeology
To round off the weekend, Richard Mikulski will chat about community archaeology projects. At the North Inn, Pendeen.
Each individual event is £5 but free to members of FOCAS (Friends of Cornwall’s Ancient Sites). You can join FOCAS (Friends of Cornwall’s Ancient Sites) at the beginning of the individual event, by telephoning 07927 671612, or by e-mailing: email@example.com
by Dr Sandy Gerrard
Some might see it as fitting that the Nine Maidens stone alignment in Cornwall, which may have originally been linked to the stone alignment at Bancbryn in Wales, is being considered for a wind farm development. Almost everyone with an interest in heritage might have expected that Historic England (formerly English Heritage) would have opposed such a development, but they would have been very wrong. Historic England have instead, according to the Cornish Guardian, written to the planning authority “recommending that the planning application should be approved”. The reason for this unbelievably stupid decision is that they believe that the successful applicants could be asked to carry out “major works of conservation, access, presentation and management to the Nine Maidens stone row that would not only see it removed from the Heritage at Risk Register but would make this enigmatic monument once more easily accessible and in a setting that would allow a better appreciation of the monument”.
So there we have it – Historic England consider that wind farms enhance the setting of ancient monuments. This is not what they were saying a couple of years ago but now in a change of heart they are happy for the setting of nationally important ancient monuments to be trashed providing the developer contributes to the care of the very monuments that are being trashed. Complete madness on all levels and a very dangerous precedent. Any developer can now rely on Historic England’s blessing to mutilate the historic environment providing they are happy to stump up a few quid to pay for nearby conservation works. Where will this end?
Perhaps in the future we shall see a wind turbine next to every scheduled monument with a percentage of the profits being used to care for it. Certainly this action will make it much more likely for wind farm developers to see heritage not as an obstacle, but rather as a magnet. This I would suggest is a bad thing and once housing developers get to hear that Historic England will support the destruction of the historic environment in return for a promise to care for what remains, it will be open season on our heritage.
The Nine Maidens stone alignment in Cornwall might thanks to the stupidity of Historic England soon share another characteristic with the Bancbryn alignment
Day 12, and our last trip out for this holiday. Our holiday days are usually filled by trips to sites, or to see friends. This trip was to include both as we’d arranged to meet with HA member Mark Camp (accredited Blue Badge tour guide) for lunch and a stroll on Caradon Hill. But first, we took a brief diversion to visit the Nine Maidens stone row at St Columb, in order to check out Sandy Gerrard’s thoughts on alignments and reveals.
Sadly, the ground was very boggy, and only got worse the further uphill I went. In addition, the hazy sun from earlier in the week continued and it was not easy to tell where the clouds ended and the sea began. It was only when I was about halfway up the hill that I realised a sea vista had at some point opened up to my left.
Although I would have liked to continue on up to the Fiddler Stone to see a possible northwards sea vista appear, the combination of strong winds and thick gloopy mud underfoot meant I beat a hasty retreat back to the car instead, to continue to Minions for lunch.
Having arrived early, I took the chance to take a very brief look at the Hurlers complex, following the Mapping the Sun project and excavations there in 2013 which uncovered a ‘crystal pavement’ – shades of Carwynnen Quoit? Whatever, the moor is very open to the weather, and it was quite blowing a gale, so I took a couple of quick photos (via my glitchy camera) before heading to the warmth and shelter of the pub. I have to say that whether its a result of the excavations, or the wind scouring the ground, the third circle was more prominent than I’ve seen it on previous visits, and it’s easy to make out all three circles from the base of the hill.
After lunch at the Cheesewring Hotel in Minions during which we caught up with Mark’s latest news, he led us up the trail to the summit of nearby Caradon Hill to investigate some prehistoric cairn sites. If I thought it was windy down by the Hurlers, on top of Caradon Hill can only be described as ‘blowing a hoolie”! We were nearly swept away as we made our way around the TV station masts, investigating various clumps of rocks. Some, it has to be said looked distinctly ‘cairn-like’. Others looked as if they may be remains of hut circles, but the ground was so lumpy and bumpy that I’m sure most of it was mining spoil or natural, despite being marked as ‘Cairns’ on the OS map. Without excavation, it is near on impossible to definitively identify what is what up there.
After an hour or so of battering by the wind, taking a last look around from the summit we had a good view of Stowe’s Pound, the Hurlers and the rest of the moor. Turning around, we could just make out Trethevy Quoit next to its cottage, we said our goodbyes to Mark, and headed back to our base in West Penwith. Our last day on holiday (and the first with non-stop rain!) was spent circumnavigating the peninsula, making note of sites to investigate further on our next visit later in the year. That’s what I like about Cornwall, there’s always more to come back for!
Day 11 of our holiday in Cornwall, and we decided to revisit Carwynnen Quoit, just south of Camborne.
I was last here at the reconstituted quoit in June 2014, when the capstone was finally placed upon the uprights, amid much celebration. The paraphenalia of the restoration has long been removed – although some outlying stones in the field are still exposed in their excavation pits – and it was wonderful to have the quoit to myself for a short period of reflection.
The quoit is now settling nicely into the landscape, and a new tradition is being established that visitors may leave a pebble on the pavement. This pavement reflects the original (buried and preserved in situ) pavement that was originally discovered during the excavations.
Day 7 of our holiday, and time to escape the confines of the West Penwith peninsula, but not too far! We drove the short distance from the westernmost peninsula, to the southernmost – the Lizard.
We’ve covered many of the sites on the Lizard here before but I wanted to return to the Three Brothers of Grugwith site near St Keverne, where the volunteers from the Lizard Ancient Sites Network (LAN) have recently been busy at work clearing the scrub.
And a marvelous job they’ve made of it too! Where previously I could barely make out the burial chamber (was it a cist, a dolmen or natural setting?) the entire site is now cleared, bar a pile of cut scrub temporarily left nearby, allowing for some interpretation of the monument.
There are three main stones, a large earthfast stone, rectangular in shape, half of which is flat and around a foot or so high, with the other half rising to three of four feet. There is an obvious cup mark on one of the high corners of this stone. A couple of feet away from this is another earthfast stone, upright to the same approximate height, and about the same width. These two are topped by a capstone, which also has cupmarks on it – I counted 3 definite and a couple of possibles.
Although the area of scrub abounds with natural stones, the immediate area is largely clear of stones, with a singular large exception, against which the cleared scrub was piled. Other than that, slightly further away are a couple of arcs of stones, which are very open to interpretation. Kerbstones? A circle of toppled stones? Investigation is under way to try to understand the site – James Gossip of Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment Service has produced the plan shown below of those stones uncovered so far, and has kindly allowed its inclusion here.
As stated, interpretation is far from certain as things stand at the moment. Another clearup has been scheduled, and should have been completed by the time you read this, so the picture may be much clearer. There are also plans to clear a wider area in an effort to identify which are natural stones and which have been placed. A write-up of the clearances will appear in the Cornwall Archaeology Society newsletter in due course.