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Starting next week, the next stage of the project to restore the Giant’s Quoit at Carwynnen will be taking place. The plan is that on Friday 2nd May the remaining two supports, or orthostats, for the capstone will be raised. The public are welcome to watch this event, which should start at about 11am.
The completion of the raising of the uprights will mark the culmination of a week of education events at the quoit – the capstone itself will be raised and placed later in the year (this is currently planned for Midsummer, Saturday 21st June).
Five schools will be visiting the quoit during next week, when the students will be taught a little about the archaeological processes of excavating, searching, sieving, and cleaning finds by professional archaeologists from the Historic Environment Service. They will be taught about the importance of Neolithic monuments in the Cornish Landscape, the age and weight of the stones and how the ancients made use of their surroundings to live, eat and clothe themselves. Art activities will take place in the marquee, along with an exhibition and quiz. A basic snapshot of the activities each day is as follows:
- Guess the Weight of the Stones – An introduction with all the team
- Gory Neolithic Demonstration – by Experimental Archaeologist Sally Herriet
- Honeysuckle Rope-making – by Experimental Archaeologist Jacqui Woods
- Sieving, Searching and Trowelling – with Community Archaeologist Richard Mikulski
- One Timeline, One book, One Spinning Image – with Artist and Designer Dominica Williamson
- Time Capsule Brainstorm – with Project Leader Pip Richards
Finally, on Sunday May 4th, Julian Richards, “Archaeologist and Broadcaster” will be de-mystifying the ancient art of moving large stones, utilising wooden levers, sledges, rollers and honeysuckle ropes. This will be a free workshop starting at around 10am. If you would like to participate, please register your interest with firstname.lastname@example.org or ring the Sustainable Trust on 01209 831718 – safety or stout boots and a hard hat will be required for all those taking part.
“The Sustainable Trust is grateful for the support of The Cornwall Heritage Trust, Sita Cornwall Trust and The Heritage Lottery Fund who are currently financing this work. We also thank all the volunteers who have made this project possible.”
During a recent holiday in Cornwall, I took the opportunity to revisit Carwynnen Quoit, to see what progress had been made since my previous visit during the recent excavations. Seeing one of the uprights back in place has prompted me to put together this brief overview of the history of the quoit.
Built some time between 3500-2600 BC, this Cornish dolmen had (presumably) stood for millenia before its collapse and reinstatement in the early 1840’s. The recorded history of the quoit begins in the early 18th century, mentioned by Edward Lhuyd during his Cornish travels. It was later drawn by Dr Borlase, and this illustration was included in W.C. Borlase’s ‘Naenia Cornubia’in 1872. J.T. Blight’s ‘Ancient Crosses of West Cornwall’, published in 1858 also includes an illustration of the quoit, somewhat different from that drawn by Borlase.
A section of the capstone broke off when the monument fell in 1842, and during its reconstruction “by workers on the Pendarves Estate and local people, galvanised by Mrs Pendarves”, one of the supporting stones was reduced in height and the arrangement of the uprights was thus changed. Comparing this reconstruction to the original, W.C. Borlase noted:
The two supporters at the south-eastern end seem to have retained their original positions. They were, formerly, respectively 5 feet 1 inch, and 5 feet 2 inches above ground, and are still nearly the same height. The single pillar at the other side has been moved nearer the edge of the covering stone than in the above sketch; it measured 4 feet 11 inches high, but is now shorter. The covering slab, which, like the other stones, is granite, measures twelve feet by nine; one side, however, seems to have been broken in its fall.
The monument seems to have remained in this state for around 124 years, until in 1966 it collapsed again, reputedly due to an earth tremor. With thanks to Paul Phillips and the folks at the Sustainable Trust, we have photographs of the quoit taken a short time prior to it’s later collapse.
After the collapse, the Pendarves estate declined, and what were once the landscaped gardens of the estate were returned to agriculture. The collapsed stones were piled in a heap, and with repeated ploughing more stones came to the surface, to be added to the pile of ‘field clearance’.
My own first view of Carwynnen came in May 2007, whilst trying to ‘tick off’ all the Cornish quoits. There was actually very little to see – a field of scrub, with a few stones almost hidden amongst the weeds. But the site was purchased in 2009 by the Sustainable Trust and their partners, and plans were immediately put in place to once again restore the quoit to it’s former glory.
I returned in 2012, to find on the surface very little had apparently changed, the pile of stones was still there, looking much as before.
But now there was a noticeboard at the entrance to the field, indicating that the plans were very much under way. Later that year, two excavations were held in the field. The first was a preliminary investigation via a series of test pits. The stones were then moved using a crane, from the place where they had been left after the 1966 collapse, in preparation for the ‘Big Dig’ in the autumn.
In April 2013 I returned again, to attend ‘Quest for the Quoit’ a neolithic exhibition of crafts and an archaeological test pit dig. This was just one of a series of events and exhibitions both at the Quoit and around various parts of Cornwall to advertise what was going on, and to get the community involved. The day was a great success with a lot of local interest and involvement. And of course, the ‘Big Dig’ had provided the perfect surprise with the discovery of the original footprint of the monument, and the stone ‘pavement’, the original chamber floor. A year after the excavation of the original socketholes, in October 2013, the first of the uprights was put back up into place.
Although it looks quite forlorn, locked away inside it’s protective fencing, the other two uprights are scheduled to be raised to join it in May this year, followed by the placing of the capstone at Midsummer. I hope to be there to witness that.
Further details about the history, excavation and events at Carwynnen can be found on the project website at http://www.giantsquoit.org
Unless otherwise stated, all photos © Alan S.
Carwynnen Quoit is situated a short distance south of Camborne, in Cornwall. OS Grid Ref: SW650372, Sheet 203.
Back in January of this year, I was witness to unthinking desecration by a family group at Men an Tol. I recently returned to the scene, or rather, I attempted to return to the scene. On this occasion, my path was blocked by cows grazing on the approaches to the monument. The surface damage done by the grazing cattle was much worse than that caused by the family earlier in the year.
Indeed, I’m not alone in thinking that the damage caused could have easily been avoided, were it not for poor advice from certain government departments, coupled with the greed of the owners on whose land the monument lies. Save Penwith Moors, (SPM) a local pressure group acting to campaign lawfully for the removal of all new stock proofing (fencing, gates and cattle grids) from a few selected areas of open access moorland popular for local and tourist recreation, have been keeping a daily eye on the situation at Men an Tol, and have recently issued the following Open Letter to English Heritage, Natural England, Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN), as well as the local MP for the area:
“More potential trouble at Men-an-Tol!
As at Tregeseal Circle the cattle are gathering around the stones and using the two uprights as rubbing posts as well as covering the area with heaps of dung and ruining the public right of way – virtually impassable down towards the stream – by churning it up.
This is not an isolated out of the way site – and that would be no excuse anyway – but, probably, the most popular frequented ancient monument in the Peninsula and an iconic part of Cornish Heritage. It is high time remedial action was taken after this warning message – preferably by removing grazing stock from this Croft and undertaking manual maintenance.”
The Save Penwith Moors campaign web site and Facebook page includes photographic and video evidence of the damage being caused by the ill-conceived grazing policies as instigated by Natural England and (unjustifiably) supported by English Heritage who are ultimately legally responsible for the protection of the Scheduled Ancient Monument. We would urge all our readers to visit the SPM pages and give them every support possible in their campaign against the current grazing policies.
PRESS RELEASE – THE SUSTAINABLE TRUST CARWYNNEN QUOIT
A LEG UP FOR THE GIANTS QUOIT!
Despite appalling weather, our relentless volunteer diggers arrived on Monday morning to start working the site at Carwynnen Quoit, prior to the restoration of the first stone. An eleven day community dig will expose the socket for the stone, and further investigate the area to the rear of the monument. A new trench is being opened further up the field. The excavation will be carried out in the same manner as the autumn 2012 dig, with a small Historic Environment team leading the volunteer team.
We have an official open day on Sunday 27th October, between 10.30 and 4pm where you can engage in a free guided tour, and see an exhibition of the work so far. There will be demonstrations of ancient technology and experimental archaeology with Sally Herriett. She looks forward to introducing you to her unusual world, and sharing her passion for all things Prehistoric, presenting artifacts and demonstrating Flint Knapping. At 2pm she will be describing her work especially for children.
We are trying to preserve the grass in the field for as long as possible, so it would be appreciated if you would park in the campsite next door, or walk over from Treslothan Church (15 mins). If you remember Carwynnen Quoit before or after it fell in 1966, come and share your memories with us. The film on our giantsquoit.org homepage made use of some recordings we made during the last phase of the project. A second film is in production and we welcome your contribution to our collection of local memories. On 31st, at around 10.30am, at Samhain or All Hallows Eve, we intend to restore the first upright stone and you are welcome to come and watch. In Spring we will continue the restoration. A time capsule will be buried. If you have any suggestions for its contents, let us know!
Pip Richards – email@example.com
Regular readers will have spotted recurring Diary Dates for CASPN Site Clearances in our monthly listings. These clean ups are held on a monthly basis, at a different site each month, and staffed entirely by volunteers, under the instruction of Dave Munday from CASPN.
I was fortunate enough to be in the area this month, when a clearance was undertaken at a site I’ve not previously visited; the Courtyard House settlement at Mulfra. I went along to take a look around the site, and to see what was going on during the clearance.
The site lies on the southern slope of Mulfra Hill, which itself is topped by Mulfra Quoit, a neolithic burial chamber with extensive 360-degree views across the West Penwith peninsula.
A public footpath leads to the Courtyard site, but this was somewhat overgrown, and embarrassingly I had to be cut out of the brambles by one of the volunteers, who then pointed out an access path from the farm, which they had permission to use, across two open fields (not public). There is a single courtyard house discernable, with several other structures nearby. Dave told me that there is an enigmatic larger enclosure a short distance to the west, but currently totally inaccessible due to the undergrowth.
The picture above shows how little of the site is visible through the ground cover, which consists of tough moor grasses, brambles, bracken and gorse.
The CASPN volunteers are very dedicated to keeping the sites in their care in as good order as they can, and tools are provided for any volunteers that turn up. In fact, it wasn’t too long after I’d taken the photo above before a pitchfork was thrust into my hands and I was invited to help move the cuttings into a designated area (atop a cluster of nettles) to rot down naturally.
Despite it being a fine day, only five volunteers turned out, but CASPN can always make use of more hands, so if you’re in the area, check out their web site for dates and locations, and go along to lend a hand. Last minute information (weather, access routes etc) is usually posted on their Facebook page.
Welcome to a new occasional series of Fascinating “Facts”, in which we’ll endeavour to present short snippets of history, folklore and news about Britain’s prehistoric heritage sites. Each article will be brief and to the point, and we’ll be looking to our readership (that’s YOU!) to provide some insight into a site that may be local to where you live or work, or that you’ve had some connection with in the past. Please get in touch with your own Fascinating “Facts” and we’ll publish them here. So without further ado, the first Fascinating “Fact” concerns:
Zennor Quoit, Cornwall
This chamber tomb, having stood for thousands of years on a hilltop overlooking the parish of Zennor on West Penwith’s north coast road, was threatened with destruction in 1861. A local farmer proposed to convert the monument into a cattle–shed by removing one of the uprights and drilling a hole in the sloping capstone.
Luckily, the plan was disapproved of by the villagers of Zennor (an early case of NIMBYism?) and the local vicar, William Borlase – a great grandson of Dr. William Borlase the antiquarian – offered the farmer an incentive of five shillings (25p in today’s money, though worth considerable more then) to build it elsewhere. The farmer had already started on construction of the barn, and three stone posts which he’d erected can still be seen today, next to the quoit. Traces of drill–holes can also still be seen in the capstone.
A poem commemorating the incident, “Zennor Quoit Preserved”, written by local postman Charles Taylor Stephens can be found in Issue 10 (pg 73) of the Transactions of the Cornwall Archaeological Society.
Who knows what the site would have looked like today if William Borlase hadn’t stepped in on behalf of the villagers?
I make no secret of my love of Cornwall, and on every trip there are certain sites that I return to again and again. The Merry Maidens is one of those sites, located on the B3315 between Lamorna and Treen at OS Grid Ref SW432245.
Although now largely a 19th Century reconstruction, the Merry Maidens is often described as a ‘perfect circle’. This geometric shape is very unusual in ‘stone circles’, which are very rarely truly ’round’, most being elongated or ovoid in shape.
The circle is surrounded by other monuments with the Pipers, two large standing stones to the northeast being the most often mentioned. These are the stones attached to the legend, supposedly being the musicians playing for the girls dancing on the Sabbath who were turned to stone. The Pipers are not inter-visible with the circle, the story being that they ran away when they heard the St Buryan church bells ring. The alignment of the two stones with the circle, SW-NE suggests an astronomical significance.
Gun Rith, on the other hand is very visible from the circle, standing in a field just across the B3315 road to the west. Indeed, the footpath through the circle has been cut in recent times to point directly at Gun Rith, which fell a few years ago and was re-erected in place against the hedge where it had previously stood.
To the southwest are the Boscawen-Ros stones, one in a field, the other now part of a field boundary hedge, and both much smaller than their counterparts, the Pipers, to the northeast. A second circle of similar size was recorded by Borlase, somewhere nearby to the east/southeast, but no trace of this now remains. A large Bronze Age barrow cemetery lies to the south-west of the circle, and beside the B3315 road a short distance to the west of the circle are the disturbed remains of Tregiffian barrow – a possible Neolithic entrance grave. The cup-marked stone at the entrance to the barrow is now a replica, the original can be seen in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.
Like many areas of West Penwith, there’s a lot to see in a comparatively small area!
On my recent visit to Cornwall, I managed to squeeze in a visit to a site I’ve only been to once before, but have never really seen. Caer Bran hillfort rests on a hill to the south of Sancreed Beacon, and when I last climbed up to the hillfort the area was shrouded in thick mist, which afforded me no overall view of the monument.
Luckily this time the weather was much clearer, though still very ‘damp’, and I was able to get a much better impression of the scale of the fort, which is around 120 or so metres in diameter.
Lake’s Parochial History of 1868 describes the hillfort thus:
“Caer Bran Castle, i.e. Brennus’s Castle, or the Crow castle, stands on the summit of a hill six furlongs and a half to the west of the church; it consists, or rather consisted, of three concentric circles, the greatest being about 240 feet in diameter, and still in some places 15 feet in height; it is composed of earth, and, as is usual in such cases, has a ditch on each side. The middle circle was built of stone, and was at least 12 feet in thickness; a large portion of the stone has been removed for building purposes. The innermost circle is about 30 feet in diameter, and was evidently a sort of citadel.”
The PastScape entry (see link below) mentions only two sets of ramparts, the inner one ‘now very mutilated’.
The hill fort, which dates to the Iron Age but has much later mining remains within it, is easily accessed via a concreted track south from the Sancreed-Grumbla road at OS Grid Ref SW409295. The hillfort also contains three Bronze Age ring cairns, which pre-date the fort. Though the hill is a bit steep in places, it’s a steady climb to the summit, and I reached the pathway leading off to the left to the fort in less than 15 minutes from the road.
Approaching from the northwest, the ramparts are open for the old mining track that leads through the monument, and I was saddened to see that much of the westerly ditch was quite flooded. On the northern side the ramparts are very well defined, though there is some evidence of animal burrowing activity, possibly rabbits. This activity was mirrored on the southeastern side, but the damage was much more in evidence – although I’m a city boy, I’d guess at badgers from the size of the burrows. From the southwest, the old mining track loops away to the south and west across toward the village of Brane.
The name ‘Bran’ means Raven or Crow, and it would be easy to speculate that the hillfort is named after the same Rialobran (Royal Raven) commemorated on the Men Scryfa, some 4 miles to the north.
Other nearby monuments:
Some 75 yards or so to the east of the hillfort is a small enclosure, noted on PastScape as a pound, with a small mound at its centre. There was some thought at one time that this may be a henge, but this idea is now dismissed. There is no public access to the enclosure that I could see. The area is rich in prehistoric monuments, with the Carn Euny settlement and holy wells to the southwest, Sancreed Beacon to the northeast and Sancreed holy well to the east. Further afield is the Goldherring settlement to the south, Bartine Castle to the west and Brane chambered cairn further to the southwest. On a clear day, the hillfort provides a good all-round view to most parts of the West Penwith peninsula.
One of the sites I had on the target list for my recent trip to Cornwall was the Goldherring Settlement near Sancreed in West Penwith. Dating from approximately the 1st Century BC, the site consists of a walled settlement, set within a wider field system, with dwellings, including a Courtyard House, and a nearby well.
Close by is the settlement at Carn Euny, the Iron Age Hill Fort of Caer Bran and Chapel Carn Brea as well as the much earlier stone circle at Boscawen-Un. The Goldherring settlement had three main periods of occupation, starting in the late 1st Century BC or the early 1st Century AD. The field system dates from the 3rd Century AD and in early Medieval times (as well as possibly earlier) the site was used for the smelting of tin.
Located on CRoW access land, on the eastern slope of a small hill some 500 feet above sea level, thanks to clearance work the settlement is surprisingly easy to access.
I parked at the Boscawen-Un layby on the A30 at OS Grid Ref SW409277 and walked back towards Penzance for a couple of hundred yards. The field on the left came to end, and there was a gated track on the left. I walked up the track, following it to the right, then round to the left until the track ended at a gate to a ploughed, cultivated field. Off to the right was an information board, and rough path leading along the field boundary to the settlement, which is located at OS Grid Ref SW411282.
As mentioned, a lot of clearance work has been done, and it’s possible to just make out the form of the elements of a courtyard house within the main enclosure, although a weathered tree is now growing in the middle of the complex. Not a textbook layout, but the basic form is there if you look hard enough.
There is a well nearby to the east, but the clearance work hasn’t yet got that far and I was unable to make my way through the brambles. The site was also used for processing tin in the medieval period, so there’s a lot here to try to identify. Fancy led me to believe that maybe one area may have once been an underground fogou that had subsequently lost its roof but it could equally have been a later storage building. The site is on a slope and the current ground level is very undulating. Would it have been like this in the past when in use I wondered?
The settlement was excavated in the late 1950’s by A Guthrie. A full excavation report was published in the Cornwall Archaeological Society journal ‘Cornish Archaeology’ issue 8 (1969), sadly no longer available from the society as far as I know, though secondhand copies may be obtained at a price. There is some discussion of the age of Courtyard Houses, including that at Goldherring, in an article by Henrietta Quinnell in ‘Cornish Archaeology’ #25, available for download in PDF form.
I would urge anyone in the area to visit this overlooked site for themselves, before the bracken, brambles and gorse reclaim it and it becomes hidden from view once more.
Situated a couple of miles or so ESE of St Columb Major in Cornwall, Castle an Dinas is an Iron Age hillfort, considered by many to be one of the most important hillforts in the southwest of Britain. It dates from around the 3rd to 2nd century BCE and consists of three ditch and rampart concentric rings, 850 feet above sea level. Within the central enclosed area are the remains of two Bronze Age round barrows. During the early 1960s it was excavated by a team led by Dr. Bernard Wailes of the University of Pennsylvania during two seasons of excavation.
Traditionally, Castle an Dinas was the hunting lodge (hunting seat) of King Arthur, from which he rode in the Tregoss Moor hunt. The earliest written record was made by William of Worcester during his visit to Cornwall in 1478 when he noted that legend says that the fort was the place where Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall and husband of King Arthur’s mother, died.
In March 1646, during the English Civil War, Royalist troops camped for two nights within the rings of the fort and held a Council of War where it was decided that they would surrender to the Parliamentarians.
From 1916 to 1957 it was the site of Cornwall’s largest wolfram mine. Many of the old buildings and workings have now been removed, following work by the current owners, Cornwall Heritage Trust, in 2008-2010, details of which can be found in a report lodged with the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)
“The History of Cornwall: From the Earliest Records and Traditions, to the Present Time, Volume 1” by Fortescue Hitchins and Samuel Drew (1824), gives the following description of the hillfort, ascribed to a ‘Mr Hals':
In this parish stands Castell-an-Danis, alias Castell-an-Dynes, Castell-an-Denis, synonymous words; i. e. is the Men’s Castle, or is the Castle of Men; otherwise Castell-an-Dunes, Castell-an-Dunis; that is to say, is the castle, fenced fort, or fortress, or is the fort or fortress castle. It consists of about six acres of ground, within three circles or intrenchments, upon the top of a pyramidical hill, built of turf and unwrought rough stones, after the British manner, without lime, comparatively a hedge ; each of these circles or ramparts rising about eight feet above each other towards the centre of the castle, which consists of about an acre and half of land, in the midst whereof appear the ruins of some old dilapidated houses. Near which is a flat vallum, pit, or tank, wherein rain or cloud water that falls, abides, more or less in quantity as it falls, one half of the year. Which I suppose supplied the soldiers’ occasions, as no fountain, spring, or river water, is within a thousand paces thereof. There are two gates or portals leading to this fort, the one on the east, the other on the west side thereof, which on a stony causey, now covered with grass, conduct you up and down the hill towards Trekyning; that is to say, the king, prince, or ruler’s town.
On a recent visit, sheep and their lambs were grazing on the site, this is apparently quite usual – on a previous visit goats were also present. A couple of ponies were also present near the carpark.
On approaching the hill fort from the car park, the inclination (excuse the pun) is to head straight up the rampart – it appears as if a footpath has been cut for this purpose, but this is actually erosion of the rampart. An apparently ‘invisible’ sign directs visitors to the left, toward the original entrance at the southwest and away from the erosion, but as can be seen, it appears few people notice the sign!
Entering the central area from the SW, the remains of the barrows are to the right, and ahead to the left. On the far side is a boggy area, the pond or vallum described by Hals in the quote above. Also ahead to the left is an observation plaque set on stone. This points out various landmarks in all directions, very useful and interesting on a clear day, less so on a misty/foggy one! The plaque is placed upon an ancient stone with an interesting story:
“Anne, the daughter John Pollard, of this parish [St. Columb], and Loveday, the daughter of Thomas Rosebere, of the parish of Enoder, were buried on the 23rd day of June, 1671, who were both barbarously murdered the day before in the house of Capt’n Peter Pollard on the bridge, by one John the son of Humphrey and Cicely Trehembern, of this parish, about 11 of the clock in the forenoon upon a market day.”
The following tradition is given in connection with the above: “A bloodhound was obtained and set upon the trail, which it followed up a narrow lane, to the east of the union-house, named Tremen’s-lane; at the head, the hound made in an oblique direction towards the town, and in a narrow alley, known as Wreford’s-row, it came upon the murderer in his father’s house, and licked his boots, which were covered in blood.”
The sentence on Tremen was “that he be confined in an iron cage on the Castle Downs, 2 miles from St. Columb, and starved to death.” While in confinement he was visited by a country woman on her way home from market. The prisoner begged earnestly for something to eat; the woman informed him that she had nothing in the shape of food but a pound of candles; this being given him, he ate them in a ravenous manner. It’s a saying here, in reference to a scapegrace, that he is a regular Tremen.
Richard Cornish. St. Columb.
The stone is supposedly the one upon which the cage was set, and where John Tremen met his death.
OS Grid Ref SW945623.
From the A30 Westbound, take the B3274 through Victoria – this is the old A30 road. Continue along, under the old iron railway bridge until the road bends right and drops under the new A30. Just under a mile past the A30 bridge is a signposted track to the right. this leads direct to a small carpark behind a farm house. The fort is a 5 minute walk from the carpark.
From the East, take the A39 to the St Columb junction. Take the exit from the Roundabout signposted Castle an Dinas. The farm trackway is about 2 miles from the roundabout.
A signpost points the way to the Carpark and hill fort from both directions. There is an interpetation sign and map of the site in the carpark.