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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.
Day 5 of the holiday and time for more heritage sites. I’d heard on the grapevine that discussions are under way concerning plans for a fairly major archaeological project in West Penwith. Chun Castle being the main focus of these plans, I decided to pay the site another visit. We parked on the north side of Chun Downs Nature Reserve and I made the ascent (a 150 feet climb over a third of a mile) in less than 10 minutes, despite my knees!
One thing that immediately strikes me about Chun Castle is that you don’t see it until you’re right on top of it. And the converse is true. Due to the shape and slope of the hill, it is unlikely that any attackers would be seen by lookouts on the ramparts until they were almost at the castle gates. So what was its function? The ditch and double banks with offset entrance suggest a fortification, and there is certainly enough granite in the walls to withstand an attack, but the location and siting seems all wrong to me. Discussion with Craig Wetherhill a few days later enlightened me: at their peak, the walls may have been at least 20′ high, affording good all-round visibility. The castle would have been intervisible with several other hillforts and rounds in the area: Caer Bran, Lesingy Round, Faughan Round, Castle an Dinas etc. Chun Castle itself may well have been used as a fortified ‘warehouse’ for the tin traders.
A few hundred yards away from the castle entrance, and barely inter-visible at ground level is the much older Neolithic site of Chun Quoit, a chambered tomb which we’ll be covering in more detail in future…
Returning to the car, we drove the short distance to the hamlet of Bosiliack, and I walked the old Tinner’s track up to Ding Dong mine. I have visited Men an Tol many times, but have frequently been foiled trying to get up to Boskednan Downs, by flooding. Starting from the old mine workings avoids the flooding in the valley below, and is an easy walk through the scrub.
The first site I reached was an old Kerbed ring cairn, which has been cleared (by CASPN?) since I was last here, and is therefore much easier to see.
The (restored) Nine Maidens stone circle is a short distance further on, and gives good views in all directions, with Carn Galver, Hannibal’s Carn and Little Galver dominating the views to the north and north-east. There is a Standing Stone marked nearby on the map, but I’d never previously identified it myself. This time, with the help of my trusty ViewRanger app, the GPS showed my exact location and I was surprised to find it’s just a short stump of a stone, directly on the main path!
I moved on to the last target of the day, another kerbed barrow a few hundred yards away. This has been extensively cleared by the CASPN stalwarts, and the central cist is plainly marked by a wonderful Quartz stone just to the west of the cist.
When I was last here, shortly after the stone was uncovered, it was difficult to make out the details of the barrow, but the further scrub clearance has now made the layout plain to see.
Whilst here, I met a couple of gentlemen who asked if I knew anything about the monuments. I imparted what little I knew, and pointed out that we were amidst a packed landscape of ancient features, with the remains of settlements at Chysauster, Bodrifty, Bosiliack, Bosullow and Chun surrounding us. They were continuing down the hill to the Four Parish stone, so I warned them of the possibility of boggy ground there, wished them well and retraced my steps back to the car to complete the day’s excursion.
Day 3 of our holiday was packed with ‘lumps and bumps’, and a major disappointment. Those who follow our Twitter feed may have noticed the picture below, taken during a mid-morning visit to the stone circle at Boscawen-Un, my favourite site in Cornwall.
I had seen the tent during my approach from the A30, but had assumed it was pitched in the adjoining field. Imagine my anger and surprise when I realised the tent was actually within touching distance of the stones! Some of the guy ropes were staked within the area of worn grass immediately outside the circle. The tent flap was completely open and the occupants were fast asleep. I’ll never understand the mentality of such people – the stones are there for us all, and to ruin the ambience in such a way is totally selfish behaviour.
I don’t know if they had, or even asked for, permission, but I made a call to the CASPN hotline to inform them of the proximity of the tent to the stones, and the site manager was subsequently informed – on my return the next day the tent was gone, with flattened grass the only evidence. But I wonder how many others had the ambiance of their visit spoiled by the thoughtlessness of that couple. I left the site reluctantly, and walked across the A30 to the Goldherring settlement which I last visited 2 years ago. I was pleased to see that the clearance has been maintained and extended – even the small tree which dominated the centre of the site previously has now been removed.
Back to the car, and passing through St Just, I parked and started on the long walk uphill to the remaining Tregeseal stone circle. There were originally three circles here, but two disappeared in antiquity. I always approach this site with trepidation now, as long horn cattle are used on the common, and have been witnessed causing damage to the stones, as well as being somewhat frightening in appearance, especially to a bovinophobe like myself! However, on this occasion I was in luck, with no cattle to be seen. But my visit was unfortunately timed to co-incide with a group of over two dozen walkers from the West Penwith Footpath Association who decided to stop at the stones for their lunch break. I therefore continued across the common to look at the the two major barrows, and the group of holed stones which sit within the shadow of Carn Kenidjack. There are five stones here in total, four in a rough E-W line with the fifth a short distance off to one side at the western end of the row. None of the holes are aligned with anything obvious in the surrounding landscape, and the single stone was recently damaged (and poorly repaired)
For those who are following Sandy Gerrard’s series on Stone Rows here on the journal, I tried to see if a sea triangle view was possible at the Western end of the row, looking toward St Just, but the sky was just too hazy on the day to make anything out.
The walkers having concluded their lunch stop, I returned to the circle just as they were leaving, and finally managed to take some more photos of the circle for my collection, just as the sun decided to put in an appearance. The clouds above Carn Kenidjack seemed to be mimicing the shape of the carn below. Grateful that I’d had some time alone in the circle, I thanked the spirits of place, picked up an empty food wrapper, and made my way back to the car.
2 stone circles, a stone row, barrows and a settlement. Not a bad day’s work!
The first day of a two week holiday, and (purely co-incidentally, honest guv!) the day of a guided walk organised by the Cornwall Archaeological Society.
We had been warned that if the weather was inclement there may be a last-minute cancellation, so it was with some trepidation that on a very cold, but importantly, dry day 7 souls plus our guide gathered in a small car park at Balwest, prepared for an attack on the heights of Tregonning Hill. A multi-period walk had been promised by our guide, Steve Hartgroves, covering Bronze Age barrows, an Iron Age hillfort and accompanying settlements, medieval field systems, right up to comparatively recent China Clay quarries and workings. All of this was delivered, and more!
Tregonning Hill stands some 6km West of Helston, and rises to the magnificent height of 194 metres, overlooking Mounts Bay to the SW. It is surmounted by Germoe War Memorial, and an OS trig point. The hill is a SSSI, and the major importance of the site is the occurrence of an extremely rare liverwort, Western Rustwort Marsupella profunda, which is found growing on bare outcrops of weathered granite within and around the old china clay workings. Tregonning Hill is the only known British location for Western Rustwort and internationally it is restricted to this site in Cornwall and a few locations in Portugal and Madeira. (source: Natural England)
Steve showed us several aerial photos and old maps of the area (which would be referenced throughout the day), pointing out the various barrows and features that we would be visiting, and then we were off! The main track from Balwest is metalled, and gave no difficulties other than the incline, and we soon came to a side track at which point we paused. An old (parish boundary?) wall was our first marker and an obvious kink in line of the wall, along with a couple of suspicious bumps, marked our first Bronze Age barrow. Continuing on, we soon found ourselves clambering down and up across a wide banked ditch – the fortifications of the Castle Pencaire hillfort at the summit. It’s difficult to actually make out the fortifications on the ground, as quarrying has impacted upon the defenses, much stone has been robbed out, (some of which was apparently used for the war memorial which stands within the fort) and what remains is hidden in the extensive undergrowth. We moved on up to the memorial, and sheltered from the biting wind in its lea. A short geology lesson ensued, Steve taking us back to the pre-Cambrian and explaining how the rocks below our feet were formed. Informative, but a little over my head, I’ll admit.
The views from the summit are extensive, but unfortunately there was a haze to the day, and the distance views were not as clear as they could have been, though the field patterns all around, and particularly to the north could be easily made out. Our prehistoric geology lesson over, we retraced our steps back across the ditch to the track. We continued south for a short distance before bearing off to the right, to an area with an information sign, ‘The Preaching Pit’. Our lunchtime stop, the ‘pit’ is the site of an old quarry, which provided a much needed break from the wind, and commemorates John Wesley’s visits to nearby Kennegy Downs and Breage in the mid-1700s. The pit was used extensively for Sunday School meetings on Whit Sundays, and is still apparently used at Pentecost for multi-denominational services.
After a picnic lunch, we moved further south to look at the main quarry, site of a plane crash in the war. A commemorative plate is apparently in place, quite near to the edge of the quarry, but we didn’t look too hard for it! The quarry was an early China Clay site, having first been discovered here in 1746 by William Cookworthy. There was some discussion around the quarry, but I was personally more interested in the prehistoric aspects of the walk. We continued to the south-east, toward a lookout house which dates to the Napoleonic era, until we reached an area marked ‘cromlech’ on the old map. This was actually a rather nice kerbed cairn dating from the Bronze Age, which I would guess is around 40 metres across. Many of the surrounding kerb stones are still visible, and there is an obvious mound in the centre. This was an undoubted highlght of the walk for me. Retracing our steps a short distance, we turned to the north, where alongside the track was yet another BA barrow. No real distinguishing features, but an obvious ‘bump’ in the landscape.
Finally heading downhill, discussion turned to the landscape of fields below, and an obvious progression from Iron Age enclosed fields, to medieval strip farming, and finally the much larger fields of today was presented to us. We passed an (inaccessible) Iron Age settlement area, or ’round’ near the base of the hill, but attention then switched to the ground to our right, which was the site of an old brickworks, with one of the kilns still in place, but the rest left as faint traces on aerial photographs.
As we moved across the north base of the hill, a field boundary was examined – a double bank and ditch identifying it as a partial boundary of another Iron Age Round. All too soon, the path started to incline again, and we knew the end of the walk was not too far away now. I’ll admit to struggling on the final climb back up to the summit, and our small band split into two groups – one lagging to discuss the mine workings between Tregonning and Godolphin Hills, and the rest of us eager to finally get to the top once more for a final look at the views before returning to the cars to make our way home.
So what were my impressions of my first CAS walk? I was impressed with the extent of knowledge shown and imparted by Steve the group leader – from the Pre-Cambrian to Napoleonic times, he covered it all with good humour. The other participants were not slow in coming forward if they had something to add to the discussions, and there were questions aplenty at all stages of the walk. If others are like this, I’ll make sure to coincide my holiday dates again in future!