We have often driven down the A30, and wondered what is on the hill to the north of us, as we pass Goss Moor, haunted with memories of its horrendous traffic jams.
The answer is Castle an Dinas, one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in Cornwall. It is a superb site, with stunning views ranging from Rough Tor and Brown Willy in the east, Hensbarrow to the south, St Agnes beacon to the west, and glimpses of the sea to the north. This is one of the few places where the term ‘360 degree view’ is completely valid.
It was a cold, bright January day and we were clutching our iWalkCornwall app to take us on a walk around the fort and the valley of the infant Menalhyl river.
The fort is some 260m across with several layers of rampart – some as high as 7m – encircling a large open area which contains a large pond and, curiously, the remains of two Bronze Age barrows. It must have been a strategically important site down the ages, given its central location and ease of access from other such sites such as St Dennis, just across the valley.
No one seems sure whether it was used as a permanent home for a local chief, a small community, or simply a place of refuge when times were tough.
The walk took us through the fort and down into the Menalhyl valley, past the remains of a C20 tungsten mine and into a gentle valley with some wonderful traditional stone-built Cornish farmsteads set tactfully quarter of a mile separate from each other. The names tell their own story: Reterth, Trevithick, Trewolvas, Tresaddern with signs to Tregonetha.
There is not much of the river at this stage but it bubbled along, collecting side streams as it made its way westwards, to skirt St Columb, pass through Mawgan, and emerge at Mawgan Porth. Around us, there were signs of an early spring: some snowdrops, primroses and even some confused campion in the hedgerows. Away from the fort with its background roar from the A30, only the occasional aeroplane leaving Newquay airport disturbed the peace. The sky was a vivid blue.
As we climbed the hill back to the fort, the bright sun highlighted the webs of field spiders hanging from the fence, making it feel as though one was being caressed by gossamer or prepared for an Iron Age ritual as one approached the fort’s ancient ramparts. Cold, crisp days have their benefits.
On our return from Bosporthennis, it was irresistible to stop at the Moomaid in the Field kiosk for some delicious home-made ice cream. But first, we needed to earn it. Zennor quoit lay on the ridge, somewhere just out of sight.
Finding a path up to the quoit took us a moment but the Moomaid people assured us that there was a path out of their field (half way up on the right hand side) and we followed an overgrown track (nice ripe blackberries) up to the ridge. There, in the distance, was a large white triangle beckoning us on. We made a mental note to explore the ridge at some future date to see if there is a path along it.
Dating from the Neolithic and surviving despite attempts by farmers and others to borrow bits of stone, the quoit commands a wonderful wide view over a sea of bracken to the south. In the distance, the hills of Watch Croft and Carn Galver are plainly visible as is the engine house of the Ding Dong mine.
The enormous 5.5m long capstone has long ago slipped turning what was once a large ‘table’ structure into a pyramidal shape. The entrance slabs are still in place and defy those entering from the east. Alongside are some C19 posts which were intended as the base of a shelter.
Legend has it that any stone removed from the quoit will make its way back overnight. We did not quite have enough room in our backpacks and returned to the Moomaid for delicious reward (we recommend the Shipwreck).
It is not every day that one sets out in pursuit of a possible new fogou; indeed, as dedicated fogou-hunters, we have already visited the eight ‘standard’ sites. However, a chance remark in Craig Weatherhill’s excellent Belerion sent us out on a bright September day in search of the courtyard huts and beehive hut at Bosporthennis, just to the west of Zennor.
The settlement is not easy to get to. Set among some stunning Iron Age fields, walled with mighty boulders, there is no natural path and we approached it across fields (with the permission of the farmer). Another possible approach would be from the side of the hill, Hannibal’s cairn.
It was worth the effort. Bosporthennis (‘dwelling at the entrance to the isolated place’?) lies at the top of the shallow valley which includes the Porthmeor (‘large cove’) settlement barely 500m away which has its own fogou.
Looked at with a broad view, the whole valley must once have been a thriving series of small farms, each centred on individual courtyard houses, each with its own individual fields which would no doubt have been filled with livestock. Satisfyingly, the Tinners Way crosses the head of the valley at a rather marshy area, linking it to a known Iron Age thoroughfare.
Little remains of the courtyard houses, certainly not as much as can be seen at Carn Euny or Chysauster. One is fairly easy to work out, with its courtyard and circular hut, each sporting a single vertical door jamb facing east. The rest are vestigial. But the view is worth a pause, the fields unrolling in front of you towards the modern Bosporthennis farm. This is another of those sites which feels as though it has been inhabited non-stop since the original dwellers dragged some stones together for protection from the elements.
A short distance away is a complex which looks very different. A large rectangular field has walls reaching about 2.5m in height, well above the height of those in surrounding fields. At the south-east corner is the remains of a medieval house set amongst the remains of a former courtyard house. This takes some disentangling.
In the opposite north-east corner stands the beehive hut which Craig describes as … It is not known for certain what the Beehive hut actually was, but comparing it with the underground one at Carn Euny, some people believe it to be a unique form of above-ground fogou. [Belerion, 1981]
This is indeed an unusual structure and the comparison with Carn Euny is very apt. There are two entrances, one from the medieval field which is itself thought to be medieval, the other from an adjacent field which is probably original. There is also a third doorway giving onto a small rectangular space with a small niche alongside it, similar to that at Carn Euny, opposite the original entrance.
There is strong evidence of former corbelling to create a roof but it is also clear that the structure has been -re-constructed/amended at later dates for the quality of workmanship and size of stones varies quite markedly. At one point there is a clear discontinuity of construction.
A short distance away is a round, another late Iron Age semi-defensive structure expressed here as a simple circular field boundary.
A fogou or not a fogou?
The Beehive hut is a fascinating structure and incredibly similar to the circular hut at Carn Euny but is it an above-ground fogou or not? Craig himself seems to have changed his opinion over time. In Belerion he says .. some people believe it to be a unique form of above-ground fogou. In his later book, Cornovia (1985), he says it is … now regarded as an above-ground fogou while the illustrated edition of the latter (2009) says … generally regarded as …
I suppose it comes down to the question of ‘what is a fogou?’
On the one hand we have seven classical fogous all of which consist of straight/curving tunnels with certain familiar features, notably the ‘creep’ entrance, large roofing slabs and occasionally a trip stone or narrowing point in the passage. Some are above ground (Pendeen), some below ground (Hallyggye, Boleigh).
On the other we have Carn Euny which has both passage and beehive hut with the hut pre-dating the tunnel, and Bosporthennis with its beehive but no passage.
If we knew more about their purpose, we would be better able to answer the central question. Our feeling is that the beehive hut is a separate entity. It is surely hard to compare Pendeen fogou with Bosporthennis beehive hut and say they had the same purpose. Carn Euny is simply confusing things by having a hut and fogou attached to each other.
Corbelling is a technology in its own right and there is no doubt that it would have provided an excellent advance on the simple wood and turf roofs that probably covered courtyard houses. But it would also be a more difficult structure to create. Could it be that the two beehive huts we have – a mere five miles apart – are simply technological dead-ends. They tried corbelling but found it easier and more practical to stick with the familiar methods of wood and turf?
Either way, we would encourage a visit to this fascinating and beautiful part of Cornwall (on a sunny day) when the sky and distant sea are blue. Our ancestors knew how to choose a good spot for a house.
Having said that they are not easy to find, try these what3words locations:
The Great Flat Lode walk is a trail created by Cornwall Council which circles Carn Brea hill and takes you through the heart of Cornwall’s former mining district.
Several websites attempt brief descriptions of the walk – part of the network of Mining Trails – but few really do it real justice; a point we return to below. Cornwall Trails point out that the lode in question was discovered in the 1860s and was effectively worked out by 1920. The ever-reliable iWalkCornwall adds more historical information as is its wont and has a version of the trail which takes a (very sensible) diversion to the top of Carn Brea to admire the Bassett memorial, the remains of the Neolithic hillfort and the miniature castle (now a restaurant).
The first point of note is that it was the lode which was flat – well actually 10-20 degrees – rather than the trail. We have cycled the route and had to dismount at various points. We ended up referring to it as the Great Fat Lode to reflect its importance to mining; that is when we were not discussing the peculiar British grammatical construction that mean it could never be the ‘Flat Great Lode’.
This time we were walking it on a grey January day. It was easy, going.
We parked near Seleggan smelting works (NT) and set off in a clockwise direction, following the contours along an old mineral tramway or railway past Wheal Buller and above the valley containing Carnkie.
The horizon was dotted with chimneys and the walls of decayed and roofless mining buildings. To one side lay the hill that would follow us all day: the massif of Carn Brea with its monument and castle. To our left was the tall Carnkie aerial. It was obvious that this is the main horse-owning area of Cornwall for almost every field had a horse or two trying to look as though they were enjoying the fresh wind.
The trail is generally well-signposted and we did not need a map. As the route is not marked in the OS Explorer series, the map is little use anyway. Occasionally the waymarkers had become overgrown or obliterated and one sign was lying on the ground so that we had to do a jigsaw puzzle to work out which way it ‘should’ have been pointing (we got the answer wrong).
There was much of interest along the trail but we passed building after building with no idea what we were looking at, nor the name of the particular structure.
An example showed how poorly explained it all was. One of the few interpretative panels we came across was a decaying stainless steel sign which attempted to tell the story of the facility. Sadly the copy, which was difficult to read because of the damage, became hopelessly lost in the detail of some 6 inch reciprocating engine which had done some wonderful thing. we gave up. What we really wanted to know were the answers to simple questions like ‘What is this building called? When was it built? What was it for? Was it used for copper, tin, arsenic or other? How successful was it? How long did it last?’ The copy had been written by enthusiastic experts and was pretty impenetrable.
The route takes you some way westwards, leaving Carn Brae and Carnkie transmitter far behind, turning right at the Grenville Mines near Troon which is not a beautiful addition to the landscape. From here the trail passes the King Edward Mine Museum and heads down the Red River valley towards the railway line.
This area, around Brea Addit, Carn Arthen and Higher Brea were some of the saddest areas of the walk. Three things combined to create an air of dereliction: rubbish, uncared for fencing and caravans/shacks/broken down vehicles.
The rubbish was the most noticeable feature. One field was covered in what appeared to be broken tiles and paving slabs; there were tyres and fridges beside the road; rusty corrugated iron and broken fences; whole compounds full of dead boats and vehicles and, in the fields, great mounds of single-use plastic and dilapidated sheds and field barns.
It was hard not to feel sorry for sad-looking horses who were sharing their muddy patches with plastic and detritus. We just hoped that they did not try and eat any of the refuse.
The most depressing sight was of caravans and tumble-down shacks with smoking chimneys suggesting that people were actually living within: in winter. We even saw a tent which looked in current use. Barking German shepherds abounded. This was far from being emotionally comfortable.
The trail skirted the mainline railway near Penhallick and settled down into a steady and well-metalled track along the foot of Carn Brea, sharing the route with National Cycleway No 3. It is at this point that iWalkCornwall sensibly takes to the heights of Carn Brea although not strictly on the trail. We will divert up hill in future.
On the eastern side of Carn Brea, the trail descends by a couple of zigzags through Church Coombe – old St Euny church is very visible down the valley – before picking up the tramway again and returning us to our starting point once again.
The books say that it is 6.5 miles although our gps recorded an easy 9.1 miles in three hours.
We recommend this walk for a good walk. There are no welcoming pubs or cafes on the route other than King Edward Mine in summer but it is a good open air tramp which is friendly to dogs and makes one think about the mining heritage of Cornwall which was still thriving just over 120 year ago.
We just wish some investment had gone into maintaining the ideals that had obviously been around when the trail was created. A small proportion of the money that was spent on the neighbouring Heartlands development would have produced an interpreted trail of which Cornwall and the World Heritage Site could be proud.
We first walked this route in the dying days of the last millennium, and in the opposite direction. A bright sunny day in late September was too much of temptation and so we set off to do it again, the other way around.
We will admit to any amount of bias but this surely the ‘best’ bit of the whole Cornish coast. The cliffs are rugged granite; the views are spectacular; and there is a real sense of progress as one starts by walking westward, heads south and then ends up walking eastwards. The cliff and rock formations are therefore seen in different lights. On this day, the sea was flat calm and an astonishing array of different colours ranging from deep blue to a watery green.
Central to the view are the Longships rocks and lighthouse but utterly forgettable is the mess of buildings around the Land’s End hotel. The Wolf Rock lighthouse was also visible on the horizon but the haze prevented us seeing Scilly.
But enough of the summary, let’s start walking.
We parked at the top of Sennen Cove, admiring the wide sweep of Whitesand bay around to the lovely Cape Cornwall.
It is not hard to understand why Cape Cornwall was an ancient harbour. A Bronze Age coasting boat making its way northwards from Mount’s Bay would have few options for landing along the south coast of Penwith but, rounding Land’s End, would be presented by the great sweep of soft sand and the promontory of Cape Cornwall to guide them: two options for a safe landing. Both would be protected from the prevailing south-westerlies.
The going was easy with numerous wide tracks, many of them paved with rough stones to reduce the wear and tear. ‘It is strange, there are no signs. I think this is the way,‘ said one passing traveller, heading towards Sennen Cove which was visible at the foot of the cliff directly below her.
The white bulk of the theme park is not attractive from any direction. Once there was simply a hotel but now there is a mess of buildings to extract money from wallets. Thankfully, the coastal path has right of way and we could walk past the First and Last house and the hotel without paying any dues, our eyes fixed firmly on the Longships.
It took Cornwall Council 50 minutes of debate recently to decide whether it was Land’s End or Lands End. Finally, they consulted Craig Weatherhill because, through some curious logic, they said ‘he is an expert in the Cornish language’. Thankfully, he declared it to be ‘Land’s End’ and honour was satisfied. Not wishing to deprive him of the credit and fame, they could simply have looked at the cover of the OS map.
We paused to admire the Armed Knight. He is surely positioned here to defend Cornwall against all comers from the west. Behind him, and on many promontories to the east, lay the dragons of Cornwall, their noses half under water, watching the northern and southern coasts. The Rumps and Cudden being perhaps the best examples.
We stopped again overlooking Enys Dodman to sip some coffee. By now the crowds of over-formally coach party tourists had thinned out. The usual inverse square law applied: the proportion of tourists at any point is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the car park.
As we approached Carn Boel the selection of paths finally collapsed into the familiar 30-40cm wide coastal path with which we are so familiar. The bracken and gorse closed about our legs This was clearly beyond the area of heavy tourist use.
What a view they missed. Below us was the great sweep of Nanjizal or Mill bay, the gentle surf sparkling at the edge of the green water. Above the bay a single white house perched precariously, staring westwards to Lyonesse. Alongside us were some Iron Age fields, each with a stone cluster in their middle, no doubt placed there as rubbing posts for cattle.
The southern headland of Nanjizal bay is Carn Les Boel, a small Iron Age cliff castle with a prominent gate stone protecting the neck of land.
This is famous as being the starting, or is it finishing, point of the Great Ley line. This, with its accompanying and wandering Michael and Mary lines, stretches from here, through places like St Michael’s Mount, Glastonbury, Avebury … onwards to the Norfolk coast at Hopton. A positive micro-industry has grown up around this but we cannot say that we felt any unusual energies as we passed across the line.
The cliffs around here had a wonderful ruggedness. Seemingly constructed of large semi-rectangular boulders, they seemed placed there by giants playing with their Lego sets.
Below, sliced into the cliffs, were great caves and zawns: chasms open to the sea often with a skirt of boiling white foam. Sadly, neither ‘zawn’ nor ‘fogou’ is permitted by Scrabble, no doubt regarded as being Cornish words despite being in common usage on OS maps.
The coastguard lookout on Gwennap Head beckoned us onwards. We passed it and the Runnelstone landmarks, the buoy itself moaning softly like a herd of cows in need of milking, and descended to the tiny cove of Porthgwarra where we once again met visitors. It is still recovering from its recent inclusion in the Poldark series. Here we stopped for lunch.
A step further on and we were passing above Porth Chapel, where one of us mis-spent his youth, surfing and swimming. At the head of the beach stands the small overgrown chapel and holy well of St Levan, matching the well and chapel of St Agnes at its sister cove of Chapel Porth on the north coast.
One headland and there before us was one of the most famous views in Cornwall: Treryn Dinas with its Logan rock. In front of us was the Minack rock. The sounds of Chicago the musical could just be heard on the breeze, emanating from the matinee performance at the theatre. This area is as familiar to us as the view from Cudden head or the sweep of Kenneggy bay.
As we passed Porth Chapel, we had met a couple heading slowly westwards who enquired the distance to Land’s End. ‘We are completing the coast path and thought we would go for the big finale: a sunset at Land’s End.’ What a wonderful way to end their walk. It looked very likely they would have a spectacular finale indeed. Where better?
We had covered the 5.8 miles in about 3.5 hours, our speed constantly slowed by the need to take photographs or simply breathe-in the views.
Sennen: Whitesand bay
Sennen: a kestrel
Above Whitesand bay with Cape Cornwall in the distance
We started the sixth and last leg of the Copper Trail on one of those May days when one is not sure whether it is going to shower with rain or burn you to a frazzle. It turned out to be a lovely day for a walk: no rain and with enough cloud to prevent over-heating or burning.
There had been copious rain after a long dry spell and the hedges and fields were filled with lush green growth. The last of the bluebells, campion, three-cornered leek (wild garlic) and cow parsley providing a charming red, white and blue accompaniment to the green of the hedgerows.
We picked up where we had left off, close to Trevague, following a familiar path through a wood and out onto the moor in search of the Nine Stones stone circle. On our previous walk we had been unable to find this stone circle, as though the piskies had spirited it away. We had searched random stones in search of the boundary stones which led to the circle, but without success. This time, we soon found the line of boundary stones with their comforting letters ‘A’ (for Altarnun) and ‘N’ (for North Hill) carved on them.
The stones themselves were easily spotted, alone on a wide sweep of moor which seemed to contain no vestige of the C21, the distance hills being shrouded in morning mist.
The small Bronze Age circle consists of eight stones around a single central stone. It has been restored over time but retains its lonely charm. Sadly, cattle seem to have used the stones as rubbing posts and they are all surrounded by deep muddy patches which are no doubt pools in winter.
It would be splendid to meet the men who built this stone circle, even for a moment, or to watch them working or carrying out rituals within it. Just for a moment our various guesses would be confirmed or denied and our understanding would be extended.
We returned to the lonely house of Clitters which bordered a small virgin wood. In amongst the trees were boulders covered in moss and the relics of previous trees, seemingly twisted into the shapes of great serpents, their mouths gaping, awaiting unsuspecting humans. As night falls this would become a magical and fearful place.
Much of this walk was on roads but quiet roads with almost no traffic which made the going easy. Many of the settlements reminded us of the contrast between West Carne and South Carne on our previous walk: some houses set in manicured gardens, others very much rough working farms apparently collecting scrap metal and the occasional dead car. Stonaford contained both.
We were soon approaching the once-great estate of Trebartha, the former home of the Rodd family. The house has gone but there is evidence of careful planting and some lovely buildings clustered around the Home Farm.
By now we were in the valley of the Lynher and a very fine valley it is too. The moor reaches up one side but the valley itself is lush and well cared-for.
A straight stretch brought us into the village of North Hill in time for a cup of coffee. We sat in the churchyard, admiring the wildflowers that survived in God’s acre. Inconveniently, the church was in use for a service and we could not visit, but returned later in the day.
Our way took us out of the village and across a field: the book excelling with its directions as usual ‘… a stile into the woods, just left of the tall trees’ (it was).
A steep climb through some ancient woodland took us back to the edge of the moor on the west bank. Again, we speculated whether one of our ancestors would recognise the virgin forest through which we were walking, for the C21 seemed to have changed little.
From here our way was dominated by the rugged outline of Sharp Tor while off to our right were apparently the hidden remains of various mine workings and quarries.
Crossing the Lynher once again at Berrowbridge, we walked up and over a ridge, descending to Henwood which almost boasted a village green. Sitting on the granite seat in the middle of a traffic island, we could admire views of the rolling countryside, across the Lynher and Tamar valleys towards the tors of distant Dartmoor.
The evidence of mining activity increased as we made our way on the last leg of our journey, mostly the remains of the Phoenix United Mine whose engine house still stands amidst a decayed landscape.
The Cheesering was evident on a hill above us with people clustered around it. We resisted the temptation to divert from the approved route (why does it not go that way, we wondered) and headed along the road, avoiding various feral sheep, until we were within the village of Minions and close to a welcoming cafe. We had circumnavigated Bodmin Moor.
We had walked 8.8 miles (gps) or 8 miles (Google) in 3 hours 45 minutes.
Spring had arrived, in a hurry. In a short period of time, leaves had sprung out from branches, fruit trees had burst into blossom, the hedgerows had filled with flowers, and the sun was beating down on a bank holiday weekend. Better still, it had not rained heavily for at least a week and the land was not water-logged.
We picked up where we left off, in a desolate spot somewhere in the middle of Davidstow airfield, possibly the easiest place to find a parking space. That is if you do not mind parking next to a sign which says ‘Aircraft land and take-off from here’. I wonder if the sheep can read.
The first mile was the dullest walk we have done for a long time: one mile straight, on a level road with nothing but sheep and the occasional passing car for company. Eventually we forked right and headed for Old Park. Here we were joined by some brightly-coloured Wheatears which hopped from rock to rock, confused by two walkers on a bright morning. Beside us a positive cavalry of shaggy moorland ponies munched on fresh silage.
Behind us was a wide desolate, flat landscape fringed by Crowdy reservoir and a few stands of trees.
Close to Old Park is the remains of the Roughtor Consuls mine: a few lumps of masonry and some humps and bumps. In the shallow valley below lay the source of the river Fowey which the guidebook calls ‘a boggy inhospitable area best left to the animals’. Neither the sheep, nor their baa-ing lambs seemed to object.
Rejoining a road, we headed downhill towards Bowithick, a well-cared for hamlet which fringed the rough ground of the moor.
Just beyond was a small stream, the infant Penpont water which would wind its way to join the river Inny. A charming bridge beside a ford provided a good place for a coffee stop.
The road then followed a contour, skirting the bottom of Bray and Carne Downs with rough rising ground on our right and increasingly lush well-watered fields in the valley to our left. Sheep to the right and cattle to the left. The going was easy and the roads empty.
The next two hamlets were in stark contrast to each other. West Carne had all the precision of a Cotswold village with the grass well-mowed, the saddle stones in just the right places by the drive, the houses fringed by some lovely granite walls. South Carne was a working farm surrounded by a mass of rusty metal and dead cars.
From South Carne we cut across country, following a path, through some lovely lush fields. These were the meadows of our youthful memories with wild flowers in profusion: bluebells, primroses, wood violets, wild garlic in abundance and some lovely bright white Lady’s smock (or cuckoo plant). These were not fields zapped by weed killers.
The path brought us out at Trewint, close to Five Lanes, the official end of this leg of the Trail but we had plenty of energy left and diverted to view Altarnun church, one of Cornwall’s greatest.
Altarnun is a little oasis, a series of well-maintained houses stretching down a short hill towards the tall-towered church where a troll’s bridge spans a bubbling stream. The church is in a league of its own for its magnificent carved bench ends.
We sat down to eat some lunch amidst bright primroses, daisies, brightly coloured azaleas and flashes of bluebell, watching the stream tumble beneath the bridge.
Returning to the main route, we passed into South Cornwall through a bridge under the A30 and headed south into the unpopulated country along the eastern edge of the south moor. In the distance, the bulk of Dartmoor was a hazy outline while below us lay the familiar rolling country through which the Tamar flows.
Roads and paths led us from farmstead to farmstead until we reached the ford at Trevague where our car was waiting us.
We could not resist the temptation to see if we could collect a stone circle before the end of the day and headed onwards to the abandoned barn at Clitters, and up onto the moor in search of the Nine Stones. Being only one metre tall, they eluded us but we found some interesting boundary stones which someone had gone to the effort of placing across the moor to delineate the boundary between Altarnun and North Hill parishes. I hope the sheep were grateful.
We returned to our two cars and found Davidstow airfield lost in a dense mist, on a day on which the sun had shone with real heat, suggesting why it was a less-than-ideal situation for an airfield.
We had walked 12.8 miles (gps) 11 miles (Google maps) in five and half hours of glorious sunshine.
Roughtor Consuls mine
The rolling valley of the Tamar
A wonderfully typical Cornish sign
Communal living, Altarnun
Davidstow airfield and Crowdy reservoir
Altarnun: the troll bridge
A journey through the landscape and history of Cornwall