A Fogou is an enigmatic form of man-made cave. They hold a special fascination because they are such fun to explore and because no one knows for sure what they were actually for.
In simple terms, they are underground passages or souterrains which are found associated with Iron Age habitation.
The best surviving examples of souterrains are in Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall. The Cornish examples are different from others and are called fogous after the old Cornish word for a cave: vau.
There is only a handful of fogous and all the survivors are west of Truro. This is not convenient for everyone but is great for those of us who sensibly live in West Cornwall.
Like most ancient monuments – Neolithic to early Christian – fogous are a wonderful destination for a sunny day out in the country and take you to parts of the landscape you would not often visit. To survey the landscape from Pendeen, Boden, Boscaswell, Piskey’s Hall, or to play hide and seek at Carn Euny, is to walk in the steps of our ancestors.
Fogous are not intellectually challenging. Since almost nothing is ‘known’ about them one can absorb or debate the facts and traditions, speculating as you walk. We do know that fogous are all associated with former habitation and many of them are still close to modern houses. Have people been living next to these monuments for 2000 years? What have they used them for? Why have they not robbed them for building stone?
There are not many fogous and so you can quickly become an expert: or as quickly as Cornish lanes allow. And you can always surprise your friends who have not heard of such things before.
A fogou hunter’s tip: always take a torch and be prepared for sticky mud or, in the case of Pendeen, ankle deep slurry.
For those of you travelling further afield, consider that there are souterrains on St Kilda. If you want something even more unusual, try a taliot in Mallorca. These seem to share many of the features of fogous and yet come from a much earlier era.