For most people Thames is the town you whizz though on the way to the more exciting destinations in the Coromandel and to be honest this is what we often do except on this one occasion when it was decided to stop at the small local museum.
The Thames Museum featured in an episode of ‘Heritage Rescue’ during 2016 and as such was brought to my attention fuelling a quick pit stop along with the obligatory pie and coffee. The entry fee is $5 an adult or in our case, $10 for a family of two adults and two children. For this you get entry into an Aladdin’s cave of memorabilia from the 1800s and later. The early fridge and scary looking dentists chair filled both tween and teen with horror.
The first room was divided into spaces depicting life in a Victorian household. Leading on from this was a space where a short film would have been shown (but for whatever reason was not on the day we were visiting) and in cabinets along the walls were a variety of early Maori artefacts. This part of the museum was a little disappointing, there were very few explanatory notes as to what the artefacts were, where they were found or even who donated them. Unfortunately it did give the impression of being an afterthought which seems a shame given the rich Maori history of the area.
A third room held a collection of tools and equipment (including several dreaded dentist chairs which I forgot to photograph) whilst the final room where the spaces which were given a make over by the TV show ‘Heirtage Rescue’.
The brillant blue of the painted walls setting off the easy to read maps and displays. A small side room off this main space was given over to handcrafted models of the towns heritage buildings.
Like so many of our small town museums this one is run solely by volunteers and as such they should be applauded for their efforts in bringing the history of their town to life. Having said that it was at times difficult to navigate visually around the museum, particularly as the general feel is one of an overstuffed Victorian home. There is something to be said for a more minimalist approach. It was a stark and distinct difference between the areas given a make over by museum professionals and those not yet tackled, perhaps to the detriment of the remainder of the museum.
On a fine but crisp morning the family and I made the two hour journey to the set of Hobbiton where the scenes for the Shire were filmed for both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. I am big fan of the works of JRR Tolkien and whilst I was dubious about the movies they still have much going for them. I was also dubious about visiting what is obviously a place with the overseas tourist in mind. However, I must admit to being pleasantly surprised – Hobbiton was delightful! The managment work hard to maintain the spirit of what Tolkien describes in loving detail. My visit was a balm to my frazzled self and the following are a few photos of our time there, I only wish we could have spent more time there.
Hobbiton is situated on the Alexander farm near Matamata, Waikato and was first discovered during an aerial reconaissance for suitable filming locations for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The original set was constructed of untreated timber, ply and polystyrene – it was always the intention to return the site to its original condition. However, with the filming of The Hobbit an agreement was struck between Peter Jackson and the Alexander family and Hobbiton was born, this time with more permanent materials.
The following are just a few of the many Hobbit holes, each individual in their own way with gardens and furniture. It seems as if the occupants have just stepped away and will be back in a tick…
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” (The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien).
Of course we were all looking forward to getting to the most important Hobbit hole of them all – Bagend…
“It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted gree, with a shiny, yellow brass knob in the exact middle.The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted…” (The Hobitt. J.R.R. Tolkien)
The oak tree in the picture above is an artificial tree made from steel and silicon with over 250,000 fake leaves…
From here our guide led us down to the Party field with its huge tree (this one is real and the reason for choosing this small part of the Waikato for a film set).
And then it was on over the bridge to the Green Dragon for mug of ale and food…
Two very happy hours later we turn and say goodbye to what can only be described as a magical place…
“By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and properous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at the door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his wooly toes (neatly brushed) – Gandalf came by.” (The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien)
Why fleeting you might ask? Well in a nutshell, the visit occured a couple of years ago during a whirlwind trip to London with the family and after a protracted visit to the Natural History Museum followed by getting distracted by a well known sci-fi shop I was left with a mere two and half hours to see the Museum…As some of you are well aware this is not nearly enough time and so it was, a fleeting visit. The following are a few of the photos I took along with brief explanations.
One of the first gallerys I made my way to was the early Medieval gallery – I had long wanted to see the artefacts from Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo, the famous Anglo-saxon ship burial. Sutton Hoo is located near Woodbridge in Suffolk and is the remains of a 6th and 7th century AD cemetary. Mound 1 was excavated in 1939 providing the world with a fascinating glimpse of the artistic ability of our Anglo-saxon forebears. The artefacts were richer and more intricate than any other found before.
An ornate purse lid – would have originally covered a leather pouch which hung at the waist.
These ornate shoulder clasps are one of kind in Europe and were originally used to hold together the two halves of a stiff leather cuirass so it can fit the torso snugly in the Roman style.
Not far from the Sutton Hoo treasure is the Lewis Chessmen. These fascinating wee carvings were discovered in 1831 in Uig on the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides). They are 12th century in date and carved from walrus ivory; it is believed they were originally made in Trondheim in Norway – at the time the Outer Hebrides were ruled by Norway. A number of years ago, a travelling exhibition on the Vikings came to the Auckland Museum in New Zealand. Two of the Lewis Chessmen accompanied the exhibition and it was this that inspired me to write “A Viking Moon”.
Staying with the Vikings we have the Cuerdale Hoard from Lancashire. The display at the museum is only part an enormous hoard of silver found in a lead chest beside the River Ribble. The hoard itself consisted of 7500 coins and 1200 pieces of silver bullion, weighing in at forty kilograms. The coins come from a variety of sources – mainly the eastern Viking kingdoms of England but also from King Alfred’s Wessex, Byzantium, Scandinavia, Islamic and Carolingian sources. The Ribble Valley was an important Viking route between the Irish Sea and York and this may have some bearing on why the hoard was found here.
Staying in the early Medieval my next photo is of the Burghead Bull. The town of Burghead in Moray, Scotland occupies part of what was once a Pictish promontory fort of great importance. The Burghead Bulls were discovered in the late nineteenth century when much of the fort was destroyed to make way for more houses. Originally there were thirty panels carrying carved images of bulls, now however, only six remain – one of which is held at the British Museum. They are dated to 5th century AD and it has been suggested they formed a frieze set into the ramparts of the fort and possibly represent a warrior cult which celebrated strength and aggression. Regardless of what the bull represents it is a fabulous piece of Pictish art.
Travelling back in time I moved onto the Roman and Iron Age galleries (this was a flying visit, I had just recieved a text from an impatient husband…)
In the Roman gallery I took a moment to admire a stone sarcophagus found in London in 1853 within what was described as an extensive Roman cemetary outside the city wall to the east. It is dated to the early 4th century AD.
Moving along swiftly I found myself in the British Iron Age and here I had to stop and admire the mirrors. Of all the artefacts from this period these are my favorite (and no its not because I have vain streak…). I have long held the belief that mirrors were more than a toilette item for these were never true mirrors that the modern person might be familiar with. Their surfaces were often burnished bronze and would at best reflect a fuzzy image. Instead I would suggest that the surface of a mirror acted in a similar way to the reflective surface of lake, pond or well providing access to the otherworld – a liminal space/place. Such places are well documented as being special, the vast numbersof artefacts found deposited into watery places at this time speaks for itself. Furthermore, it is surely no coincidence that later myths and stories use a mirror as a storytelling device (think Snow White).
The St Keverne Mirror (Cornwall) 120BC-80BC
The Desborough Mirror (50BC-50AD)
The Wetwang Mirror (Yorkshire) 210BC-160BC
Then of course something shiny caught my eye, first the Snettisham Torc and then the twisted gold torcs from the Ipswich Hoard. The Snettisham Torc was discovered in 1950 near the village of Snettisham in Norfolk. It is made up of a kilo of gold mixed with silver, there are 64 threads and each thread is 1.9mm wide, eight threads were pulled together and twisted then all were twisted again to make the torc. The terminal ends are hollow and were cast from a mould. The torc is dated to between 150BC and 50BC. The Ipswich Hoard was the second hoard to be found in the area, the first being Anglo-saxon in date. This particular hoard was discovered during the construction of a housing estate in 1968 by a digger driver and consisted of six twisted gold torcs. These torcs had less silver in them which has led the musuem to date their manufacture to around 75BC.
The Snettisham Torc
The Ipswich Hoard
Finally I wound my way through the Egyptian gallery and down the stairs to meet up with the family who were marvelling at the large statues from the ancient world. The following is a selection of the photos from this part of the museum.
There was so much else to see but I simply ran out of time and as we were flying out the next day any other sight seeing would have to wait until another visit – although I have heard recently that there are plans afoot for a downloadable VR experience for those who can’t visit in person.
Below are a few links which relate to the above photos.
Yesterday was the first day of New Zealand Archaeology Week, it is the first time in New Zealand that archaeology has been celebrated with its own ‘week’. As part of this celebration of the past I attended a lecture at the Auckland Museum about the long term archaeological project being undertaken on Great Mercury Island entitled The Changing Face of Archaeology – The application of technology to the Ahuahu Great Mercury Island Archaeological Project. The lecture was delivered by Louise Furey, Rebecca Phillipps and Joshua Emmitt.
Great Mercury Island is situated off the east coast of the Coromandel Penninsula and as the name would suggest is the largest island in the Mercury Group. The purpose of the project is to examine the history of the Maori occupation on the island. As an island it provides the ideal opportunity to study a landscape as a whole and how people utilised and interacted with the landscape over time. This post is not a comprehensive study of the archaeology of the island, it is only a brief foray into what is a complex landscape. I have included links for those who wish to do read more about the work that is being carried out by the archaeologists.
There is certainly plenty of archaeology on the island to keep the archaeologists busy for quite some time. Of that which is visible above ground there are twenty-three Pa (defended sites with ditches and banks), large areas of gardens (recognisable by the lines of cleared stones), kumara storage pits, stone working sites and shell middens. As recent excavations have indicated there is even more evidence lying beneath the surface.
Prior to the current project the island was subject to two other single event excavations. The first being undertaken in 1954 in the early days of New Zealand Archaeology by then then newly appointed lecturer in archaeology at the University of Auckland Jack Golson. With a party of archaeology students he excavated a terrace on the Stingray Point Pa (Matakawau) identifying two kumara pits, each pit had more than 80 post holes suggesting a long period of rebuilding the roof structures. Golson’s work was neve published although this is soon to be rectified.
In 1984 Professor Geoffrey Irwin of the University of Auckland excavated a Pa in Huruhi Harbour. In 2009 a sever storm eroded about ten metres of sand from White’s Beach to reveal a shell midden and a rich charcoal layer. Bones from dogs and fish were found within the midden which was dated by radiocarbon to c.1400AD.
From 2012 the University of Auckland and the Auckland Museum have been working in conjunction with Ngati Hei on the previously mentioned long term project. The island is visited on regular basis with the main excavation season being held in Febuary, which is also a training dig for archaeology students from the university. The lecture held yesterday focussed on some of the finds from the excavations such as the large quantities of obsidian flakes some of which come from as far afield as Taupo, Mayor Island and closer to home on the Coromandel Peninsula. Although work/research is still ongoing it is becoming clearer how important Ahuahu is in our understanding of the early prehistory of New Zealand.
Because ultimately excavation is destruction it has long been universally acknowledged how important it is to record as much detail as possible. In the past this was often a labour intensive activity, if done at all. Today’s archaeologists now have a raft of technological tools at there disposal and at Great Mercury they are taking full advantage of what is available. The technology being used on site to record every find, feature and layer includes total stations, laser scanners and drones are in everyday tools for these excavations.
You Tube has several video’s of work being done on the island – the following are links to a couple to get you started if you are interested.
Whenever I go somewhere new my first stop (after a leg stretch and a coffee) is usually to the local museum. I have a deep fondness for museums and the people who put their heart and soul into their creation and upkeep. The Mercury Bay Museum was one of those musuems where the peoples love of their town and surroundings was evident.
Our first visit to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula was in the winter and unfortunately the musuem was closed however we had much better luck on our second visit. Situated on The Esplanade just opposite the wharf, this small but well thought out musuem tells the history of the area beginning with Kupe who gave the local area the name Te Whitianga nui a Kupe or The Big Crossing Place of Kupe.
Originally the site of the museum was an urupa or cemetary for the local Maori iwi called Ngati Hei up until the 1870s. But when European curio hunters violated the tapu of the site members of the Ngati Hei removed the remains of their people and reinterred them safely elsewhere. The Maori history of the area represents only a small part of the musuem and was my one criticism of this otherwise outstanding museum. The displays of Maori artefacts were not clearly labelled and the display was largely restricted to the walls of the walkway as you entered and could be easily overlooked – personally I think the museum designers may have missed a beat in down playing the 800 years or so of Maori history.
The Museum is very child friendly – my daughter in particular enjoyed dressing up as Captain Cook who visited the area in 1769 on the HMS Endeavour. It was he who gave the area its European name of Mercury Bay after taking his longitude and latitude from the viewing of the transit of the sun across the planet Mercury.
As you head further into the museum there is a significant display on the wreck of The Buffalo which gave the local beach its name (Buffalo Beach), the Kauri room and shanty shack – Kauri were an important part of the economy in the 1800s, either as logs or from the fossilied resin/gum – a 1950s school room, a 1960s bach, a smithy, two rooms displaying birds of the area and displays regarding the importance of the fishing industry (commercially and recreationally) and agriculture to the area. A butter churn display harks back to the days when the museum was once a dairy factory producing butter from cream from all over the Mercury Bay area. The musuem also holds an extensive collection of photos covering the life and times of Mercury Bay and its residents.
If archaeology is your thing (and it’s certainly mine) then Cornwall is a great county to visit with a mulititude of sites to visit, especially if you want to get away from the crowds and sitting on the beach has lost its appeal. From the outset I should point out the following are my favourite sites/landscapes to visit (it was quite difficult to keep it to just ten and yes they are mostly prehistoric sites), others may have different views – the list is purely my own opinion. Feel free to comment on your favourites.
1. Chun Castle and Quoit
Okay so I have cheated a bit – here we have two very different sites but their proximity to each other I think allows for a bit of cheating…
Firstly, Chun Quoit – quoits are neolithic monuments found throughout Cornwall (there are about a dozen known sites) consisting of upright granite slabs topped by a large capstone. They can also be called portal dolmens, chamber tombs or cromlechs. Some are in a better state of repair than others and Chun Quoit is perhaps one of the few which has been interferred with the least. Chun Quoit consists of four large uprights supporting a capstone which is estimated to weigh over 8 tonnes. It is also possible to see the remains of a circular stone cairn and associated kerbstones (the stone rubble at ground level) which would have originally surrounded the Quoit but not covering it leaving a the facade and the capstone visible.
Two hundred metres to the east of the quoit are the impressive remains of Chun Castle. Unlike many other Iron Age hillforts which utilise an earthen ditch and bank system Chun Castle is entirely stone built. It consists of two large concentric stone walls and is 85 metres in diameter. There is some evidence that the hillfort was built over an earlier enclosure represented by a shallow ditch and low bank on the southwest side. Inside the hillfort there is a stone lined well and escavations during the late 1920s found evidence for a later post Roman occupation of the hill fort. Iron Age occupation consisted of at least a dozen round houses which based on the pottery found date the site to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Sitting high on the ridgeway known as the Tinners Way the site would have been visible from many miles around, from here it is possible to make out several other hillforts in the distance such as Caer Bran. Below the hillfort about 500metres to the north east is the site of Bosullow Trehyllys – a courtyard house settlement of the late Iron Age (see the earlier post on Chysauster and Carn Euny), it is unexcavated but appears to consist of at least three detached courtyard houses and a number of round houses.
I wanted to include a courtyard house settlement in the list and it was a choice between Carn Euny and Chysauster. In the end Chysauster won mainly because it is easier to get to but also because the visitor can get a good idea of size of this unique house type. However, I would recommend a visit to Carn Euny too – the fogou makes it well worth while. I have discussed both sites already in a previous post – Chysauster and Carn Euny – A Unique Settlement Type – so won’t say much more than that.
3. Treryn Dinas
Treryn Dinas falls into the category of Iron Age cliff castle or promontory fort – one of many coastal headlands with Iron Age defences in the form of earthen or stone ramparts and external ditches usually across the neck of the headland. The term ‘cliff castle’ does not denote a particular function, some were large enough to have settlements within their walls, such as The Rumps and Trevelgue Head, others were much smaller and perhaps served as trading posts or lookouts. Treryn Dinas, however, appears to more than that – the visitor only need to look at the position and surroundings of this site to realise it is special.
Overlooking the beach at Porthcurno, the ramparts enclose a large rocky headland which contains the Logan Rock – a substantial boulder perched on the outcrop which in times past would rock in the wind and was only dislodged in 1824 by cocky young lieutenant and the crew of the HMS Nimble. The local people were rightfully upset at this and the lieutenant was charged to replace the rock at his own expense and with the help of the admiralty it was eventually returned to its original position, although it is said to no longer rock as easily as it had done once before.
According to folklore the earliest inhabitants of the headland were the giants who protected the neighbouring communities in return for cattle and other necessaries. Giants are a common feature in Cornish folkore and seem to be particularly associated with large outcrops of granite which feature in the landscape. From an archaeological point of view Treryn Dinas has four lines of defence with the last crossing the low neck of the headland. It consists of a deep ditch and a stone faced wall behind which are the foundations of two buildings either side of the presumed entrance. The general view is that this site is one of spiritual significance which may date many centuries earlier than the Iron Age. Finds of Bronze Age pottery have been found wedged in the crevices of the outcrop, the Logan Rock itself may have been seen as supernatural and there is the problem of that fourth line of defence. You will note in the photograph below that this line of defence is not particulary defensible as it easily looked down from the landward side, in addition the amount of useful land on the headland is extremely limited and the only thing the fourth rampart is ‘protecting’ are the rocks themselves.
Looking to the headland – below the rock outcrop is the remains of the internal wall protecting the headland.
The substansial outer bank on the landward side.
In the parish of St Buryan is the stone circle of Boscawen-Un, dating to the early Bronze Age and consisting of nineteen stones there are several interesting features of the site. The most obvious is the stone which is slightly south of center, it leans sharply towards the north east and at its base there are two very faint relief carvings of axe heads. A past student once suggested to me that the stone itself looked like a large stone axehead which had been struck into the ground. Minor excavations have further revealed that its leaning position was intentional and not the result of subsidence. The second interesting feature of this stone circle is the large block of quartz to the south west which is part of the circle. Our understanding of the role of quartz within prehistoric rituals is poorly understood but there is an increasing amount of evidence which points to its importance.
Okay, so now I really am cheating but the fact is any visit to Cornwall should definitly include a fogou and I couldn’t decide which I preferred – Carn Euny or Halligye are the easiest to get to and Halligye the largest (it can be found on the Trelowarren Estate, near Helston) however, Carn Euny does have a courtyard settlement, the nearby hillfort of Caer Bran and the fogou itself has a beehive shaped internal chamber. So you can see my dilemma…I have already written about fogous in an earlier blog so shall not rehash what we know and don’t know about these enigmatic structures.
6. Carn Brea
Situated between Redruth and Camborne is long hill easily visible from the A30, it is a hill with a long history beginning as far back as the Neolithic. Today two features stand out the most, firstly the the tall monument on the central summit erected in 1836 in the memory of Francis Bassett of Tehidy and the second is the small medieval castle perched on an outcrop. The latter was most likely a hunting lodge belonging to the Bassetts, an ancient local family and was first recorded in the fifteenth century. The land surrounding the hill was prime tin mining country and the flanks of the hill are covered in shafts and pits.
Heading further back in time the astute visitor might notice the remains of eleven Iron Age roundhouses on the saddle between the east and central summits, these are part of a much larger settlement on the hilltop, set within a substantial hillfort of forty-six acres. The defences are made up of two ramparts enclosing the hill. However, the occupation of Carn Brea began much earlier in the Neolithic. Surounding the eastern and central summits are another two smaller enclosures, of these the eastern summit has been partially excavated. The date range showed that the ramparts had been built somewhere between 4000 and 3500BC, making it the oldest known fortified settlement in Britain. There were traces of wooden buildings and Neolithic pottery, in addition a large number of flint arrowheads (700+) were uncovered along with evidence for the destruction of the site suggesting the site had been under attack (Cornish Archaeology, 1981, 20).
Looking east the 15th century castle can be seen in the distance. In the foreground the remains of one of the Iron Age roundhouses is visible as a semi circle of stones.
The path through the inner Neolithic enclosure wall.
Winter is the best time to visit – the outer ramparts are clearly visible.
7. Trevelgue Head
So many visitors to Cornwall will invariably end up in Newquay without realising the long and fascinating history of this seaside town. Just north of St Columb Porth on the road to Watergate Bay is the impressive cliff castle of Trevegue Head. It is the most heavily defended of all the cliff castles with seven lines of defence. The first ditch and bank is not so obvious as the next six with largest bank being roughly four metres high. Erosion over the centuries has seen much of the land disappear and it is suggested this included the original entrance. Excavation in th 1930s demonstrated that Trevelgue was continously occupied from the thrid century BC until the fifth/sixth century AD. At least fourteen roundhouses were identified (it is still possible to see the house platforms with a keen eye). Given its position in the landscape, the sheer scale of the defences, some of the artefacts found (bronze horse harness and Roman coins) in addition to the significant amount of evidence for both bronze and iron smelting, it is fair to say Trevelgue Head was most likely a high status site, the home ground of someone of great import.
The importance of this headland and other similar to it along the coast is further attested to by the presence of the two bowl barrows dating to the Bronze Age – these were opened in late 1800s but nothing is known of their contents. Further along the coast is Trevelgue Downs where a further two barrows can be seen. In the eastern barrow a crouched adult skeleton was found within a stone cist with a stone battlexe close to hand. From personal experience I have walked this cliff castle many times and it was not uncommon to espy tiny Mesolithic flints protruding from the exposed edges of the paths. Further testament to the sites long history.
Looking towards the end of the headland. On the right is the first of two Bronze Age barrows.
Eroded banks and ditches of Trevelgue Head.
It had to be on the list – perhaps one of the most controversial of all sites in Cornwall from local resistance to English Heritage’s plans for the site to the myriad of myths and legends associated with Tintagel – no where captures the imagination more. Like several other sites on this list I have already waxed lyrical about Tintagel so will not bore the reader with much of the same (but do follow the link if you want to seperate fact from fiction).
9. Castle an Dinas
An impressive example of an Iron Age hill fort found in mid Cornwall near St Columb Major. Measuring 260m across it would have been a formidable place in its heyday, the substantial ramparts are visible for many kilometres even today. There is some faint evidence for a much earlier enclosure on this hilltop possibly dating from the Neolithic or Bronze Age and the presence of two Bronze Age barrows within the hillfort is further testament to the importance of this place throughout prehistory. In the early 1960s a relatively small excavation was undertaken with the idea of prove the tradition of such places being re-used during the post-Roman phase and although they failed to do this a fine cobbled road was found.
10. Bodmin Moor
Yes I know this really is cheating…but no list of sites to visit is complete with at least one from Bodmin Moor. However the problem is I could not choose just one, there are so many wonderful sites to visit on the moor. Like its much larger cousin in the next county over, Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor has a wide variety of archaeological sites to visit beginning way back into the Mesolithic (flint scatters possible representing seasonal camps as found on Butterstor) and the Neolithic such as Stowes Pound and Rough Tor which are thought to be tor enclosures similar to Carn Brea and Trencrom further to the west, but it is the Bronze Age which dominates the archaeological record.
There are stone circles, stone rows, menhirs, barrows (earthen mounds), cairns (stone mounds) and of the latter there is in excess of 300 known. The most well known barrow is the Rillaton barrow which is the largest on the moor and where an individual was buried with a bronze dagger, an urn and a beaten gold cup.
“…the distribution of the monuments throughout the whole of the upland suggests that its use had intensified enormously. Virtually every block of land (as defined for example by prominent hills and divided by rivers and streams) is marked by a group of cairns, as if all available land was claimed and accounted for. The analysis of fossil pollens fromthe ancient land surfaces sealed beneath the excavated cairns shows that by this date the upland was predominantly open grassland, with woodland confined to the steep valley sides.” (Herring P & Rose P Bodmin Moors Archaeological Heritage pp17-18)
There are sixteen known stone circles of which the best known is the Hurlers. All the circles seem to have been placed carefully within the landscape – nearly all are within sight of tor which is always to the north of the circle, with Roughtor being the most dominant (nine of the sixteen circles). The stone rows, menhirs and embanked avenues are not as numerous but still make up an important part of the ritual landscape.
A feature of the later Bronze Age landscape of the moor is represented by the vast numbers of settlements represented by field walls and the stone foundations of round houses. There are approximately 1500 prehistoric round houses representing around 200 settlements and although only three have been excavated they are assumed to be all by analogy with Dartmoor to belong in the second millenium BC. Often found associated with these settements are field systems of varying shape and size best seen from the air and on large scale maps.
Ar around 1000BC a deteriorating climate and soils resulted in most settlements being abandoned and the use of the moor being less intensive. The hillfort sites of Bury Castle, Cardinham and Berry Castle are the only easily identifiable settlements of the Iron Age, although it is assumed that the moor continued to be used for the seasonal grazing of livestock, much as parts of it are today.
In the far west of Cornwall lies a trackway that has been trodden by many feet over many millennia. Once a central part of a wider network of tracks it is now only used by ramblers, dog walkers, horse riders and those interested in the sites along its way. What it was called in the past is unknown but today it has become known as the Tinners Way.
Paths and tracks traverse the landscape creating a maze of possible routes from A to B and are probably one of the least understood aspects of the past in Britain. The greatest issue is in the understanding of the chronology of this particular site type.
“Unmetalled roads and trackways are extremely difficult to date. They have no constructional material to aid interpretation and artefacts are rarely present. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that their form has remained unchanged from prehistoric to modern times and that many were in continuous use for centuries, even millennia” (Prehistoric Roads, Trackways and Canals – Historic England 2011)
Historic England/English Heritage have defined a trackway as a ‘linear route which has been marked on the ground surface over time by the passage of traffic. Trackways are usually relatively short routes for local use’. In west Cornwall the Tinners Way has been identified as one such trackway, one which in all likelihood has a lengthy history going back into prehistory. It follows the granite backbone of West Penwith passing by and sometimes through archaeological sites as well as the remains of later of tin mining.
So, from where does the Tinners Way begin and where does it end? Well the answer to that would very much depend on from what direction you are coming as it travels between Cape Cornwall and St Ives. For our purposes here we will begin at Cape Cornwall in the very far west, stopping at various points and ending up on the Island in St Ives.
It is probable that the Kenidjack Valley which runs alongside the Cape was the source of one of the earliest and most accessible deposits of alluvial tin ore. Tin was an important resource to the Cornish economy from the Bronze Age into the 19th century.
From here the trackway heads inland and up onto the moors of Penwith past Carn Kenidjack and the Tregeseal Stone Circles not to mention the mysterious holed stones. Continuing on to the fascinating sites of Chun Quoit and Chun Castle.
Back long before metals were exploited in Cornwall our Neolithic ancestors built great stone tombs, archaeologically these are known as quoits or chambered cairns. Although this is not the place to go into a lengthy discussion on the function of such sites it should be pointed out that many of these sites do seem to appear in significant places in the landscape and thus would seem to have a function beyond simple burial. Along the Tinners Way there are several quoits which serve to mark the way – Zennor Quoit, Mulfra Quoit, and of course Chun Quoit with the possibility of more having been ravaged by time.
Just past Chun Quoit are the remains of what was once a great stone walled hillfort – Chun Castle. The walls are still impressive even after the attempts at removal for use in other building projects (the pavement on Market Jew St in Penzance is made up of stone from the hillfort). Originally occupied in the Iron Age it straddles the trackway, interestingly it was later occupied in the 5th and 6th centuries – a time of unease – and the evidence does seem to suggest it was used as a stronghold for the storage of tin ore.
All along the Tinners Way there is evidence of tin mining (hence the name) – old mine shafts can be a hazard for those wandering off the beaten track (please remember to keep your dogs under control when walking along here). Much of the visible mining remains date from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
On leaving Chun Castle you pass the overgrown Iron Age courtyard house settlement of Bosullow Trehyllys – see an earlier article on the more well known courtyard house settlements of Chysauster and Carn Euny. From here the trackway follows the well trod path past the Men-an-Tol and Men Scryfa.
The first was probably once a chambered tomb which has suffered at the hands of people over a very long time. The latter an inscribed stone dating to the 5th/6th century and is a memorial stone to “Rialobrani Cunovali Fili’ – roughly translated as ‘the royal raven son of the glorious prince’. It’s position along this important route undoubtedly deliberate.
Not far from Men Scryfa is the Four Parish Stone. This stone indicates the point in which the boundaries of the four ancient parishes of Zennor, Gulval, Madron and Morvah meet. This is not the modern civil parish boundaries but the much older church boundaries. A document from the 17th century mentions this place in the landscape, referring to it as ‘Meane Crouse’ or ‘stone cross’ suggesting the presence of a stone cross which marked this important crossroads. Any traveller to Cornwall will note how stone crosses covered in moss and worn by weather are often found at road junctions.
From here the landscape is dominated by the impressive tor known as Carn Galva and whilst not the highest point in West Penwith (Watch Croft the adjacent tor takes that accolade) it is the most atmospheric of tors with its giant granite boulders standing silent sentinel over the millennia. It is now generally believed that Carn Galva is one of the few Neolithic enclosures to be found in Cornwall – Carn Brea, Helman Tor and Trencrom are the more well known.
Further on the walker can take a minor side trip to see the Nine Maidens stone circle and the remains of a roundhouse settlement probably dating to the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age (Bodrifty). Nearby the farmer at Bodrifty Farm has recreated a roundhouse and it is possible to visit but do ask first. After Bodrifty the trackway goes past Mulfra Quoit.
Alternatively and the most likely direction for the trackway to follow is across the moorland of Bosporthennis Common between the highpoint of The Beacon and Mulfra Hill to the parish boundary stone known as the Bishops Head and Foot.
“Used over generations, these trackways created permanent scars across hills and valleys, and formed a web of easily followed routes which were later utilised to mark the extent of private estates which had superseded previous communal use of tribal lands. When the system of parishes was established about the 12th century additional use was made of these muddy tracks to form their boundaries in conjunction with streams and prominent rocks” (Antiquities of West Cornwall – The Tinners Way. Ian Cooke 1991)
It is often speculated that the old parish boundaries are based on ancient trackways and at the Bishops Head and Foot there are important paths which traverse Penwith from Zennor to Castle-an- Dinas and Chysauster (both important Iron Age sites) and on to Mounts Bay. The Tinners Way as already demonstrated follows several sections of parish boundaries along the high ground. The trackway then continues through the parish of Towednack along the base of Rosewall Hill covered in old mining shafts and then onto the village of St Ives and The Island.
Although today there stands a small chapel to St Nicholas on the Island it is thought that originally the headland was a much older promontory fort. Its position which overlooks Porthmeor Beach and the wider expanse of St Ives bay including the entry to Hayle Harbour and with views all the way up the coast would suggest it was an important site.
The Hayle Estuary was an important trading port on this coast until the Medieval period. Dredging in the now silted harbour has in the past brought up finds from all periods including the Roman period and earlier. Overlooking the harbour is the ancient enclosure of Trencrom Hill which as mentioned before can be dated to the Neolithic and later.
“It used to be thought that the earliest routes in Britain were prehistoric ‘ridgeways’, long distance trackways…This idea grew up in the early years of archaeological studies when the most obvious prehistoric monuments, such as Bronze Age burial mounds and Iron Age hillforts, were found concentrated in upland areas.” (Pre-industrial Roads, Trackways and Canals Historic England 2011).
Even though there is no concrete way of dating this particular route there are certainly a lot of indicators which point to it being an important part of the landscape in West Penwith with a long and fascinating history.
A useful wee book to read if you can get hold of one is “The Tinners Way”by Ian Cooke. It is in essence a guidebook for walkers wishing to do the the Tinners Way, detailing the route and the various features along the way.
Archaeology, History and a little bit of time travel…