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West Cornwall’s Ancient sites are many and varied and range from stone circles which date from between 2500BC and 1600BC, to Neolithic burial chambers and courtyard houses.
In the Iron Age, many people lived in round huts as had their predecessors, but in West Penwith a different type of house appeared about 500BC and lasted until after the Roman period. There are two such sites which are easily accessible – one at Carn Euny near Sancreed, which is free to the public, and the other at Chysauster, just off the Penzance to St Ives road. The site at Chysauster is run by English Heritage and there is an entry charge.
West Cornwall’s ancient sites include courtyard houses, with rooms around a central, open courtyard. At the Carn Euny site, there is a fogou with access via a creep passage, where one has to bend double to enter. Fogous are underground passages and chambers whose purpose remains unknown. These could have been for ritualistic ceremonial purposes, or possibly for storage, although the former seems most likely. The remains of the houses here are thought to have been built on top of much older dwellings.
The site at Chysauster is owned by English Heritage and there is more information provided than at Carn Euny.
It is one of my favourite of West Cornwall’s ancient sites, a bit more spread out than Can Euny and the view from here is stunning. Unfortunately, although there was a fogou at this site, the roof has long since collapsed and it is now sealed off.
Stone Circles and Men-an-Tol
These sacred places, situated on ley lines, are on a much smaller sale than the huge buildings at Stonehenge. Near St Buryan are the Merry Maiden standing stones in a field beside the road and in the opposite side of the road are two larger standing stones, known as the Pipers. Stories made up by the early Christians state that on a Sunday, the maidens of the village, instead of going to church on a bright summer’s day, danced to the tune of two pipers. The story goes that as punishment for not going to church, a huge bolt of lightening struck maidens and pipers and turned them into stone.
The Men-an-Tol is rumoured to cure rheumatism. One has to crawl through the stone seven times “against the sun” – but I suspect if you could do that, you probably wouldn’t have rheumatism in the first place! From the layout of the stones, I feel sure this site must have something to do with fertility. Just look at the stones.
No-one really knows what the quoits were for, or why they were built, although some contained communal burials. Lanyon Quoit was very large but in 1815 it collapsed in a storm and was rebuilt much smaller. A far better example of a quoit is that at Chun which is in a wonderful setting. The huge capstones weigh around 20 tonnes, so building them must have been quite a feat.