Yesterday is here. Making a slight detour in the journey from my hotel in Newquay to Minions on Bodmin Moor, I drove through the China clay area, passing vast tips of clay waste and lakes filling the holes in the ground. I specifically wanted to revisit Roche Rock, where a ruined fifteenth century chapel rather spectacularly sits atop a granite outcrop (the nearby village of Roche’s name is derived from Anglo-Norman French and means ‘rock’). Being on top of something the church is dedicated to St Michael (he seems to be the patron saint of high things).
And then on to Minions, where, after some milling around in the car park, we split into groups for a walk across Bodmin Moor. My group was led by Andy Jones who works for Cornwall Historic Environment Service. The weather was just about perfect for walking – sunny with exceptional visibility, but with a slight breeze.
First stop was The Pipers, two standing stones associated with the Hurlers stone circle (early Bronze Age). Andy Jones is particularly knowledgeable about Bronze Age ceremonial landscapes, so he was an excellent guide. Many of the monuments on Bodmin Moor respect other landscape features, and The Pipers frame Stowe’s Hill. Rather than make this post far too lengthy, there are links for some of these sites where there is more information than I have room for here.
Some industrial archaeology next, with the remains of a reservoir under the grass (the dating of this is disputed), buddles (pictured – click on thumbnail for larger image), with adjacent remains of streamworking, and in many places early mining pits (either trial pits or c.2m deep pits following the strike of the lode).
We then set off across the moor to what remains of Craddock Moor Stone Circle, not that spectacular as the stones are recumbent, but this area is full of archaeology and, again, there are alignments here. A short distance away there is an unusual monument which was only recently recognised, an embanked avenue, situated in a hollow. Both the circle and the avenue are overgrown; I haven’t walked on Bodmin Moor for some years, and there certainly is a difference. Fifteen years ago the moor was covered with a short sward, now it mostly seems to be longish grass with large tussocks and big gorse patches. This can be laid at the feet of Natural England & DEFRA who have restricted grazing on the moors of southwest England by 50% or more – this has caused completely obscured much of the archaeology and made walking on the open moor much harder work. There was an article on this very subject by Tom Greeves in the British Archaeology (108, Sept/Oct 2009, pp32-25), Dartmoor Grows Over, but it doesn’t seem to be on their website.
From here we head off for a settlement and field system on Craddock Moor which is probably Bronze Age and dates to the second millennium BC. The field boundaries are still visible, as are some of the low wall remains of the round houses, although these are also becoming obscured by vegetation.
Taking ourselves off to the abandoned Gold Diggings Quarry which was worked well into the twentieth century, we found various lumps of granite to sit on for our packed lunches. The quarry is flooded and makes a rather picturesque sight, and gives impressive views across to Stowe’s Hill.
After lunch we walked across the valley, passing Witheybrook mining streamworks, and walled enclosures that represented what was left of a C19 miner’s smallholding. What a desperate life that must have been, toiling on a Sunday to try to eke out an existence on such marginal land. Small wonder that all the barrows on the moor have been dug into by miners opportunistically treasure hunting.
On the far side of the valley we made our way obliquely up the slope of Stowe’s Hill, and into the larger of the two enclosures that make up Stowe’s Pound. This tor enclosure is Neolithic (probably early fourth millennium BC) – the larger part has a lot of archaeology in it. We scramble up the massive masonry wall of the smaller enclosure, apparently the oldest (and one of the largest) wall in the British Isles, up to 5m tall and between 5 and 15m wide. The amount of work needed to build this enclosure is astonishing. Inside the smaller enclosure there is no archaeology at all – the enclosure would appear to enclose the natural tor features, which
include the iconic Cornish tor the Cheesewring. The southern edge of the enclosure is destroyed through quarrying, although when the Cheesewring itself was threatened the local populace rose up against the Duchy of Cornwall and protested loudly enough that quarrying ceased.
The views from the enclosure are wide-ranging, and most of the surrounding monuments respect it in some way, it being prominent on the skyline from much of the surrounding moor.
A short walk from the foot of the hill is Rillaton Barrow, which is, not surprisingly, where the Rillaton Cup was found. The original is in the British Museum, with a copy in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. From here we made our way through the Hurlers stone circles. There are three circles, with a possible fourth; excavation has shown that one of the circles was floored with quartz crystals – it must have been an impressive site.
It’s a very short walk back to the car park from here. We had been given an enormous amount of information about the monuments we visited, and many of the smaller features in between – mostly remnants of old mining activities like the buddles, trial pits, reservoir, and various other features. Andy Jones has written on the ceremonial alignments of the monuments on Bodmin Moor in Cornish Bronze Age Ceremonial Landscapes c2500-1500BC (BAR 394, 2005), most likely available from Oxbow Books, and most recently in Oxford Journal of Archaeology vol.29 issue 2, pp203-228 (May 2010): Misplaced Monuments? A Review of Ceremony and Monumentality in First Millennium Cal BC Cornwall.
There was a more eloquent description of Bodmin Moor and its antiquities by Virginia Spiers in the Guardian’s Country Diary back in July.
It was a few hours until the evening events at Truro College, so I took the opportunity first to visit the tearooms in Minions, then visit a few more places of interest.
Not very far away is Trethevy Quoit, a Neolithic chambered tomb in a small field near Tremar. It consists of four massive granite slabs as walls with an even larger capstone, sitting on a small mound.
Further down the road from Minions is King Doniert’s Stone, an early medieval inscribed stone located next to a second stone – both are fragments, the shafts of crosses. One face of the Doniert Stone has the inscription “Doniert rogavit pro anima” (“Doniert begs prayers for the sake of his soul”), Doniert having been identified with the C9 Cornish King Dumgarth.
Last was a visit to Golitha Falls, a walk through woodland along the River Fowey to some shallow waterfalls. Attractive as it is, more interesting are the industrial remains. Along the bank I pass under a long pipe crossing the valley (I later find this was used to transport liquid kaolin from a china clay works), and then identify two wheelpits, a couple of adit entrances sealed with grills, and a capped shaft. Climbing the valley side there is a well-preserved leat, which I follow back towards my starting point, where there are many humps and bumps, presumably associated with the mine, possibly the dressing floors. Subsequently I’ve found the remains are from Wheal Victoria copper mine.
A buffet meal and exhibitions of archaeological projects at Truro College preceded the evening’s presentations. The Introduction is by Mike Heyworth, Director of the CBA, and is about what is exercising most people’s minds at the moment – cuts. The government was minded to merge English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, but isn’t going to just yet. It seems likely that there will be a lot of heritage budgets cuts, cuts in funding from local government, and it’s probable that extramural education in archaeology will suffer from cuts in the universities’ budgets. On a more positive note, the new online British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography has just launched.
Next was The Glasney College Project by John Allan. This important medieval site of secular canons was excavated in 2003 and many architectural fragments were found which have been used for research into ecclesiastical architecture in medieval Cornwall; this has shown that Cornwall, contrary to received (Betjeman and Pevsner) opinion, was not a country apart as far as churches were concerned, and it had some grand churches of an English nature which are now lost.
Excavations at Carn Galva & Bosporthennis 2009 by Andy Jones & James Gossip. These talks showed how some of the county’s archaeology has been dug by volunteer community groups, supported by Cornwall’s archaeology unit.
Bodmin Moor – present problems & past prescriptives by Tony Blackman. This presentation discussed the problems regarding grazing mentioned above; one of the details mentioned was the means of implementation of the scheme: it was voluntary, and compensation was given for the loss of grazing subsidy. If, however, a farmer decided not to participate, this would result in a percentage loss of subsidy to the participating farmers. On parts of Craddock Moor English Nature, having removed grazing animals, has been controlling the vegetation chemically. There is hope – it would appear that in the future 44% of Bodmin Moor is to be managed for its archaeological content. Tony then spoke about some of the monuments he (and his Young Archaeologists) have found.
Portable Antiquities Scheme in Cornwall by Anna Tyacke, who is the Portable Antiquities Officer for Cornwall: we heard of some of the objects that have been registered under the scheme, and that Camborne School of Mines now has a plasma mass spectrometer which is currently being calibrated, and will be used in the future to check the metallurgical origin of objects.
Which leads nicely on to tomorrow which is mostly industrial archaeology.
This wrapped up the evening, apart from the slight problem of the car park gate being locked, which took a while to resolve.