I often suggest to our guests that are seeking early villages a trip to Carn Euny an ancient courtyard settlement, set around an accessible fogou deep, in the heart of West Penwith. Cornwall has a wonderful ancient heritage from which it is possible to trace the early societies that lived here and linger just for a moment in their shadow. Carn Euny is managed by Cornwall Heritage Trust with parking in a little lay-by about 600 metres from the site and access is free.
The courtyard houses
We visited Carn Euny courtyard house settlement this week the take a look at the ancient fogou at the centre of the settlement and wander around the little hamlet. Excavations around the site have found signs of habitation from flint tools of the Neolithic period right up until the late Roman period. The walls and structures were built and rebuilt throughout the Bronze and Iron Age with each house contained with its own courtyard for livestock and long narrow rooms or stores set within their walls. There is one later addition to the complex – a small cottage built in 1750 and occupied for fifty eyarsI have to admit I found it difficult to understand the site in places but two well placed boards gave a good indication with accurate maps at either end of the hamlet!
For us the chance to stand where early man had stood, walk through the entrances into the courtyards and feel the atmosphere of the site set in a landscape that still stretched to the sea was the joy of our visit, along with the unique opportunity to experience the atmosphere and mysterious enclosure were enough.
The Fogou and Beehive hut
The fogou is thought to be the earliest stage of development of the site and yet still predated by the submerged beehive hut with the courtyard houses growing up around it and it now stretches to 66 feet in length with a domed inner chamber or beehive hut slightly off centre. The original access would have been through a tiny creep passage but now it is open at both ends. Historians are undecided about its exact function of course, with ideas for its use ranging from food storage, to a safe haven from attack to a ritual chamber possibly to commune with the earth goddess.
The submerged Beehive hut were discovered in 1840’s when the roof of the domed chamber fell in, this in turn attracted local adventurers to the “cave” with the hope of discovering buried treasure. Alas, one miner had been employed with explosives to remove part of the granite slabbed floor which had a central gully – pottery shards beneath the floor were later tentatively dated to 5th century BC.
In 1860 Copeland Borlase excavated the site and noticed that one wall was made of earth in places. With careful excavation he found the further fogou, with eleven massive roofing slabs still in place, it had been filled with loose earth to lintel height. With the exploration complete and the departure of Borlase, the fogou was again enveloped in brambles to slumber, until the early 1950’s when the site was taken into the care of the government. In 1964 a painstaking ten year period of excavation began around the courtyard houses which revealed a long history of occupation, over perhaps seven hundred years. Dates suggested were from as early as 500 BC, although the early houses were of wood and only post holes remained. Intriguingly there is still one corner of the site undisturbed, so one day!?
To find Carn Euny!
Take the Penzance to Land’s End road turning off to the right at Drift – there is a small brown sign there marked Carn Euny. We followed the brown signs at each fork – the road is very narrow but don’t give up! We finally parked at Brane at the beginning of a cobbled path with a first information bard and then walked the last 600 yards up a track and then across fields to find the ancient village.
For Sat Nav users
TR20 8BR Latitude: 50.10337 Longitude: -5.632158
Other blogs you may enjoy
If you enjoyed this visit to Carn Euny, try my other blogs about the ancient history of the area when we’ve explored the stone circles, megaliths and tombs in West Cornwall. And ah hum please note, when researching this blog there was quite a variance in dates from all reliable sources, which goes to prove there is no such thing as a length of string!