A Man-Made History of Cornwall

Trethevy Quoit, nr Liskeard

We start with one of the first man-made structures in Cornwall (and possibly the British Isles) still standing. Known as a quoit, this structure is believed to be a Neolithic burial site, dating back 6000 years. We don’t know too much about what happened here, but from similar sites in other parts of the UK, it is thought quoits were used to store the bones of people after they had been given a ‘sky burial’. Other quoits can be found dotted around Cornwall, especially in West Penwith.

This site is open all year round and can be found a few miles north of Liskeard. More info on the English Heritage website

The Merry Maidens, nt St Buryan

A quick jump forward 2000 years or so, and we arrive in the Bronze Age. All over Cornwall people were erecting standing stones, stone rows and circles. Many of these can still be seen, though a lot have been reerected over time. Down in the far west, and easily accessible from the road, can be found the Merry Maidens, a circle made up of 19 stones. The name comes from the legend that the stones were people out dancing on the sabbath when they should have been worshipping, for this they were punished by being turned to stone!

Access is open all year, more info 

Chysauster Village, nr Penzance

Chysauster; English Heritage, Visit Cornwall

Going forward another 2000 years we arrive at Chysauster, a Romano-British village inhabited at around the time of the birth of Christ. Here we can explore the individual houses that gathered around the village street, each with their own little walled courtyards. There’s also the remains of a ‘fogou’, an underground chamber that may have been used to store food, or might have been a place of ritual, nobody knows.

Chysauster belongs to English Heritage and can be visited during the main season. More Info 

St Clether Holy Well, nr Launceston

You will find wells dedicated to Saints all over Cornwall. Many give their name to towns and villages and legend tells us they came to Cornwall from Ireland, Wales or Brittany in the 6th or 7th centuries, crossing the sea on a millstone or a leaf!  Some of the wells are still little more than a basin of water in a hedgerow, but at St Clether a chapel was built (the one you see today dates from the 1400s) to act as a hermitage for those coming to visit this Holy place.

Pilgrims, and the general public, still visit by taking the path up the valley from the nearby Church. More info 

Restormel Castle, Lostwithiel

Sat on a spur of land above where the first safe crossing of the Fowey River once was, The ruins of this 13th century castle were once used by Edward, the Black Prince, to entertain his hunting friends. At that time, the nearby town of Lostwithiel was the capital of the Duchy of Cornwall and parts of the Duchy Palace can still be seen in the town. Apart from seeing a little bit of action during the Civil War, the castle has never been used in a defensive situation and has spent most of its life in a state of disrepair.

Now looked after by English Heritage, it can be visited when open. More info 

Pendennis and St Mawes Castles, Fal estuary

These two castles were built in the mid 1500s on the orders of Henry VIII, because of tensions between him and an alliance between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Having fallen out with the Pope over his marriage problems, England became a target for the alliance and so a chain of forts was built along the south coast, including these two which protect the safe anchorage of the Fal.

Both castles are looked after by English Heritage. More info

Blisland, Bodmin Moor

This small village on the western edge of Bodmin Moor is perhaps the prettiest in inland Cornwall? A collection of historic houses are gathered around a village green, itself a rarity in Cornwall, and several of them date back to the 17th century including the Churchgate Cottage and the Mansion House. The church, which is earlier in date, includes perhaps the finest interior of any church in Cornwall with a magnificent rood screen giving an indication of what things were like before the reformation. The pubs good to...

Pencarrow House, nr Bodmin

Still owned by the same family that had the house built in the mid 1700s, the Molesworth’s first opened Pencarrow to the public in the 1970s. Taking inspiration from Greek and Roman temples in its exterior design, the house is a fine example of Georgian splendour, both outside and in. Unlike many grand houses today, at Pencarrow you are shown around by knowledgeable guides and may even get to meet the family, who still live in a wing of the house.

For more info, click here

Gwennap Pit, nr Redruth

Gwennap Pit, World Heritage site, Visit Cornwall

A depression caused by mining subsidence was subsequently used as an open air preaching pit, largely by the father of Methodism, John Wesley. It is said he preached here on 18 occasions, from 1776 until 1789. At that time this part of Cornwall was starting to see the beginning of what would become the mining industry that Cornwall is now famous for. And it was the local miners who terraced the pit in 1806 into a regular oval with 13 rows of turf seats. A Whit-Monday service has been held there since 1807.

Learn about the Gwennap area here

The Great Flat Lode, nr Cambourne

You can’t actually visit the Great Flat Lode, it runs for two miles east to west across the landscape, but deep underground. Discovered in the 1870s, it takes its name from the fact that the ‘lode’ (what is called a vein in other places) of rock containing tin ore, lies at an angle rather than vertical, which is the usual situation in Cornish mines. These days you can follow the course of the lode on the Great Flat Lode Trail, set up for both walkers and cyclists. It passes the remains of many of the engine houses that served the mines, and at King Edward Mine you can learn all about the history of the area. 

The Marconi Centre, nr Mullion

By the end of the 1800s Cornish miners had emigrated all over the world, their only connection with home, a rare letter if they were lucky. But in 1901 at a remote location on The Lizard, an event that changed the world took place when a young inventor proved that radio waves could bend around the curvature of the earth. On 12 December that year, Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first long wave radio signal from Poldhu Cove near Mullion to St John’s, Newfoundland in Canada 1,800 miles away and the rest is, as they say, history.

For more info about Marconi on the Lizard, click here 

Jubilee Pool, Penzance

Between the wars Cornwall became a popular tourist destination, especially those places accessed by the railway. You could travel in style from London down to Penzance non-stop on the ‘Cornish Riviera’ express. Once there you could bathe in the Art Deco Jubilee Pool, an outdoor lido opened in 1935. These days the pool still operates, but now it’s at the forefront of modern technology, with part of the pool heated geothermally by pumping water 400 meters underground.

For more info, click here 

RAF Cleave, nr Bude

From one end of Cornwall to the other, and right at the very northern tip on the border with Devon we find what is now known as GCHQ Bude. Built in the end of the 1960s, we can’t tell you too much about what happens here, let’s just say it’s used to monitor information coming through the airways. It’s all top secret, but you can at least take a look at the place as you walk the South West Coast Path, which passes right beside it.

More details on the SWCP walk, click here

The Eden Project, nr St Austell

If anywhere has put Cornwall back on the map in the last 20 years, it’s the wonderful botanical Eden Project. Not just a tourist attraction, the biomes and their adjacent landscape have been at the forefront of sustainability, green energy, and education, as well as celebrating the arts and music. Plus, it’s an architectural spectacle, from the original biomes to the Core with its Fibonacci inspired roof.

For more info on the Eden Project, click here 

Kerdroya, Bodmin Moor

Kerdroya, Cornwall AONB

One of the most exciting building projects going on in Cornwall at the moment celebrates the past and the people that left their mark on it. High on Bodmin Moor, Kerdroya; the Cornish Landscape Labyrinth, is a major new piece of public land-art being built of traditional hedging styles from across the Duchy. Using a design that goes back well over 4000 years, this will celebrate the 12 sections of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and it’s planned to be finished in, well, as we say in Cornwall, drectly!

For more, click here

And so we finish our tour of Cornish man-made structures through the ages. We have only scraped the surface, (and underground) and hope that when everything is back to normal in the world, you will be able to once again come down and explore not just the natural wonders of Cornwall, but also its buildings.