Cornish heritage: iconic must-sees

Richard Barbery discovers some iconic locations where Cornwall's vibrant history comes alive...

Trethevy Quoit, Darite, near Liskeard
Known locally as the Giant’s House this is one of the first man made structures in Cornwall and among the most impressive in Britain. The quoit could have been used for astronomic observations as the structure has a mysterious hole in the massive 10-ton capstone through which Cornwall’s early inhabitants may have gazed at the stars.

Madron Well, near Penzance
Dedicated to the Cornish hermit and monk St Madron, patron saint of cures, this sacred site has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Traditionally visitors tie pieces of rag or ribbon, known as clouties. This was a traditional custom at healing wells, particularly this one. The rags were torn from a part of the body where there was an injury or hurt and tied on a tree close to the well. As the material disintegrated (most materials were biodegradable) so the hurt was supposed to go. Holy Wells like Madron would originally have been a source of fresh water for people, and came to be venerated for the 'genus loci' or spirit of the place who was thought to dwell there. Later, under Christianity, they often became dedicated to saints
SW 4465 3280 [OS Maps Explorer 102; Landranger 203]

Launceston Castle, Launceston
Perched on a mound overlooking the narrow streets of Launceston, this proper looking castle with its thick 13th century walls stands guard over the town, known as 'The Gateway to Cornwall'. Built by the Earls of Cornwall, the castle, which over the centuries has been used as both a prison and courthouse, is flanked by two large gatehouses that lead to a peaceful park.

Godolphin House and Gardens, Helston
Taken over by the National Trust in 2007, a huge restoration project is underway to bring the house and its unique 700-year old formal garden back to life. Tucked way in the middle of the countryside, the site is a hive of activity with local craftsman and apprentices using intricate skills to painstakingly repair centuries of wear and tear. Visitors can don a hardhat and see the progress as this important piece of Cornwall’s heritage is gradually revealed.

Gwennap Pit, Redruth
A depression caused by mining subsidence was subsequently used as an open air preaching pit. It dates from the mid-eighteenth century. It is located in what was the greatest copper mining district of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and one of the most densely populated areas at the time. Located just to the south of Redruth on the eastern slopes of Carn Marth, its fame is due largely to the preachings of John Wesley, who used the pit on 18 occasions from 1776-89. He greatly exaggerated its size (he put it at 200x300ft and 50ft deep) and it is possible that the same applies to his estimate that his largest audience was 32,000. In his memory the local people excavated the pit in 1806 into a regular oval 37m across and 8m deep. They added 13 rows of turf seats. A Whit-Monday service has been held there since 1807.

The Marconi Centre, Poldhu
Surprisingly from this remote location on The Lizard an event that changed the world took place at the beginning of the century when a young inventor proved that radio waves could bend around the curvature of the earth. On 12 December 1901 Nobel Prize winner Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first long wave radio signal from Poldhu Cove to Canada 1,800 miles away and the rest is, as they say, history.

Go to our Things to Do section for more ideas on historic places to visit

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