Having seen the southernmost point in Cornwall on the first day of our trip, on the second day we were heading as far west as possible. Our first two stops of the day were the neolithic monuments Lanyon Quoit and Mên-an-Tol. There are so many such monuments in Cornwall that it can be hard to decide which to visit. Within a short distance of these two are Chun Quoit and Chun Castle, Nine Maidens and Men Scryfa. But we couldn’t spend all our time looking at these kinds of monuments, so we picked a few of different kinds to visit. Maybe another trip will include some of the others.
Whilst Lanyon Quoit is one of the most famous such sites in Cornwall, it is not presented in its original form. The Quoit was knocked down by a storm in 1815 and re-erected nine years later. So while it is definitely representative of a Dolmen or burial chamber, it isn’t as originally built. Even so, it’s an interesting thing to see and wonder how and why our ancestors would lift a 12 tonne lump of stone onto three (originally four) upright stones.
Mên-an-Tol is a very different kind of monument. Dating from the neolithic or early bronze age, it consists of several standing stones, the most interesting of which is a circular stone with a hole in the centre. Whether this stone is man-made or naturally occurring is not known. These stones were a pleasant 0.6 mile hike along a farm track from where we could park. The site is marked by a National Trust plaque and easy to find from the track.
Geevor Tin Mine
Heading further west we visited Geevor Tin Mine, one key example of why this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the mine is a tourist attraction, having closed as a working mine in 1990. Within the self-guided part of the site is a small museum with various mining artefacts on display, plant rooms, the engine room and the locker room. Then there is a guided tour which took us through the plant which mined the tin from the ore, before heading outside and into the 18th Century workings. The tours are given by those who previously worked in the mine so they are a wealth of knowledge and have personal stories to share if asked. This tour is a definite must-do in the Cornwall area and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Levant Mine and Beam Engine
Within walking distance of the Geevor Tin Mine is Levant Mine and Beam Engine. This is a restored pumping station; the ruins of which you will see scattered all over the area. Now run by the National Trust, the engine steams on certain days so you can see how they used to work to keep the mines dry. Sadly we were unable to time our visit with a day when the engine was steaming, so we had to content ourselves with a wander around the outside of the building which provided more beautiful views off the coast.
The Count House, Botallack Mine
Continuing our mining theme, we moved further along the coast to the Count House from the Botallack Mine. Also maintained by the National Trust, it is also now famous for being “Poldark Country” as scenes from the Poldark TV series were filmed here. One of the most famous views of the Cornish coast can be seen from Botallack, where Crown’s engine houses can be seen clinging dramatically to the cliff edge. As well as the stunning scenery, this area also contains the ruins of an arsenic refinery to explore.
The furthest point west in England and indeed the UK was next. Unlike Lizards Point which is the southernmost point, Land’s End is far more touristy and populated with shops and stalls to sell stuff. It loses the quiet charm of other parts of the coast and we didn’t explore for long. Other than to say we’ve been, it could quite easily have been skipped from our agenda.
The Porthcurno area was once the most connected place on Earth and is still today an area where undersea cables come ashore. Once telegraphy was established, Britain laid cables to all corners of the Empire. Messages which took weeks, now took minutes, revolutionising communication.
The Telegraph Museum celebrates the part played by the area in this transformation. From the first undersea cable in 1870 that connected Britain to India through the next hundred years until the station closed. The museum shows how telegraphy worked and the impact this new invention had on the world through a series of exhibits.
Outside of the museum, you can explore the tunnels that were blasted into the hillside to protect the station during World War II. These tunnels are much smaller in scope than the ones we had visited under Dover Castle, but no less important. Within the tunnels now are several exhibits detailing the reason the tunnels were built, together with many old communication machines. At the back of the tunnels, for the fit amongst visitors, you can climb the emergency stairs for views across the bay. As we had plans to see the bay from our next two stops, we decided to decline the offer!
As we had learned about in the museum Porthcurno Beach is where the cables came ashore. Today a small hut stands at the back of the beach with the pink Telegraph Museum logo on the side. You can’t go or even see inside unfortunately, but if you are heading down to the beach to enjoy the surf it’s worth a nod to this hut that is still part of the global communication network after all these years.
Minack Theatre dates back to the early 1930’s when Rowena Cade began transforming the cliffs below her garden into a theatre. To say the setting is stunning is an understatement and we could sadly only imagine what it would be like to watch a play here; maybe one day we will. From the left side of the theatre you can get a great view of Porthcurno Beach, and from everywhere you get a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. From the first production, “The Tempest”, Minack now hosts drama, musicals and opera every summer.
Tregiffian Burial Chamber and Merry Maidens
Our last stop of the day mirrored our first stops with two more neolithic monuments. Tregiffian Burial Chamber, now incongruously located right next to the road, is a rare form of entrance grave. Sadly part of the grave was covered by a road in 1846, but what’s left shows the entrance passage and the start of the burial chamber. The top stone is a replica, the original being in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.
A short walk from Tregiffian are the Merry Maidens, a stone circle consisting of nineteen megaliths. The stones are between 1.2 and 1.4 metres in height and form a circle of 24 metres diameter. They are called the Merry Maidens because local legend has it that nineteen maidens were turned to stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday!
To read more about our adventures on our Cornwall Road Trip, please feel free to check out these posts:
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Includes Kennall Vale Nature Reserve, Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Lizard Point, and the Marconi Centre
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