Iron Age mysteries

Fogous are all associated with habitation: usually a round or small farmstead surrounded by a bank, or a group of courtyard houses. Their purpose is unclear. The more credible suggestions include:
  • Places of refuge. They are always close to habitation, often close to boundaries. The entrances are low and usually involve ducking and/or squeezing through a gap which would make the entrances easily defensible. They usually have a side creep passage which might be used as an emergency exit. But they would be a death trap for any long siege
  • Store houses. They are cool and underground which might be a good place to store foodstuffs, easily defended from raiders. The entrances mostly face south west - the prevailing wind - and the creep passages allow air to circulate. But they would be too damp to store grain
  • Ritual spaces. They might represent an entry into the underworld or into the womb of mother earth. Neighbouring Neolithic chambered tombs show the same characteristics. Their entrances generally face south west – midwinter sunset - and their northern ends towards north east - the midsummer sunrise. But no evidence of ritual use or bones have been found inside them
There are four which survive close to their original shape:
  • Halligye (713254) on the Trelowarren estate near Garras is the largest and best preserved. This is the cathedral of them all
  • Carn Euny (402289) near Sancreed is situated in an Iron Age village. This contains a unique circular corbelled chamber off to one side of the fogou
  • Pendeen vau (384355) close to Cape Cornwall. This is in a farmyard alongside the house in which noted antiquarian William Borlase lived. One hopes that it was the inspiration for his interest in archaeology rather than a folly constructed at his request
  • Boleigh (437252) near St Buryan. This is similar in size to Pendeen
Four are severely damaged but retain enough detail to be worth a visit:
  • Piskey Hall (728300) or Trewardreva
  • Lower Boscaswell (377348) just outside Pendeen. This is sadly decayed and only the main and side entrances survive
  • Boden (768240) close to Manaccan on the Lizard. This is an open channel with shillet side walls
  • Porthmeor (434371) near Gurnard’s Head is roofless. Like Carn Euny it is closely associated with a courtyard house
... and five which are partly or wholly destroyed:
  • Higher Bodinar (415320) near Newbridge, half way from Penzance to St Just which is simply a grassy depression
  • Chysauster (472350) in the hinterland north of Penzance. Sadly this has been backfilled by English Heritage for safety reasons
  • Castallack (452253) just outside Lamorna
  • Treveneague which was recorded in 1866. Its location was lost for many years but was identified by Time Team in 1995
  • A roofless fogou was discovered at Penhale Round, far to the east of the known limit of extant fogous, but this was destroyed in the building of a budget hotel.
Whatever their purpose, they are wonderful places to visit.
Recommended reading:
  • Belerion - Ancient Sites of Land's End by Craig Weatherhill published by Alison Hodge ISBN 0 906720 01 - the archaeologist's view
  • Cornovia - Ancient sites of Cornwall and Scilly by Craig Weatherhill published by Alison Hodge - the archaeologist's view
  • Journey to the Stones - Nine walks to ancient sites in the Land's End peninsula, Cornwall by Ian Cooke published by the Men-an-Tol Studios ISBN 0 9512371 - a more spiritual view of fogous
  • Mothers and Suns also by Ian Cooke but now out of print