Sancreed to Carn Euny

A countryside walk to the Celtic church and Holy Well at Sancreed and the Iron Age village of Carn Euny where a well-preserved underground chamber known as a fogou has puzzled archaelogists for centuries
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The walk descends from the downs of Sancreed Beacon with excellent views across Penwith and circles via the woods a the head of Drift Reservoir into Sancreed to reach the church. The route then passes close to the Holy Well and crosses fields to reach Carn Euny via a byway. The final stretch passes the Caer Bran hillfort and returns over Sancreed Beacon.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5 miles/8 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Sancreed Beacon car park
  • Parking: Sancreed Beacon TR208QT. Follow the A30 from Penzance to Drift, turn right at the crossroads signposted Sancreed Beacon opposite the Methodist Church and follow the road to Sancreed. Just past the church turn left to The Beacon and free parking is available in the large layby on the right.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Carn Euny ancient village and fogou
  • Sancreed Celtic churchyard and holy well
  • Views across Penwith and Mount's Bay

Directions

  1. Go through the gate at the bottom of the parking area and out through the gate to the left of it. Bear right onto the path leading downhill and follow this until it ends in a junction with another path.

    On a clear day you can see the engine house of Ding Dong Mine ahead and the highest points in West Penwith: rocky Carn Galver to its left and slightly higher Watch Croft to the left of Carn Galver. As you descend the hill there is also a view of St Michael's Mount to the right.

  2. Turn right and follow the path to a gate.

    The mineshafts beside the footpath are the remains of a mine known as Wheal Argus which operated between 1873 and 1875, producing about 20 tonnes of black tin and included an engine house. Although there is little documentation, there are suggestions of earlier mining activity on the site.

  3. Go through two gates and turn right onto the lane. Follow it until you reach a junction on the left in front of a Methodist chapel.

    The chapel dates from Victorian times and was part of the Wesleyan Methodist movement.

    In the early 18th Century, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Meanwhile in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers. The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. Services were held in the cottages which was attractive to women who needed to look after young children, and in the many villages where the parish church was more than a mile away or at the top of a steep hill. A combination of these factors made Methodism very popular in Cornwall and through the late 18th and the 19th Century, many chapels were built (in the centre of the villages).

  4. Turn left then keep left to follow the lane past the 30 mph sign. Follow this down to the bottom of the valley, passing a couple of footpath signs on your way, to reach Heron Cottage.

    During the spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. The plants get their name due to their triangular flower stems and, as the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family. Their flavour is relatively mild so they can be used in recipes in place of spring onions or chives. They are at their best for culinary use from February to April. By mid May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

  5. Continue along the lane until, just as you emerge from beneath the trees, you reach a path marked with a blue waymark on the right opposite Sellan House on the left.

    Research suggest that Sycamore was common in Britain up to Roman times but then died out due to the warming climate apart from some mountainous regions such as in Scotland. During the Tudor period it is thought to have been reintroduced by landowners looking for a rapid-growing tree for their estates and was found to be salt-tolerant - essential in Cornwall. It has since spread widely as the seeds are extremely fertile and able to grow just about anywhere. In fact, in some areas it is regarded as an invasive weed. The timber was traditionally used for milk pails as it does not impart any flavour or colour. It is still used today for kitchenware and is recognisable by the light colour and fine grain.

  6. Turn right onto the waymarked path and follow it beneath the trees until it ends at a gate by a farm.

    The path beside the woods can get a bit overgrown with weeds during the summer so it's a good plan to pick up a stick to clear any nettles further along the path if you're walking at this time of year. The woodland provides an ideal habitat for woodpeckers. We could hear them tapping on the trees here when we were testing the route.

    Green woodpeckers are the largest and most colourful of the woodpeckers native to Britain and have a distinctive laughing "yaffle" call. The two species of spotted woodpecker are smaller and usually noticed from the drumming sound they make on trees. All of the woodpeckers bore holes in trees in which they nest, but only the spotted woodpeckers drill into trees in search of food, spending most of their time perched on a tree. Conversely, green woodpeckers spend most of their time on the ground, hunting for ants. The ants nests are excavated using their strong beak and ants caught on the barbed end of their long tongue. In fact, their tongue is so long it needs to be curled around their skull to fit inside their head.

  7. Go through the gate and continue ahead on the track uphill and between the farm buildings to reach a gate into the field above.

    The settlement of Treganhoe was first recorded in 1288 spelt Tregenhou. Other than tre implying an early mediaeval farmstead, the origin of the name is not known.

  8. Go through the gate and cross the field to the stile beneath the telegraph pole just to the right of the gate opposite.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  9. Cross the stile and bear right slightly across the field to a stile roughly four-fifths of the way along the hedge ahead.
  10. Cross the stile and bear right slightly to a stile roughly two-thirds of the way along the right hedge.

    The common name "foxglove" dates back many hundreds of years but the origin is unknown. The "gloves" almost certainly refers to the shape of the flowers, and the latin name Digitalis (fingerlike) is along similar lines. The curious part is the "fox" and many different suggestions have been made as to where it came from. It is likely that it is a corruption of another word; possibly "folks" which was once used to mean "fairies".

  11. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to a stile in the corner of the field.
  12. Cross the stile and continue following the right hedge until you reach a stile where a path crosses from the right.

    Dragonflies are named after the way they hunt, as both the larvae and adults are carnivorous predators. Their two sets of wings beat out of phase, and the frequency, amplitude and the angles of each set of wings can be controlled. This allows dragonflies to hover in a completely stationary position for over a minute, perform extravagant aerobatic manoeuvres and even fly backwards.

  13. Turn left away from the stile and follow the right hedge to reach a stile in the corner of the field.

    Blackthorn trees were planted as hedges to keep out cattle and they are still common in Cornish hedgerows today. In Celtic tree lore, blackthorn was associated with evil and in the Celtic language of Ogham was known as Straif. This is thought to be the origin of the English word "strife" and a bad winter is sometimes known as a Blackthorn Winter.

  14. Cross the stile and cross the small field to the gate opposite.

    The name Celandine is thought to come from the Latin word for swallow. It is said that the flowers bloom when the birds return in Spring and fade when they leave in Autumn.

  15. Go through the gate then follow the path to the right leading into the churchyard. Continue on the path past the church to emerge on a road beside Sancreed House.

    The churchyard at Sancreed is an almost perfectly circular enclosure situated at the head of a valley. This is characteristic of an early Celtic religious settlement and a 6th century inscribed stone indicates that it had been established by this point.

    The first church recorded in the churchyard was in 1150 as Eglossant when it was given Tewkesbury Abbey. The current church was initially constructed in the 13th Century, the tower was added in the 14th Century and was reworked in the 15th Century. Like most Cornish churches it was restored in the 19th Century.

    There are five mediaeval crosses in the churchyard, salvaged from various locations nearby. The shaft of a 10th Century cross was found built into the church wall and its head was on top of the hedge. Another was rescued from a local farm where it was about to be used as part of a stone wall.

  16. Cross the road to the footpath opposite, signposted to the Holy Well. Follow the path, keeping the wall on your right where paths split off to the left. Continue on the path until you reach a waymark for the Holy Well.

    The ruins of Sancreed holy well and chapel were rediscovered in 1879 and the well was restored. At least one of the stones within the holy well structure was originally part of the mediaeval chapel which is thought to date from around the 15th-16th Century. A mediaeval stone arch that was originally the top of a window or door is leaning against the chapel wall.

  17. The walk continues over the stile into the field, but first you may to see the Holy Well (a couple of minutes walk) then return here. After crossing the stile, bear right slightly across the field towards the cottage to reach a stile on the far side.

    The pieces of ribbon tied to a tree beside the well may initially appear to be New Age pollution but are in fact a Celtic tradition dating back to pre-Christian times. For example, Christ's Well at Mentieth was described in 1618 as "all tapestried about with old rags".

    It was thought that an ailment could be cured by dipping a piece of fabric in the well and hanging it on a sacred tree beside the well. As the fabric rotted away, the illness was supposed to disappear. The wells were known as "cloughtie wells" based on "clout" - the archaic word for item of clothing - as in the saying "never cast a clout till May is out". Documented examples of cloughtie wells include the holy wells at Sancreed and Madron. This can also be seen at other holy wells such as St Clether, but how much of this is modern emulation and whether a suitable sacred tree species grew beside these wells in Celtic times is not known.

    Unfortunately most modern ribbons are made of polyester which does not rot and remains in the environment a long time where it can be hazardous to wildlife. If you are planning to tie a ribbon, make sure it's a natural fibre or rayon (aka Viscose) which is plant cellulose and can be broken down by micro-organisms.

  18. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to reach another stile.

    The settlement of Newham was first recorded in 1331 as Nyweham. It probably dates from after the Norman Conquest as the name is mediaeval English rather than Cornish and simply means "new home".

  19. Cross the stile and follow along the fence on your right to reach a stile in the far hedge.

    Ribwort plantain is a common weed on cultivated land with unmistakable black seed heads on the end of tall stalks often with a halo of white flowers. Generations of children have worked out that by knotting the stem, the seed head can be launched as a projectile at unsuspecting adults.

    A tea made from the leaves is a popular herbal remedy used as a cough medicine. Care should be taken where the plant is harvested as it is not only highly tolerant of high metal levels in the soil but also accumulates these. It will even tolerate and accumulate arsenic which is normally toxic to plants. It therefore has the potential to be used for cleansing soils contaminated with mine waste.

  20. Cross the stile and turn left onto the path. Follow it downhill until it emerges into a field.
  21. Follow the wall along the right side of the field to reach a gate and stile in the bottom corner.
  22. Cross the stile beside the gate and continue a few paces to emerge on a track. Continue ahead to locate the small (and fairly well-hidden) path opposite running along the wall to the right of the cottage. Follow the path to reach a stile into a field.
  23. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge uphill to reach a stile in the top hedge.
  24. Cross the stile and continue uphill to a stile to the left of the barn.

    The ruined farm is known as Boswarthen. The settlement was first recorded in 1284, spelt Bosewarthen. The Cornish word for dwelling - bos - implies that it dates from early mediaeval times (Dark Ages).

  25. Cross the stile and continue ahead to a stone stile topped with an iron bar.

    Rabbits were originally from the Iberian peninsula and were brought to Britain by the Normans and kept in captivity as a source of meat and fur. Rabbits are able to survive on virtually any vegetable matter and with relatively few predators, those that escaped multiplied into a sizeable wild population. Given that most farmers' crops met the "virtually any vegetable matter" criterion, in the 1950s, the disease myxomatosis was deliberately introduced to the UK to curb rabbit numbers and they almost became extinct. The few survivors resistant to the disease have since multiplied and the peak population is now estimated at around half the size of the UK human population. Rabbits provide food for foxes, stoats, weasels and birds of prey such as the buzzard.

  26. Cross the stile and continue ahead to another stone stile just to the right of the gate.

    Despite their reputation for being lazy and scavengers, buzzards are formidable predators. Diving on rabbits and small mammals from a slow or hovering flight, or from a perch, they nearly always make the kill on the ground.

    During their breeding season in spring, buzzards create spectacular aerial displays by soaring high into the air and dropping suddenly towards the ground.

  27. Cross the stile and bear left slightly across the field to a stile in the middle of the top hedge.

    The name "daisy" is thought to be a corruption of "day's eye" (or "eye of the day", as Chaucer called it). The name comes about because the flower head closes at night and opens each morning. In mediaeval times, it was known as "Mary's Rose". The Romans used to soak bandages in daisy juice as an antiseptic for sword wounds.

  28. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to a stile next to the gate.

    The cattle breeds known as Devon were also the traditional breeds used in Cornwall until recent years. The South Devon breed, affectionately known as "Orange Elephant" or "Gentle Giant", is the largest of the British native breeds: the largest recorded bull weighed 2 tonnes. They are thought to have descended from the large red cattle of Normandy, which were imported during the Norman invasion of England. The other breed, known as "Devon Ruby" or "Red Ruby" (due to their less orange colouration), is one of the oldest breeds in existence, with origins thought to be from pre-Roman Celtic Britain.

  29. Cross the stile and bear left to the wayside cross on the opposite side of the track. Climb the stile into the field and bear left slightly across the field towards the barn roofs to reach a gate on the far side.

    There are said to be 360 wayside crosses in Cornwall. In the mediaeval period, stone crosses were sometimes placed by the road or path. There have been various reasons for erecting these: markers placed along routes used by Christian pilgrims, or as a shrine in reverence, perhaps to a saint who has some connection to the locality. Others mark burial sites, a disaster, a miracle, or some other event that should be remembered. In some cases, they were erected to mark meeting places for Christian worship and later churches were built adjacent to the cross, resulting in the cross being within the churchyard or close by.

  30. Go through the gate and cross the narrow field to the stile opposite.

    The church tower that you can see quite clearly to the left is St Buryan, roughly 2 miles away.

  31. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to reach a path leading ahead from a gate at the bottom corner of the field.

    The church tower in the distance more-or-less directly ahead is Sennen, just under 4 miles away.

  32. Go through the gate or cross the stile to join the path and follow it to merge onto a concrete track. Follow the track to a gate just before the track joins with an exit from a field on the right.
  33. Go through the gate (or cross the rough stile to the left if shut) and follow the track until it ends beside a gateway leading towards the buildings.

    The settlement of Brane was first recorded in 1323 as Bosvran. The bos is the Cornish word for dwelling, and the rest of the name refers to the Caer Bran hillfort.

  34. Go through the gateway and follow the stony track past the buildings to join a lane. Continue until you reach a junction at a post box just after Brane End Farm.
  35. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a small parking area with a pair of signs with blue and green routes for Carn Euny.

    The lane to Carn Euny is one of the better-surfaced public byways in Cornwall.

    Public byways are rights of way down which motor vehicles may be driven depending on how brave you are and how expensive your car is to fix. You are also permitted to use a horse-drawn carriage, should you own one. Byways tend to be surfaced in an ad-hoc manner either with gravel or occasionally with a smattering of tarmac, but still leaving plenty of room for a good crop of grass to grow down the centre. They are conventionally marked using red waymarks or a "Public Byway" sign. There are 130 miles of byways in Cornwall.

  36. Continue ahead on the blue route and follow the track to a junction beside a building.

    Gorse, also known as furze, is present as two species (Common Gorse and Western Gorse) along the Atlantic coast. Between the species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrases: "when gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion" (which is recorded from the mid-19th century) and "when the furze is in bloom, my love's in tune" (which dates from the mid-18th century).

  37. Turn right at the junction, signposted Chapel Euny, and follow the track to a cottage.
  38. Walk past the cottage to the small path leading ahead and follow this to a gate into the Carn Euny ancient village.

    The remains of an ancient village at Carn Euny was discovered in the early 19th Century by prospectors searching for tin deposits. Carn Euny was occupied from the Iron Age until late Roman times although excavations on this site have shown that there was activity at Carn Euny as early as the Neolithic period. There is evidence that the first timber huts there were built about 200 BC, but by the 1st century BC, these had been replaced by stone huts. What remains today are the foundations of stone houses from the 2nd to 4th centuries AD.

  39. After exploring Carn Euny, make your way to the gate at the bottom.

    Within the ancient village is a large and well-preserved fogou.

    A fogou is a drystone underground passage found in a few Iron Age settlements in West Cornwall. Their purpose is not known. One theory is that they were used for food storage whilst another is that they had a ceremonial use.

    The word derives from the Cornish word for cave (mogow which became vogou). This also gave rise to a dialect word for cave - "vug" - which has been assimilated into mining terminology to mean a natural cavity in rock.

  40. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge to an opening into a grassy area with a trough in the middle.

    Carn Euny is looked after by English Heritage

    English Heritage began in 1983 as a government department responsible for the national system of heritage protection and managing a range of historic properties. In 1999 it was merged with the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and the National Monuments Record. In 2015 a charity was formed called English Heritage Trust which was split off from the government to manage the National Heritage Collection (which is still owned by the state). The "English Heritage" name is now associated with this charity. The remaining government body is known as Historic England and is responsible for the statutory and protection functions that were part of the old organisation.

  41. Once through the gap, turn left and head uphill to the gate in the top-right corner.

    Clover is a native plant but is also sown as a fodder crop or as "green manure" as it is a "nitrogen-fixing" plant which converts atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium salts, improving soil fertility. The two most common species are known simply as White Clover and Red Clover, based on the colour of their flowers, with the latter generally being a slightly larger plant.

    The flowers and leaves of red clover can be dried to make a sweet tasting herbal tea. In order to get a good flavour, this needs to be infused for quite a long time (around half an hour) until a deep amber colour develops. Fresh clover doesn’t work so well as the drying process breaks down the cell walls of the plant.

  42. Go through the gate ahead leading uphill and continue to the furthest gate at the top.
  43. Go through the gate and follow along the left hedge, heading uphill. At the end of the hedge, bear left slightly towards the barn to reach a gap between a pair of large granite boulders in the hedge.

    Caer Bran is located at the top of the hill on the right.

    Caer Bran is thought to have originally been built in the Bronze Age with a single rampart-like ring cairn forming a hilltop enclosure which contained at least three smaller ring cairns. It is thought that later, in the Iron Age, a new rampart was built on the outside of the original one.

  44. Carefully step over the barbed wire fence and climb over the boulders and follow the path to the track. Join the track ahead, passing the barn. Continue on the track until it eventually ends on a road.
  45. Turn right onto the road and follow it until you reach a small path on the left almost immediately before a Public Footpath sign pointing right.
  46. Bear left onto the small path and follow it to a gate. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the path over the top of the hill and keep right as you descend to reach a gate leading out to the car park.

    A Bronze Age barrow stood on the summit of Sancreed Beacon although little now remains It originally consisted of a burial chamber with a large capstone (now lying off to one side) balanced on a ring of boulders. Fragments of an urn containing ashes were found in 1925.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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