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 at the head of Drift Reservoir into Sancreed to reach the church. The route then passes the Sancreed Holy Well and crosses fields and joins a byway to reach St Euny's holy well. The final stretch passes though the Carn Euny ancient village and alongside the Caer Bran hillfort to return over Sancreed Beacon.

Two of the field gates after Carn Euny village are dilapidated (and are held shut with large rocks). The wall beside the first can be climbed by humans and dogs. The second may present an issue for dogs which will need lifting over if you climb the gate.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • 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

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Highlights

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

Directions

  1. Go through the gate at the top of the parking area and turn right to follow parallel to the wall to reach the lower gate. Bear left from this 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 the cottage at the bottom of the valley.

    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. As the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and have a small bulb. In fact, in New Zealand they are known as "onion weed".

  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 track and keep left along the wall to descend to the stream. Follow the path 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.

    Dragonflies are named after the way they hunt, as both the larvae and adults are carnivorous predators. Mosquitoes form a large part of their diet both for adults and particularly for the larvae (nymphs). One dragonfly can eat tens of mosquitoes in a day and an average of over 100 per day has been recorded for the nymphs of some species. It is thought that this is an important factor in keeping the mosquito population under control.

  12. Cross the stile and bear left to cross the field diagonally (or follow around the right hedge) to reach the stile in the corner in front of the playing field.

    In 1991, sloes were found in the stomach contents of a 5,300 human mummy in the Alps, indicating that they were part of the Neolithic diet. Alone they are extremely bitter but with enough sugar, they can be made into a pleasant jam or chutney.

  13. Cross the stile and cross the playing 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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".

  18. 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.

  19. Cross the stile and turn left onto the path. Follow it downhill until it emerges into a field.
  20. Follow the wall along the right side of the field to reach a gate and stile in the bottom corner.
  21. Cross the stile (or go through gate if open) 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.
  22. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge uphill to reach a stile in the top hedge.

    The tall trees on the right provide some good perches for crows to survey the landscape.

    Research has shown that crows have a much higher density of neurons in their forebrains than primates do (the density if neurons in this region is thought to correlate with intelligence).

    The brain of a crow accounts for 2.7 percent of the bird's overall weight whereas an adult human's brain represents 1.9 percent of their body weight. This is even more impressive when considered in context: birds need to be as light as possible in order to fly.

    Ravens are considered the most intelligent crow species, outperforming chimpanzees in some tests. Consequently an academic is quoted as saying that crows are "smarter than many undergraduates, but probably not as smart as ravens."

  23. 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).

  24. 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. Rabbits provide food for foxes, stoats and birds of prey.

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

    The majority of buzzards diet is earthworms and carrion and consequently they have a reputation for being lazy and scavengers. However, when they need to be, 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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 over four hundred complete stone crosses in Cornwall and at least another two hundred fragments.

    In the mediaeval period, stone crosses were sometimes placed by the road or path to mark the route to the parish church. Farms and hamlets were usually linked to the church by the most direct and level route. Crosses were also placed along routes of pilgrimage. Both of these have evolved to become some of today's Public Rights of Way.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.
  32. 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.

  33. 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.
  34. 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.

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

    Gorse is a member of the pea family with seeds in pods. The seeds are ejected with a popping sound when pods split open in hot weather. This can catapult the seeds up to five metres. The plants are able to live 30 years and survive sub-zero temperatures, the seeds can withstand fire and remain viable in the soil for 30 years.

  36. Keep left to follow the track to a wooden post with red and blue waymarks.
  37. Turn left onto the gravel path indicated by the blue arrow and follow the path to a junction.
  38. Turn left at the junction to follow the path between the holy wells and return to the waymarker post.

    There are two wells situated either side of the path and these are both associated with St Euny. The more elaborate one has steps leading down to it and the other is surrounded by four large granite slabs. The site is only recorded from the 18th Century so the true age of the wells is unknown. There is also mention of a chapel being located near the wells (hence Chapel Euny).

    Many people understandably confuse the two wells beside the path leading to the Carn Euny ancient village (with metal grilles) for these. No records have so far been found for the wells with metal grilles being holy wells.

  39. Turn right to return to backtrack a short distance to the junction beside the building.

    Before Christianity, the Pagan Celtic people of Cornwall worshipped wonders of the natural world. Where clean, drinkable water welled up from the ground in a spring, this was seen as pretty awesome. The sites were seen as portals to another world, and is why fairies are often associated with springs. Where the springwater dissolved minerals, for specific conditions (e.g. deficiency in a mineral) or where the minerals present had antibacterial/fungal properties, the water appeared to have healing powers.

  40. Turn left at the junction, signposted Chapel Euny, and follow the track to a cottage.

    "Holy wells" were created because the Christian church was most unhappy with the Celtic people continuing their old Pagan ways and worshipping sacred springs. In the 10th Century, the church issued a cannon (law) to outlaw such practices. This didn't work, so they issued another one in the 11th Century, and again in the 12th Century. Even despite the church going to the lengths of building a chapel over the top of some springs to obliterate them, the people still hung onto their sacred springs. The church finally settled on a compromise and rebranded the springs as (Christian) Holy Wells, so the old practices could continue behind a Christian façade.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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 managed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust.

    The Cornwall Heritage Trust (CHT) is a charity founded in 1985 to preserve and strengthen Cornish heritage. The CHT own some historic structures such as the Treffry Viaduct and also manage a number of state-owned English Heritage sites in Cornwall such as Carn Euny.

    The CHT management of some of the smaller English Heritage sites follows controversy in 1999 when the Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament pressure group removed several English Heritage signs.

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

    Clover is a native plant and a member of the legume (pea and bean) family. It is also sown as a fodder crop and as "green manure" as it improves 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.

  45. Go through the gate ahead leading uphill and continue to the furthest gate at the top.

    Pineapple weed is related to chamomile and is consequently also known as false chamomile. It's able to colonise poor soils on waste ground including cracks between paving. The flowers resembling little yellow balls are also quite distinctive but even more so is the pineapple scent when is trodden on or squeezed. The leaves can be eaten in salads and the leaves and flowers can also be dried to make tea.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.
  48. 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.
  49. 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.

    Two Bronze Age barrows stood on the summit of Sancreed Beacon although little now remains. One 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. There are remains of hut circles on the side of the hill which are also thought to date from the Bronze Age. The name of the hill is due to its later use as a firebeacon.

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