Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

Cornwall’s Top Attractions & Activities

Merry Maidens Dancing on a Sunday in Cornwall

South west of Penzance, and not that far from Cornwall’s Land’s End, is a restored, Neolithic stone circle known according to native folklore as the Merry Maidens. Nineteen stones made using local granite form a perfect circle. The stone circle is one of a number of ritual and mortuary features on this prehistoric landscape … Continue Reading >>

Thomas Dowson

Archaeology Travel

Neolithic stone circles in Cornwall are associated with fascinating local folklore.

An Archaeological Archipelago: Things to see for History and Heritage Enthusiasts on the Isles of Scilly

Getting to the islands at the edge of the Atlantic is as much an adventure as your time on the Isles of Scilly will be rambling from Bronze Age funerary monuments to Medieval castles. An islander offers her tips and suggestions for visiting these islands just off the Cornish coast … Continue Reading >>

Beth Howell

Archaeology Travel

Geetig the ferry to the Isles of Scilly.

Archaeology & History Sites in Cornwall

Prehistoric Sites in Cornwall

Ballowall Barrow or Carn Gluze (Carn Gloose)
The Bronze Age Ballowall Barrow with its stunning views over the dramatic coastline.

Like many other Bronze Age barrows along the Cornish coast of this kind, this the largest and most complex one is sited close to the edge of the cliff and has spectacular views towards Land’s End. It was discovered in 1878 by the local antiquarian William Copeland Borlase beneath the debris of a tin mine. Borlase went on to excavate the barrow, finding stone-lined chambers some of which contained Bronze Age pottery and burnt bone. The site is on the coastal path between Aire Point to Cape Cornwall.

Boscowan-Un Stone Circle
The central megalith at the Boscowan-Un Stone Circle in Cornwall.

Not far from the small village of St Buryan is this well preserved Bronze Age stone circle. A central stone is surrounded by 19 standing stones that make up an ellipse, with axes of 22 and 25 metres. All but one of the stones is made from local granite, the odd one out being quartzite. In the centre of the ellipse is a leaning stone. Excavations suggest this is an original feature of the circle. A wide gap between two stones in the west has been interpreted as an entrance.

St Breock Downs Monolith
The longstone on St Breock Downs in Cornwall. Photograph © Richard-sr/Wikimedia

Standing at the highest point of St Breock Downs, is the largest prehistoric longstone in Cornwall. Originally measuring five metres in height, and weighing around 16.5 tonnes – it is still the heaviest monolith in the region today. The function of this impressive stone is still largely unknown, though archaeological interpretations suggest it may have marked a boundary, or held ritual purposes. A visit here also offers spectacular views from the summit of St Breock Downs. Photograph © Richard-sr/Wikimedia

Carn Euny Ancient Village
One of the hut enclosures at the Iron Age village of Carn Euny, Cornwall.

An Iron Age village inhabited from the 5th century BC until at least the 4th century AD. What we see at the site today dates to the later phase of the village. The village is made up of a series of interlocking courtyard houses typical of the Iron Age in west Cornwall and best seen at nearby Chysauster Ancient Village. The most intriguing feature of this site is a large, well preserved underground passage with a sizeable underground chamber – both of which are made from stone.

Chun Castle
One of the hut enclosures at the Iron Age village of Carn Euny, Cornwall.

This well positioned Iron Age hillfort is located on the rugged summit of Chun Downs in Penwith. Pottery finds from previous excavations suggest that the site was occupied between 300 BC and 400 AD. It is circular in shape with two defensive stone walls, with the remains of a stone gateway entrance to the south-west. Within the perimeter are a number of low-walled enclosures and foundation remains belonging to circular houses, each of which measure approximately 5 metres in diameter. Photograph © Cornwall Historic Environment Service.

Chysauster Ancient Village
Ancient stone walls of Chysauster Iron Age Village.

Chysauster is the best preserved Iron Age courtyard house settlement in the country. This very well preserved village comprises eight courtyard stone houses that are typical of Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. Four of these houses are on either side of a well defined ‘street’. The layout of each stone house is very clear, each had a central, open courtyard that was surrounded by a number of rooms that probably had conical, thatched roofs. There is also evidence of garden plots, fields and paddocks.

Halliggye Fogou
The stone built passage at Halliggye Fogou, Cornwall.

Located in the Trelowarren Estate, is a series of stone underground passages dating to around 500-400 BC. The term ‘fogous’ is the Cornish word for cave, which there are a number of in Cornwall associated with Iron Age settlements. Halliggye Fogou is the best preserved and largest of these, consisting of a long tunnel with a stone roof and walls leading to three partitioned chambers. Archaeological excavation of the passages has produced finds of local Iron Age pottery, as well as fragments of imported Samian ware from the Roman Period.

Merry Maidens Stone Circle and Ritual Landscape, Newlyn
Part of the Merry Maidens Stone Circle.

In open farmland on the road from Newlyn and Penzance to Land’s End is a cluster of ritual and funerary monuments dating to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. The main attraction is a modest but perfect stone circle known as the Merry Maidens. Nearby are a few standing stones, the tallest still standing menhirs in Cornwall, and a partly destroyed burial chamber. As with many megalithic sites in the area, the stone circle and standing stones here get their names from a local legend … Read More >>.

Stripple Stones
Henry VII's St Mawes Castle.

The Stripple Stones on Bodmin Moor are a henge monument dating to around 5000 years ago. Surrounded by a ditched enclosure and bank, the site comprises four standing pillars and nine that are now fallen, and with an entrance to the south-west. In total, it measures 68.5 metres in diameter. Within the centre is a larger leaning stone. There is some disagreement between archaeologists about how many stones were originally erected here, although it is believed that there were at least 28. Photograph © Cornwall Guide. [Website]

Tregiffian Burial Chamber
Tregiffian Burial Chamber, Cornwall.

This prehistoric burial chamber lies along a winding roadside near St Buryan, in Penzance. Dated to either the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, the style of tomb is called an entrance grave. The main structure consists of stone walls and roof, with a portal entrance leading to a central chamber underground. Originally its exterior would have been mound shaped, but was levelled when the road was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century. The roof is made up of four large capstones, and the walls are a combination of stone slabs and rubble … Read More >>

Trethevy Quoit
Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall.

Dating from around 3500-2500 BC, the boxed stone structure at Trethevy Quoit is a fine example of a Neolithic burial monument. This impressive feature is located along the southern edge of Bodmin Moor, and is known as a ‘portal dolmen’. The five standing stones support a large over-head capstone, which weighs approximately 20 tonnes. Standing 2.7 metres tall, there is evidence to suggest the stones were once covered by a mound – acting as a ritual chamber. It is the only dolmen of this kind to be found in the area.

Zennor Quoit
Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall.

Situated in a barren yet atmospheric setting, is this Neolithic portal dolmen burial chamber, near Zennor. The tomb once comprised of five stones supporting an extensive cover slab, which has now marginally collapsed. Three of the stones are arranged in an H-shape, a formation seen in other similar prehistoric chambers. Two large upright slabs stand side by side on the east side, providing a style of frontage to the structure. Excavations took place at the site during the 19th century and produced finds including Neolithic pottery and a type of whetstone. [Website]

Medieval Sites in Cornwall

Bodmin Jail
The 16th century Pendennis Castle.

Situated in the beautifully rugged county of Cornwall, and on the edge of Bodmin Moor, is the historical site of Bodmin Jail. Formerly a county prison, the complex was built in 1779 and remained in use until 1922. Known for its controversial past and hangings, Bodmin Jail is a site that offers visitors an experience steeped in rich architectural and social history. The combination of striking ruins and refurbished areas are home to informative exhibitions explaining the jail’s history and the tales of former inmates. [Website]

King Doniert’s Stone
King Doniert's Stone, Cornwall.

The remains of these two Celtic crosses can be found in the village of St Cleer, Liskeard. Famously, one of which displays the inscribed name of the Cornish ‘King Doniert’, who ruled the south-west Kingdom of Dunmonia during the 9th century. It is believed that the crosses marked the spread of Christianity in Cornwall. The King’s stone is around 1.37 metres high, with the neighbouring piece standing taller at 2.1 metres. Both stones are believed to be the bases on which the cross heads stood upon, and are ornately decorated with interlaced patterning.

Pendennis Castle
The 16th century Pendennis Castle.

Pendennis Castle was built by King Henry VIII against perceived attack from the French and Spanish. The castle is one of two built between 1539 and 1545 on either side of the mouth of Fal River, protecting natural harbour and inland water ways known as the Carrick Roads. The other being St Mawes Castle. In the twentieth century, the castle played a prominent role in Britain’s defence systems during the first and second World Wars.

Restormel Castle
Restormel Castle managed by English Heritage, Cornwall

With spectacular 360° views over the surrounding countryside, Restormel Castle is known for its perfect circular shape. This was one of four principal Norman castles in Cornwall, thought to have been first built in 1100 AD following the Norman Conquest of England. Today a well preserved, 13th century shell keep stands on the original Norman mound, which is surrounded by a dry ditch. The castle grounds and nearby woodlands make this a wonderful place to visit from spring through to Autumn.

Saint Michael’s Mount
Saint Michael's Mount at high tide.

Occupation of the tidal island goes back to the Neolithic, although it is the fourteenth century priory church and castle dramatically constructed on rock that draws peoples attention today; the Cornish equivalent of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. Owned and still lived in by the St Aubyn family, Saint Michael’s Mount is managed by the National Trust. During the summer the castle provides a backdrop for a wide range of activities and events, suitable for all ages.

St Mawes Castle
Henry VII's St Mawes Castle.

St Mawes Castle was built by Henry VIII at the same time as Pendennis Castle. Constructed on the east bank of the Fal River, its purpose was to guard the natural harbour at Falmouth from attack. Unlike Pendennis Castle, St Mawes was not significantly fashioned for re-use after it was built. Consequently, this castle is the better preserved of the two. During World War II, the castle was part of the south coast defence system. Don’t miss the Latin inscriptions that praise Henry VIII and his son Edward VI.

Tintagel Castle
Part of the Medieval ruins at Tintagel's Castle, Cornwall.

Tintagel Castle has been inspiring people for centuries, certainly from the twelfth century when the castle was named as the place where King Arthur was conceived. Since then this idyllic spot has been inextricably linked with Arthurian Legend, very obvious in the nearby town of Tintagel. A new permanent exhibition in the visitors centre explores 1500 years of history, the role of this site to King Arthur, and why this spot was chosen by Richard, the Earl of Cornwall, in the thirteenth century.

Tintagel Old Post Office
Part of the Medieval ruins at Tintagel's Castle, Cornwall.

The Tintagel Old Post Office was licenced as such for a brief period during the 19th century, though the building was originally constructed in 1380 AD. It was once a single storey medieval farmhouse, with open roof space, three rooms and a partitioned area for livestock. Changing from wooden exterior to stone, and from a thatched roof to slate, the house has been transformed through the ages. Today, visitors can find 16th century furniture and Victorian postal relics inside. While outside, the beautiful cottage garden is waiting to be explored. [Website]

Trerice Manor
Part of the Medieval ruins at Tintagel's Castle, Cornwall.

Set in peaceful surroundings, this splendid 16th century manor house near Newquay has retained much of its Elizabethan décor. The main façade boasts intricately shaped stone gables. While inside, there is plenty of history to discover, including the great hall window which contains 576 original glass panes. Trerice also has a collection of over a thousand artefacts – ranging from clocks, to furniture, to wooden skittles. During the summer, there are a range of fun activities such as archery, costume days, and evening concerts. [Website]

Museums in Cornwall

National Maritime Museum Cornwall
A range of small craft on display at the National Maritime Museum, in Falmouth, Cornwall.

This relatively new museum, opened in 2003, aims to promote the maritime heritage of Cornwall. Although the museum focuses on the more recent maritime past, and the significance of boating in Cornwall today, curators are regularly involved in projects that explore much older maritime history. In 2012 and working with archaeologists from Exeter University the museum reconstructed a Bronze Age boat. [Website]

Royal Cornwall Museum
The entrance to the Cornish Gallery in the Royal Cornwall Museum.

Founded in 1818, the Royal Cornwall Museum promotes the natural and cultural history of Cornwall. As the main repository for archaeological artefacts, the museum has an impressive collection and series of displays on the history of Cornwall. These start with the Palaeolithic and extend up to the very recent past. The local archaeology collection has been enhanced by gifts from Cornish benefactors. Also on display then is an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts. [Website]

Popular Activities in Cornwall