The struggle against the elements with few tools and a scarcity of food and shelter is witnessed in the stonework and the aesthetics of everything you see, from prehistoric burial sites to mine stacks, Iron Age forts to Tudor castles. The sparse habitation and low slung farmhouses nestling in woods or ice-age boulder fields.
On the moors behind Land’s End are the remains of Neolithic burial chambers whilst later Bronze Age ceremonial sites survive in stone circles and rows. Along the coastline lie the visible remains of Iron Age ‘cliff castles’ guarded from ocean swells by savage cliffs and from the land by great mounds of earth and stone.
Around St Just and Pendeen handsome granite mine stacks have been preserved sympathetically by the National Trust, who also restored Levant Mine which can be seen ‘in steam’ in the summer. A few minutes walk away is Geevor, the largest preserved mining site in England offering underground tours and family activities. Underground tours are also offered at the Poldark mine near Helston. Around Hayle, Camborne and Redruth the industrial archaeology of Victorian times is outstanding, prompting a bid for World Heritage Site status.
Don’t miss St Michael’s Mount and Lord St Levans’ fairytale castle, or the magnificent twin fortifications of Pendennis and St Mawes. Look out for open air theatre at the ‘playing places’ such as the Plen-an-Gwary near St Just where the Miracle Plays of medieval times were performed in Cornish to bring Christianity to the Celts.
The stone circles, chamber graves, and ‘menhirs’, or standing stones, of West Cornwall had fanciful nicknames imposed on them by later Christian societies in reaction to their perceived ‘pagan’ significance. Stone circles known popularly as the ‘Merry Maidens’ have been enshrined in folklore as being the trapped souls of young girls, who dared to dance on a Sunday… and the stone ‘Pipers’ play on, in fields nearby.