Thursday, 22 August 2013

Land's End / Penzance

Today we drove to Land's End approximately nine miles west of Penzance, is the most westerly point of the English mainland and the closest to the North American continent. The most direct motor route between John O'Grouts and Land's End is 874 miles however our journey has been over 8,000 miles.

View of the moon on the water last night

We then visited the Minack Cornwall's open air theatre under the stars,world famous created from a cliffside at Porthcurno by Rowena Cade. "Minack" in Cornish means a rocky place and the black headed crag below the theatre has always drawn local fishermen. Until the 1930’s they had the gorse filled gully to themselves and the cliffs echoed to the cries of gulls not actors.

Since "The Tempest" was first produced in 1932, the plays of Shakespeare have provided a central focus to every season at the Minack. Rowena Cade admired Shakespeare greatly. His poetry paints all the scenery that is needed: yet it is never upstaged by the theatre's dramatic backdrop. While Shakespeare has stood the test of time, almost every other sort of entertainment has been tried at the Minack - comedy, tragedy, farce, opera, musical, Gilbert & Sullivan, mime, ballet, concert, gang show, son et lumière and male voice choir. Gilbert and Sullivan have been second only to Shakespeare in coming back year after year. To no one's surprise "The Pirates of Penzance" remains the clear favourite. A fortnight of plays specially for schools is staged annually when extra matinées are held with excited and enthusiastic Cornish children packing the Minack terraces. During the summer season there is a new play for each of the 16 or 17 weeks. This variety benefits local audiences and holidaymakers alike. Some stalwarts come to every show. Equally, many who see live theatre here for the first time go on to support the performing arts in the areas where they live. Good amateur theatrical groups are encouraged to play at the Minack Theatre. Among their number will you spot the stars of tomorrow? Michael York, Sheridan Morley, John Nettles, Sue Pollard, Sarah Brightman, Will Self, Jack Shepherd, Hugh Dancy and Charlotte Church have all appeared on the Minack's stage.

Looking down on the stage of the theatre with the wonderful backdrop of the coast

The Merry Maidens this late Stone/early Bronze Age (2500-1500BC) stone circle is renowned for both its beauty and the stories connected to it. It lies in a gently sloping field between Lamorna and St Buryan, a stone’s throw from Tregiffia barrow and a number of other ancient sites, and its remarkable qualities were first recorded in the C17th. The regularity of spacing between stones and its truly circular form make the Boleigh Merry Maidens unusual in Cornwall, however restorations in the C19th (on the orders of the land owner Lord Falmouth who wanted to avoid the fate which had befallen other nearby circles and stones, namely field clearance and their use in construction) led to some stones being put back slightly skewed. There are 19 stones in all, with a gap in the eastern section which is common to almost all British stone circles. In addition to the regular spacing, the stones were also obviously carefully chosen and positioned as they gradually diminish in size from the southwest to the northeast; this waxing and waning in size believed to mirror the cycle of the moon. Measuring up to a maximum of 1.4m, the stones are dressed so as to be level on the top and have their flattest side facing the interior of the circle, which in turn has a diameter of around 78'. The name is part of the charm of this circle. It is quite likely that its origins lie in the Cornish 'Dans Meyn', meaning dancing stone, which was the title given to all recorded Cornish stone circles pre 1900, and has thus led to many being associated with dancing rituals. However, it is also likely that 'Dans Meyn' is a corruption of 'Zans Meyn', meaning simply sacred stone. In any case, come Victorian times the story evolved that the Merry Maidens were local girls who broke the rules on the Sabbath and were turned to stone for dancing, the equally sinful musicians, now the large pillars known as the Pipers, being petrified in nearby fields. Such moralistic folk stories are commonly attached to stone circles and it is thought that they may represent Christian methods of trying to eliminate Pagan activity at these ancient ceremony sites. This is the best known and preserved circle in Cornwall: it is believed to be complete, which is rare.

Carn Euny is one of the best-preserved Iron Age villages in the south west, with nine visible hut foundations and a spectacular sixty-five foot fougou. The name 'fogou' derives from the Cornish 'fogo', meaning 'cave'. Fogous are cave-like dry stone structures, open at both ends and similar to the 'souterrains' found in Scotland and northern Europe. Little evidence as to the purpose of these fougous has been discovered, although their painstaking construction suggests that they were of great value to the community. The large and excellently-preserved fougou at Carn Euny is the most important structure on the site, running just below the surface of the ground and roofed with massive stone slabs. A side passage leads to a round stone chamber with a collapsed roof. A small tunnel may represent a second entrance. The site was discovered in the early nineteenth century by tin prospectors and the fougou was exposed in the eighteen sixties by the antiquarian William Copeland Borlase. The nine hut foundations were discovered and the fougou restored during extensive excavations of the site between 1964 and 1972. The excavations show that the site was a hive of constant activity from the Neolithic period right up until the late Roman period, when the village was abandoned. The earliest buildings at Carn Euny probably had earthen walls, these were replaced by wooden structures that were in turn replaced by stone roundhouses with thatch or sod roofs, and finally by the Courtyard Houses. Dating from the Iron Age, Courtyard Houses are unique to the SW peninsula, a compound is surrounded by a circular stone wall and stone buildings are positioned around the inner circumference with doorways opening into the central space. At Carn Euny, Courtyard House 1 has a special portal in the outer wall leading to the subterranean fogou. It is important to note that when the first part of the fogou was built, it was the only stone structure at the site. This suggests that whatever the purpose of the fogou, it must have been of overwhelming importance to the community for them to expend so much of their resources on its construction. Today, the roofed section of the fogou is about 12.5m long and about 2m in height and width, the dry stone walls taper in toward the top, thus reducing the span of the roofslabs. The tunnel is now open at both ends, but the original northern creepway entrance has been blocked by a grille. The circular chamber is about 4.5m in diameter and is of corbelled construction, forming a beehive shape, it now has a modern metal roof. A niche, resembling a modern fireplace, has been built into the wall of the chamber opposite the entrance, its purpose is unknown. These enigmatic underground chambers, thousands of years old, have a powerful atmosphere even today, and as you stand in their silent dark interiors, you cannot help but wonder if their secrets will ever be revealed. 

Entrance to the Fogou

The Entrance has two openings the one straight ahead starts the tunnel and the one to the right enters the round beehive chamber

The rear entrances to the Fogou

The Cottage

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