Even those who have never set foot in Cornwall can tell you what all the highlights are. Who hasn’t heard of the Eden Project, Minack Theatre, Tintagel Castle, or St Michael’s Mount?
All extraordinarily beautiful, but dare we say it, equally as predictable. Cornwall is home to so many little-known locations that are equally as curious as they are captivating.
These locations will help you forget about the usual suspects and walk the less trodden path – perhaps unearthing your new favourite location in a place that people rarely speak of.
In the depths of west Cornwall lay a number of mysterious caves, thousands of years old, that to this day remain much of an enigma.
Known as fogous (pronounced foo-goos), these underground passages and caves lead to nowhere physically, but no doubt held a vital purpose thousands of years ago.
But we might never know what that purpose was.
Among the best-preserved ancient villages in South West England, Carn Euny, at Sancreed, near Penzance, was occupied from the Iron Age until late Roman times, and is home to one of these mystifying caves.
The fogou at Carn Euny is one of two of its kind managed and protected by English Heritage with the largest and most well-preserved being Halliggye Fogou, on the Lizard peninsula.
Archaeologists and researchers believe there to be only around fifteen of these ancient structures in total – with some found in Ireland, Scotland, and in France.
Halliggye Fogou, the other site taken care of by English Heritage, is thought to date from the 5th or 4th century BC and was once part of a small farming settlement which was probably occupied until the end of the Roman period.
Roofed and walled in stone, this complex of fogou passages is the largest and best-preserved of several mysterious underground tunnels associated with Cornish Iron Age settlements.
This teared structure became a preaching pit in 1762, thanks to local preacher John Wesley. He said up to 2,000 people could be seated comfortably on the grass amphitheatre-like structure and it is claimed in 1773 he actually preached to a congregation of 32,000 there.
The original pit in Redruth is believed to have been caused by a natural depression, possibly by it collapsing into an abandoned mine dig below and never collects water. The 12 terraces were cut by local miners in 1803-06.
It is still used for religious events, in particular the annual gathering on Whitsun, but also with services all through the summer months.
It is about 50 feet deep and 200×300 feet across the top. You have to see this in person to truly appreciate it.
Porthcurno Beach Hut
The cemented up beach hut on Porthcurno beach was built amongst the cliffs by Rowena Cade – the creator of the Minack Theatre – in the 1920s.
She built the hut, which consisted of two small rooms and a staircase by herself for her nieces and nephews to play in and while it’s been boarded up for years it’s a fascinating and little-known gem of Cornwall’s.
Rowena and her helpers worked largely with hand tools (and the occasional stick of dynamite) to shape Minack Theatre. She described how they cut up the rocks and manhandled them to make the first terraces on the steep cliff-side and it took the rest of her life.
Most of the structures you see today are created from concrete mixed with sand from the beach, which she herself carried up the cliff in sacks.
The hut has sadly deteriorated due to vandalism through the years but is still one of Cornwall’s best-kept secrets.
Hidden in the heart of the clay country is an ancient haunted chapel built on a rocky plateau with a hidden dark history.
The small village of Roche is probably best known for the rock from which its name is derived – the Roche Rock, a solitary outcrop of black granite looming above the surrounding moorland.
Nestled within the dramatic jagged rock formation, is a 15th century chapel, that is dedicated to St Michael, is said to have once been a hermit’s cell.
The eerie ruin has become the setting for many folk-lore tales.
According to legends, Roche Rock was once buried beneath the Earth, but after Noah’s flood the soil was washed away, uncovering the formidable structure. The rock later developed a fearsome reputation as a convenient resting place for witches and demons.
It is said that when Christianity first came to Cornwall , holy men prayed in a hermit cell between the rocks, praying to vanquish the evil forces and protect the villagers.
It is also associated with the 12th century story about tragic lovers Tristan, Cornish knight, and Iseult, Irish Princess, that has been retold countlessly in Western culture.
Veryan Round Houses
The village of Veryan is famous for its unusual round houses which are dotted about the village. The five 18 th century cottages are said to have been the work of Jeremiah Trist, Veryan’s vicar, who built one for each of his five daughters.
According to local folklore, the curious houses are round so that there are no corners for the devil to hide in.
Daniel Gumb’s Cave
Daniel Gumb was a real man who became a legend in his own lifetime – building a cave out of raw materials measuring 10×4 metres out of raw materials between Minions and the Cheesering, next to the quarry in Bodmin where he lived with his wife and nine children.
He became known as the mountain philosopher, following his love of astronomy and maths.
When the quarry expanded after his death in 1776, aged 73, the cave was moved to a safer location, complete with some of the original stone slabs with his mathematical carvings.
Cornwall is well-known for its rugged sea caves, many of which are steeped in legends or stories of smuggling. But there is a remote cave, hidden in a valley far from the sea that is, perhaps, less well-known despite its intriguing history.
Almost a mile inland from the sea caves at Porthcothan Bay, lost in the dense foliage on the steep hillside of a woodland valley, there is a mysterious cave known locally as ‘Long Vugha’ or ‘The Vugha’.
Its small entrance, surrounded by brambles and moss and just big enough for a person to squeeze through, would be easily missed by anyone who was not searching for it and the vast cave that lies within.
Clearly marked on the 1888 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘Fogou’, the name given to Cornwall’s ancient underground dry stone structures, there has been some debate about the age of this cave, and whether it is man-made or natural.
This is compounded by the evidence inside the cave that it has been shaped by tools, and the discovery of a Neolithic axe at the site.
Trevone’s Round Hole
One of the most prominent and curious features on Cornwall’s north coast is a massive landmark that you’d only ever really know about if you stumbled across it – to your peril – or flew over it.
The strange Trevone’s Round Hole does occasionally hit the headlines, for the wrong reasons, as it can be treacherous.
An impressive 80 feet deep, this striking feature on one of the most scenic parts of Cornwall’s coast has been a talking point for locals and a curiosity for visitors for decades – but what actually is it?
It’s a beautiful natural occurrence, near Padstow, but has also proven highly dangerous in the past as officials have pleaded with keen visitors to keep their distance.
Originally a sea cave, the force of the sea has pounded in and out of the entrance for tens of thousands of years resulting in the gradual erosion of the cave.
For a long time, prior to caving in to the extent we see today, it is believed that the Round Hole was most likely a blowhole of which several can be seen around our coastline.
Fifty years ago people would actually explore the hole, travelling down and out to the beach on the other side if the tide allowed.
But today, after years of erosion, the walls of the Round Hole are extremely unstable and anybody visiting is asked to keep a safe distance and not attempt to go down.
Hidden deep in the woods next to a picturesque Cornish river, lies the overgrown ruins of a 100-year-old pleasure garden, inspired by one of the world’s oldest and most popular amusement parks.
The abandoned fountains, arches, bandstand and swimming pool, appearing unexpectedly through the trees and undergrowth beside a woodland path in the village of Lerryn, were once attractions within the long forgotten Tivoli Park, named after the world famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen.
Created by China Clay magnate, Frank Parkyn, who was born in the village in 1850, work began on the elaborate park around 1920, following his visit to the Danish Tivoli.
Inspired by the fountains, the octagonal Glass Hall, as well as the arches at the entrance and on the Nimb Hotel of Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Parkyn cleared a large area of his woodland and built ornate structures and water features – including an octagonal pool – within the space.
In 1922, Cornwall’s Tivoli Park was opened to the public, and provided a new venue for the increasingly popular Lerryn Regatta. However, the annual event, once known as ‘The Henley of the West’, was held for the last time in 1968, and though Tivoli Park remained relatively clear into the late 20 century, it has gradually been reclaimed by nature over the last few decades.
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