We have lost count of the number of hillforts we have seen, climbed and contemplated… but Carn Lês Boel would be our first true promontory fort. These Cornish ‘fortifications’ or ‘cliff castles’ seem to be nothing of the sort, though, and the fortifications, such as they are, seem to defend something other than a settlement.
The narrow, rocky promontory juts out into the sea, surrounded on three sides by sheer and dangerous cliffs. On the landward side, it is bounded by a bank and ditch which, even accounting for the effects of erosion by centuries of weather, still seems a meagre defence, more symbolic than practical. It extends in a wide arc around the entrance to the headland and would take a lot of men to defend it against aggressors.
The natural defence of the headland is the land itself. Just a few men could hold the narrow neck of land that joins Carn Lês Boel, the ‘bleak cairn’, to the mainland and few could attack it at any one time. Not that there is any evidence of aggression or of defensive action there. In fact, there is no sign of anything to defend at all… no hut circles, burial sites or any trace of a settlement at all. So, what on earth was going on?
The area enclosed by the cliffs is inhospitable. There is nowhere on its rocky, boulder-strewn surface where you could build a home, even if you were foolhardy enough to brave the wind and storms that drive in from the sea. Another Cornish promontory fort gives the clue; Treryn Dinas, a similar site, was comprehensively excavated and found to be a Bronze Age site with ceremonial and ritual significance that played a central part in the life of the local people. Perhaps Carn Lês Boel fulfilled a similar role?
The entrance to the ‘fort’ is flanked by a pair of standing stones, one of which has now fallen. The remaining stone is very obviously deliberately placed and chocked into position. It was on this stone that the little bird was waiting. The cliffs were wreathed in the thick sea-mist that had dogged our footsteps throughout our time in Cornwall… which was a shame as we should have been able to see Land’s End from here.
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