|Western Greyhound (the green buses) run a bus service from St Ives to Penzance that stops off at New Mill, then it's only a mile to the village along a winding country lane. We visited on a sunshine 'n' showers day (15.6.2011). Our previous visit was in 2002 and since then the custodian's hut has become a rather swisher shop thing (I remembered to bring the guidebook from the last visit).
This is a great site, terrifically well-preserved houses of a type known as "courtyard" houses that are pretty much unique to West Cornwall and date from the Iron Age or perhaps into the Romano-British period. It's worth getting a guidebook - which also covers nearby Carn Euny village, as it contains plenty of detailed plans and info about what to look for in each house.
Despite the rain, there were plenty of hardy souls mooching about in waterproofs, and even more when the sun came out a bit later. So don't necessarily expect a quiet visit (and note the limited opening hours, so evenings are out).
In amongst the bustle, you can enter one of the courtyards and immediately shut out the 21st century. It's the little details that I liked best, the things that really reinforce the domestic reality of the place. The small hearths in many of the round rooms, the "stones with holes" that either supported roof beams or, according to another theory, were querns. The water channels running across the courtyards to provide a source of water for both people and animals.
The general pattern of construction involves a massively thick drystone outer wall (usually in a rough oval) and within that, compartmental rooms and an open courtyard. There tends to be a "long room" on the right of the entrance, a "round room" opposite the entrance - probably the main living space - and then a bay on the left of the entrance for livestock or stabling. The entrances are principally east facing and the longer axis is east-west (House 9 is the exception to this). Some of the houses have additional smaller rooms as well.
The stonework is beautiful too, outstanding examples of drystone walling often built up from larger blocks at the base, in a way that can still be found in the Cornish granite hedges in this part of the country. There was obviously a bit of home improvement going on over the occupation period as well, for example House 7 started life with a typical eastern entrance passage, then replaced it with a different entrance to the north. House 3 is built in a semi-detached arrangement, perhaps occupied by two parts of an extended family (or maybe early suburbia!).
You need to allow a fair bit of time to do a proper "tour" of each house, and we easily filled a couple of hours here without trying, despite the weather.
Away to the south of the site is the only real disappointment, in the form of the blocked fogou. Apparently blocked for health and safety reasons, due to an unstable roof slab, this is a bit of a mess. A much better example can be seen at Carn Euny.
Posted by thesweetcheat
6th July 2011ce