The main draw of the hill, apart from the extensive views, is the rather extraordinary chambered tomb and later cairn, which fills the hilltop and despite much subsequent damage (notably caused by the building of a medieval hermitage and then a radar observation post on top of it) still measures almost 20m across. The original Neolithic chambered tomb has been covered by the later, larger Bronze Age cairn, which accounts for most of the stonework still to be seen. The small intact chamber that can be seen is a secondary cist added when the Bronze Age mound was constructed. I manage to squeeze inside and get back out again without damage to the tomb or (more likely) myself. This is a terrific monument even in its damaged condition and definitely worth coming to visit. It provided us with the perfect location for Midsummer lunch and general chilling out.
First time I've been up here for a while today (odd considering I live just down the road!). Windy as always! Definitely a sacred hill & twinned with it's neighbour Bartinney to make the "breasts of the Goddess". The former hermitage & entrance grave seem to have far too many really special quartz crystal stones lying about to be random. Living here i know that quartz always comes with granite, but these stones are really crystalline. Makes me wonder how white & shiny this hilltop must've been in its day. Must do the walk directly from here to Carn Euny soon!
Sat here earlier this year before I left Cornwall (Boo Hoo!) sketching with pastels in the fog that suddenly dropped upon me! Wish I could've crawled into this place as I find myself doing so with other such places, Treen Entrance Grave being a fave of mine. Easily located and worth the walk up the hill, it's a shame that the car park seems to be a meeting place for local swingers. I returned to my car to find several cars parked up, the couple in the knackered MkIII Escort really going for it (they didn't give a damn either!).
Carn Brea is one of those places you never get fed up with, as a child I grew up very near there (Tuckingmill) and as a teenager I 'courted' there. I have fond memories of sunday afternoons, taking the walk to the monument with my younger brother. It is a place that when I can see it I know I'm back home. I was in awe of it then and still am.
There is a car park just to the side of Carn Brea, in between that and Bartine Castle and most people take this route to the top which is probably the most boring one to take, a bit like going up Snowdon via the railway. The way I prefer to go is to take a footpath from a place called Brea on the B3306, near the airfield and so walk up from the West (although I guess that it might be good to come down that way after the sun has set too) thereby taking in two standing stones at the bottom of the hill, set close to each other, not unlike gateposts (see also Faugen Round). It's also quite good fun making it up this way because of the maze like gorse.
Often referred to as the "first and last hill in Cornwall", as, well, it is, this is a mighty place. Seeming like a smallish hillock from the bottom, when you are on top it seems so much higher as there is not much highland on the Land's end peninsular. There is sea on 3 sides, St Buryan church stands proud on the flat plains to the south, and Carn Kenidjack lurks to the north with it's circles and menhirs. The chapel in question was a hermitage, built on the site of a late neolithic or early bronze age entrance grave. Little remains of this, although some drystone walling and parts of the capstone can be seen. The reason for the destruction of the tomb was firstly the hermitage, built in the 1400's and finally demolished in 1816, and then a WW2 radar beacon built right on top of the grave which pretty much ruined what was left. All of which doesn't detract from it's superb views and ambience - although when we visited the wind was doing it's best to blow us off again. A local tale says that one of the hermits in C17th named Harry was accused of being a sorcerer by the Dean of St. Buryan on account of those who crossed him losing crops and livestock etc. The tale does not tell what the outcome was, but rumour has it that the early christian cross (which probably replaced a bronze age menhir) at nearby Crows-an-Wra, which means "Witch's Cross", is a memorial to the unfortunate Harry. On a clear day, this really is an awesome hangout with a few tales to tell.
..although an innocent baby held in the arms is thought in Cornwall to protect the holder from mischief caused by ghosts and witches, it has no power over [spriggans], who are not supposed to have souls.
This legend took place under Chapel Carn Brea on the old road from Penzance to St. Just in Penwith. The mother, Jenny Trayer by name, was first alarmed on her return one night from her work in the harvest field by not finding her child in its cradle, but in a corner of the kitchen where in olden days the wood and furze for the general open fires was kept. She was however too tired to take much notice, and went to bed, and slept soundly until the morning.
From that time forth she had no peace; the child was never satisfied but when eating or drinking, or when she had it dandling in her arms.
The poor woman consulted her neigbours in turn as to what she should do with the changeling (as one and all agreed that it was). On recommended her to dip it on the three first Wednesdays in May in Chapel Uny Well, which advice was twice faithfully carried out in the prescribed manner. The third Wednesday was very wet and windy, but Jenny determined to persevere in this treatment of her ugly bantling, and holding the brat (who seemed to enjoy the storm) firmly on her shoulders, she trudged off. When they got about half way, a shrill voice from behind some rocks was heard to say,
Thy wife and children greet thee well."
Not seeing anyone, the woman was of course alarmed, and her fright increased when the imp made answer in a similar voice:
"What care I for wife or child,
When I ride on Dowdy's back to the Chapel Well,
And have got pap my fill?"
After this adventure, she took the advice of another neighbour, who told her the best way to get rid of the spriggan and have her own child returned was "to put the small body upon the ashes pile, and beat it well with a broom; then lay it naked under a church stile; there leave it and keep out of sight and hearing till the turn of night; when nine times out of ten, the thing will be taken away and the stolen child returned."
This was finally done, all the women of the village after it had been put upon a convenient pile "belabouring it with their brooms," upon which it naturally set up a frightful roar. AFter dark it was laid under the stile, and there next morning the woman "found her own 'dear cheeld' sleeping on some dry straw" most beautifully clean and wrapped ina piece of chintz.
"Jenny nursed her recovered child with great care, but there was always something queer about it, as there always is about one that has been in the fairies power - if only for a few days."
Bottrell being quoted on p183/4 of
Cornish Folk-Lore. Part III. [Continued]
M. A. Courtney
The Folk-Lore Journal, Vol. 5, No. 3. (1887), pp. 177-220.
It seems that Carn Brea is still the home of seasonal celebration. This from the West Cornwall Festivals and Events list 2005 at http://www.penwith.gov.uk/media/adobe/s/4/Events_List_2005.pdf
Midsummer Eve (evening): Bonfire, Chapel Carn Brea, Nr Land's End. Organised by the Old Cornwall Society. Prayers etc spoken in Cornish and lighting of the bonfire torch. For more information tel. 01736 368153.
Presumably this tradition of bonfires has lasted a long while. The Reader's Digest 'Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain' has this to say: that the first of a chain of beacon fires is lit here - then at Sennen, Sancreed Beacon, Carn Galver, St Agnes Beacon.. Each fire is blessed by a local clergyman in the Cornish language; herbs and wildflowers are burnt. When only embers remain, young people leap across them to drive away evil and bring good luck. Good job they involve the church, eh, or the whole thing would sound suspiciously pagan.