Free English Heritage sites to visit in Cornwall this summer
- Credit: Jim Champion, Flickr
This summer, visit some of these amazing English Heritage locations and learn a bit more about the wonderful history of Cornwall
Most of us will need to stay closer to home this summer but there are lots of opportunities for sight-seeing and wonder right on your doorstep you may not have known about. English Heritage looks after over 400 buildings, monuments, and locations of interest across the country. It can be hard to pick where to visit, so we've put together a handy guide to Cornwall heritage sites that you can visit for free.
We start our journey into Cornwall's past at Dupath Well, a large well-house that houses a legendary spring. Built around 1500 by the priory of St German, the spring inside was said to cure diseases such as whooping cough and was also used occasionally for baptisms. The well house is bigger than the 40 or so other wells that contained mystical springs in the South West. This English Heritage site is worth a visit if you are in the area.
Just a 20 minute drive up the road, you can also visit the imposing Launceston Castle. The castle is undergoing some restoration work at the moment but should be open again in the summer. There is a small ticket price to enter, but there is plenty to make the charge worth it. The castle has a wealth of history, most famously as a prison where George Fox, founder of the Quakers, was incarcerated in 1656. You can learn more about the story of Launceston Castle and book tickets here.
Hurlers Stone Circles
If you are feeling up to it, the next three English Heritage sites could be turned into a walk of just over four miles. It's a mixture of country roads and walking paths that are fairly easy going. Start at the free parking available on the outskirts of Minion and follow the path up to the Hurlers Stone Circles. This is a huge open field of three Neolithic standing stone circles, so named because legend says they are the petrified remains of men who were caught playing hurling on a Sunday.
Once finished exploring this unusual and unique spot, head through the village of Tremarcoombe to see the next Neolithic site. Trevethy Quoit is an amazingly well preserved portal dolmen which means it is a series of standing stones that hold up one huge capstone. This burial site could be as old as 5,500 years and was once a popular form of monument in Cornwall. Learn more about the possible uses of the area here.
The last stretch of your journey will take you back through Tremarcoombe to King Doniert's Stone. This is the remains of an intricately carved Celtic cross which mourned the loss of Dungarth, King of Dumnonia, who drowned around 875AD.
St Catherine's Castle
Our next English Heritage site has been in use from its creation in the Tudor period, all the way to Second World War. Henry VIII commissioned the tower to protect Fowey Harbour and later it became a gun battery and ammunition store in the 1940s. Who knows what its next use will be? The castle sits high on a rocky outcrop and makes for some great walking as it is just a short detour from the South West Coastal Path.
St Breock Downs Monolith
This huge slab of stone would have once stood at over five metres high and weighs over 16 tonnes. St Breock Downs Monolith is the largest of its kind in Cornwall and dates back to around 2500–1500 BC. As the name suggests, it stands right at the top of the St Breock Downs which is perfect for a day of hiking and stunning views.
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The town of Wadebridge is not too far down the road which has plenty of shopping, food outlets, and other amenities to turn this visit into a day trip. If you don't mind the driving, you can also visit Tintagel or Restormal Castle which are both ticketed English Heritage sites. They are incredibly beautiful and very atmospheric so well worth the cost of entry.
Our final three heritage sites could also be seen all in one day although its a bit far to walk so you may need to drive - or cycle if you fancy it! The first stop is Ballowell Barrow, a breath-taking cliff top spot which would be worth a visit even without the unique Bronze Age tomb it is home to.
What you can see and explore inside Ballowell Barrow is actually very different to how the space would have originally looked. The famous Cornish antiquarian William Copeland Borlase heavily altered the barrow after his excavations in the late 1800s. You can learn more about the changes and the structure of the barrow here.
Our next stop on the west Cornish coast is Carn Euny Acient Village. This is one of the best preserved ancient villages in the area and was occupied through the Bronze age and late into the Roman occupation. There are plenty of remains to explore and some of the walls rise up to a metre tall. It's a fantastic place to visualise how people lived 2000 years ago. The best part of a visit to Carn Euny is a walk through the fogou, a long underground passage that is unique to the far west of Cornwall. No one is sure why settlers built these tunnels but they make for an atmospheric visit unlike any other.
Our final English Heritage site in Cornwall is Tregiffian Burial Chamber just two miles outside St. Buryan. This is a blink and you'll miss it piece of history as the chamber is sunk well into the grass and the entrance faces away from the road. Tregiffian consists of a chamber nearly 16 feet long which is walled with thick stones accessed through an impressive entrance arch. Although remains and ashes have been excavated from the site, it is thought the chamber may have had other uses than just for burying the dead. You can learn more about its history here.