Cliff Sanctuaries | Liminal Headlands - Shining Land

Shining Land
The ancient sites of West Penwith, Cornwall
Palden Jenkins
Shining Land
Site nearly complete - organically growing
and what they tell us about megalithic civilisation
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Cliff Sanctuaries | Liminal Headlands

Picture Tour
Cliff sanctuaries (cliff castles) are not normally thought of as major ancient sites.

Shining Land proposes otherwise, suggesting that the whole array of ancient sites in West Penwith is mapped out on a geomantic system based upon the cliff sanctuaries. The book shows how these sites, normally dated to the iron age, actually go at least 3,000 years further back to the neolithic era.

Besides, they're remarkable places, suffused with a power, atmosphere and mystique that is well worth experiencing.
Carn Les Boel, a cliff sanctuary near Land's End
Carn Lês Boel, a cliff sanctuary near Land's End
Map of the cliff sanctuaries of West Penwith
Map of the cliff sanctuaries of West Penwith
Treryn Dinas
Treryn Dinas
Cliff sanctuaries are roughly evenly spread around the Penwith coast. Usually they are prominent headlands like Pendeen Watch or Cape Cornwall, but some less prominent ones were consecrated in the neolithic because of their geomantic relationship with other sites - such as Maen Castle.

Archaeologists date cliff sanctuaries to the iron age because of 'defensive ramparts' built at the neck of these headlands, which they see as defensive sites. But many are not defensible. They were places of power, for gatherings, rites, retreats and a variety of purposes.

These are not the only variant - I call them 'type one' cliff sanctuaries. Meanwhile, 'type two' have a high platform suitable for people and gatherings, with an outcropping carn below - a power point jutting into the sea. Examples are found at Tol Pedn Penwith (with Hella Point), Kemyel Point (with Carn Du) and Cudden Point.

It's arguable there's a 'type three' too. I first saw this at Predannack Head on the Lizard, but in Penwith I'd suggest Pordenack Point, site of a bronze age circular enclosure, and perhaps Cape Cornwall. They are distinguished by their power and presence.

Cornwall has around 40 cliff sanctuaries. Major bronze age sites are aligned with them and with neolithic tors (see alignments map lower down). They determined the shape of the whole megalithic system of Penwith.

In Shining Land cliff sanctuaries get an upgrade. They are major sites. Without seeing their importance, Penwith as one big ancient site, one big cliff sanctuary, cannot be seen.
Cudden Point in Mount's Bay - a good example of a type two cliff sanctuary
Kilgooth Ust or Cape Cornwall, as seen from the Boscregan cairns
Bosigran Castle on the north coast, just below Carn Galva
Gurnard's Head ('the desolate one')
St Ives Head, or 'The Island'
Kilgooth Ust or Cape Cornwall, as seen from the Nancherrow valley
This is Maen Castle - it has iron age remains. It's a nice headland but is not the most prominent in the area. So why is is a cliff sanctuary? Because it lies on an alignment between St Michael's Mount and Samson Hill on Bryher, with Boscawen-ûn and eight other sites on it. Thus Maen Castle was chosen on the strength of its alignments, not its prominence as a headland. Nearby Mayon Cliff is more prominent, though it is not a cliff sanctuary.
Kilgooth Ust or Cape Cornwall, with the Brisons Rocks offshore
Maen Castle, just south of Sennen
Hella Point at Tol Pedn Penwith, a type two cliff sanctuary
Pendeen Watch
Cape Kenidjack
Pendeen Watch as seen from Carn Eanes
Gurnard's Head
Carn Lês Boel - behind it Carn Barra and Carn Guthensbras. The gash in the side of Carn Lês Boel is a collapsed cavern - there are seal caves under the carn. It is thought that, in neolithic and bronze age times at least, this cavern was intact and it collapsed sometime in the iron age or medieval period
Map of alignments between cliff sanctuaries in West Penwith
If you look closely at this map you'll see how many of the major ancient sites of West Penwith are located in relationship to the cliff sanctuaries and neolithic tors.

Look at Boscawen-ûn stone circle, Botrea Barrows and Lanyon Quoit. There's something quite remarkable about their centrality.

Take Boscawen-ûn, which is placed exactly between the SW and NE corners of Penwith, between Tol Pedn and St Ives Head; between Cape Cornwall and Kemyel Point (a midwinter sunrise alignment); and between St Michael's Mount and Maen Castle. Boscawen-ûn was placed there for distinctly intentional, geomantic reasons.

Look closely, and many of the stone circles and various other sites are placed in alignment with cliff sanctuaries and neolithic tors.

Some are natural alignments: check out Cape Cornwall, Trencrom Hill and St Ives Head, and the near right-angled triangle linking St Michael's Mount, Cape Cornwall and St Ives Head. Pure chance. Chance is the only way it can be, isn't it?
Carn Du, off Kemyel Point, Lamorna
Tol Pedn Penwith, a type two cliff sanctuary
Pordenack Point, a possible type three cliff sanctuary
Treryn Dinas
To find these sites on a detailed online map, click here:  Map of the Ancient Sites of West Penwith
It's well worth visiting the cliff sanctuaries - they're special places, each with their own atmosphere. Choose a nice day and take a picnic. They're special not only because they are impressive headlands with wide seascapes but also because they were much-valued assets in former millennia, and you can feel it. Get a sense of the people who visited and occupied them, what they did and what their lives were like. The cliff sanctuaries 'held' West Penwith, acting as the basis (with neolithic tors) of the whole megalithic system in this rather super-charged peninsula.

For more about cliff sanctuaries: Ancient Penwith | Cliff Sanctuaries, and even more in chapter seven of Shining Land.

Shining Land
A book by Palden Jenkins about the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall
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