Cairns and Barrows | Holy Bumps - Shining Land

Shining Land
The ancient sites of West Penwith, Cornwall
Palden Jenkins
Shining Land
and what they tell us about megalithic civilisation
Go to content

Cairns and Barrows | Holy Bumps

Cairns and barrows are the most common kind of ancient site in West Penwith and across Britain.

Apart from neolithic longbarrows that come from an earlier time, the cairns and barrows were built in the bronze age from 2500 BCE onwards, peaking around 2200-1800 and tailing off around 1500.
I have a feeling a few were built earlier in the 2000s, but there is no known physical evidence. Mounds have not been properly and comprehensively researched and dated.

Most barrows and cairns are solid, built of earth or earth and stones, sometimes with rocks or built into natural features.
Some are chambered cairns (there are lots on Scilly), and these are very different in purpose.
A typical Penwith cairn - overgrown and befurzed but still there
A typical Penwith cairn - overgrown and befurzed but still there. This one is near the Nine Maidens stone circle, part of its complex. The orange creeper is a longtime indigenous parasite that seems to coexist happily with surrounding plants
Mounds were built for a variety of purposes:
+ to act as prominent landmarks,
+ to mark places and territory,
+ to add features to the landscape (to occupy it and give it 'placeness'),
+ for geomantic purposes (plugged into energy-vortices and alignments),
+ as shrines, or for burial, or as repositories (containing cists, urns or deposits),
+ as platforms (backsights) for observing the rise and set of heavenly bodies,
+ and even perhaps as stages for spectacles (in the case of some platform barrows),
- and frequently they were multi-purpose.
Cairns on Chapel Carn Brea, as seen from Bartinney direction
One of the platform cairns at Botrea Barrows
Many cairns have been damaged by antiquarians, treasure hunters landowners or erosion. But many survive, dotted around, some in groups, with a few barrowfields (such as at Beacon Barrows).

Some barrows and cairns have energy-vortices under them, arising from underground water movements, and many are placed on alignments with other sites or at alignment intersections.
A cairn (on the right, with a modern trig point on it) on Watch Croft, as seen from downhill at Mên Scryfa. Middle, a menhir, placed to be seen from Mên Scryfa. Left, a natural crag, but energetic.
Leftovers of a kerbed cist cairn at Chy Praze, on the cliffs above Portheras Cove. Again, if someone was buried here, they would have been regarded as a special person. The Isles of Scilly can be seen from here - move away and they disappear from sight
A damaged chambered cairn, Carn Mȇn Ellas, at Mayon Cliff near Sennen. The chamber was likely used for initiatory and retreat purposes, or perhaps a revered person was buried there to bless the land. You'd have to be considered a very special person to be buried in this remarkable place, and in being buried here that soul would be rendering a special service, blessing the place and the world (since Mayon Cliff has a wide-open panorama). It's likely anyone buried here would be a great druid or priestess - judging by the location
Cairn on top of Sancreed Beacon. If you're looking for a burial place for a great chief, this is a likely one.
Carn Mȇn Ellas - it has a remarkable placing and is on a major alignment from Godolphin Hill to the Isles of Scilly. Behind in the distance is Kilgooth Ust or Cape Cornwall
Looking inside the cist in the cairn on the right at Botallack Common
Ruined cist cairn at Pordenack Point. Some cists contained relics or magical or geomantic items - not always bodies
Chambered cairns are different. Not for burial, they served mainly as repositories and retreat places (for initiations, oracular purposes, conception, dying), and there's a likely land-empowerment function to them too.

The atmosphere in the chamber can be intensely tranquil and yet charged up. These spaces were used shamanically and spiritually, as detailed in the book.
Looking out from a chambered cairn at Treen, just above Morvah. It's probable that the opening was blocked off, opened only at certain times. The objects, relics or deposits, or any person doing a retreat or a rite in the chamber would be in utter stillness and darkness, experiencing sensory deprivation and, if they were trained or in training, a consequent spiritual uplift. Below right is a picture of the same cairn from the outside
Cairn at Botallack Common, close to Tregeseal stone circle and part of its complex. It has a cist or chamber in it - see left. This cairn might be an early cairn from the late neolithic
Chambered cairn at Brane near Carn Euny, with bronze age punk hair-do
Treen chambered cairn from the outside. You can crawl inside. it's very still and quiet in there
Inside the chambered cairn at Brane, near Carn Euny
Inside the chambered cairn at Brane, near Carn Euny
The chambered cairn on the summit of Chapel Carn Brea. This is what I'd call a geomantic cairn - definitely put there for earth energy reasons, for the benefit of the whole landscape. Whether there were items stored there or whether people went there for training, retreat or to die, the primary purpose would still have been geomantic. Mayon Cliff cairn above is another classic geomantic cairn
The summit chambered cairn on Chapel Carn Brea
Bosiliack Barrow, an excavated and reconstructed chambered cairn. Quite a friendly cairn, just between Ding Dong mine and Lanyon Quoit. This cairn is aligned with the Nine Maidens, Lanyon Quoit, Boscawen-ûn and Treryn Dinas. It also lies exactly aligned between Mulfra Quoit and West Lanyon Quoit
The neolithic longbarrow on Chapel Carn Brea. This goes back to the mid-3000s BCE, older than most barrows by 1,000 or more years
Ballowall Barrow near St Just is unique, a multi-period cairn (late neolithic and bronze age) in a class of its own.

It has several chambers and cists and was altered and added to in stages over a few centuries.

It's in an inspiring location overlooking the ocean, with the Scillies visible 25 miles or 40km away over the sea.
Inside the chambered cairn at Ballowall
Inside the chambered cairn at Ballowall Barrow
Ballowall Barrow at Carn Gloose near St Just, a totally unique multi-period chambered cairn overlooking the ocean, and it would have been very visible from the ocean and from Mayon Cliff, southwards near Sennen
One of the Boscregan cairns. This clifftop cairn, visible from out to sea, had a cist inside it. Chapel Carn Brea is behind
Tregiffian cairn, a chambered cairn near the Merry Maidens - part covered by a road, once an ancient track passing the barrow
One of the Boscregan cairns, just down the coast from Ballowall. This is a propped stone inside a cairn setting - thoroughly unique and rather difficult to figure out. The Scillies are prominent from here. The group of dowsers and archaeologists behind are standing at the cist cairn above
Tregeseal chambered cairn, a little way west of Tregeseal stone circle
Cairn with cist at Pordenack Point. Altogether there are three cairns and one circular enclosure here - plus a dramatic clifftop headland with many simulacra nearby. Pordenack Point is a more significant site than often is reckoned
Bosiliack Barrow as seen from Lanyon Quoit about half a mile away (telephoto shot)
Chapel Carn Brea
Chapel Carn Brea, the last hill in Britain - it has a lot of cairns on and around it
To find these sites on a detailed online map, click here:  Map of the Ancient Sites of West Penwith
For more about mounds: Ancient Penwith | Cairns and Barrows   and there's even more in chapter ten in Shining Land.

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