Field Trip

Imagine Being Here Now Tour

There are so many layers to a place – cultural, geological, and archaeological – that it is difficult to recognise them all at any one time. Yet they are, whether we are aware of them or not, what make up the places we inhabit. This tour was conceived by FIELDCLUB, and led by geologist Dr Robin Shail, folklorist Steve Patterson, and FIELDCLUB’s Kenna Hernly. It was an attempt to show the participants of the workshop the relationship between human culture and geology in the unique region of the Lizard by offering the contrasting views of a geologist and a folklorist, with Kenna adding local historical facts and anecdotes. As the opening day of The Cornwall Workshop, it was also intended to orientate people to their location, and to help them get to know each other.

The group travelled over a relatively small geographical area to places of geological, historical, and folkloric significance. The tour started at Kestle Barton and went to Manaccan, Nare Point and Porthallow, finishing with a walk from Dean Quarry to Coverack.

The group kicked off the day at Kestle Barton with an early Sunday morning PowerPoint presentation on the geology of the Lizard by Dr Robin Shail, Senior Lecturer at Camborne School of Mines. The Lizard is an ancient part of the ocean crust that millions of years ago was thrust onto the continental plate of what is now Europe. Kestle Barton itself is in the Meneage, which is not part of the true geological area of the Lizard, but is the area that is the Northern boundary and forms part of the primarily sedimentary layer that lies beneath the Lizard.

With thoughts of old continents and the complexities of plate tectonics in our heads, we began the walk from Kestle Barton to Manaccan, starting with a cool morning stroll through a 300-year-old Sessile oak forest on a medieval laneway that once connected the three main settlements in the area – Kestle, Manaccan and Helford. The areas along the Helford River are very sheltered and have been settled since the Mesolithic Stone Age (7,000 – 4,000 BC).

In Manaccan we visited the village church. Originally Norman, the church was part of a large and important religious settlement in the medieval period. After all, the Meneage means land of monks. The church has a fig tree growing out of the wall; according to folklorist Steve Patterson, legend has it that, if the tree is chopped down, it will bring bad luck to the village.

We arrived just before the service, and were able to witness the bell-ringers at work.

Before we climbed into our minibus, Robin Shail told us about an element that was discovered in the millstream near Manaccan by William Gregor in 1791. Then known as Menaccanite, it is now known as Titanium. It is particularly valuable because it is corrosion resistant and can be integrated into bone, therefore having great medical potential.

Next we took the bus to Nare Point, located across the bay from Falmouth at the mouth of the Helford River. Here, Steve Patterson revealed the rich 3,000-year-old history of the Helford, telling tales of piracy and horrendous shipwrecks, and of Morgawr, the local sea monster.

Kenna told the group about the military history in the area. Visible from Nare Point, the nearby St Dennis Head was the site of one of the Iron Age fortresses that used to protect the important tin trade route along the Helford River. St Dennis Head was also the last Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and was refortified against the threat of the Spanish Armada and the Napoleonic Wars. Nare Point itself was used as a decoy site for Falmouth during World War II. To confuse the German Luftwaffe, Ealing Studios built a set that looked like Falmouth Docks at night.  It was automated and simulated the docks and the railways system. The set was mainly constructed from lights, plywood and sand bags, but was apparently convincing enough that the Germans bombed it in 1944. Today, Nare Point is the location of a volunteer coastguard station.

Robin Shail showed us important geological layers on Lestowder beach near Nare Point, evidence of the Lizard’s unique origins.

The group helped the bus leave Nare Point and head to Porthallow for lunch.

After lunch, the group explored Porthallow beach for evidence of rocks from the Earth’s mantle. Porthallow and Mullion mark the join of the geological Lizard and England.

After a short bus ride from Porthallow, Robin Shail explained quarrying techniques at Dean Quarry, where, until 2005, gabbro was extracted. Gabbro makes excellent road chippings for asphalt, and the quarry produced a lot of the stone that was used to build the Channel Tunnel. Robin told us of the importance of mining in Cornish history, and its influence on the society. Due to its mineral riches the Lizard was even on ancient Greek maps, and has been the site of cultural exchange throughout the centuries. Gabbroic clay was mined in the area between 3000 BC and 400 AD. Pottery from this area has been found all over the UK, and even in Brittany.

After investigating Dean Quarry, the group headed towards Coverack, across Lowland Point. The area along this path is a remarkably complex archaeological landscape with scattered artefacts, settlements and field systems ranging in date from the Mesolithic to the early medieval period. This area was among the first cultivated areas on the Lizard during the Bronze Age (2,500 – 700 BC).

Robin Shail shows the group loess, which is sediment formed by windblown silt that was deposited during the Pleistocene era, and forms much of the land at Lowland Point.

Steve told the group tales of shipwrecks on the treacherous Manacles, and identified a possible Cairn. Kenna pointed out a visible network of ancient field systems.

Kenna told the group about this Romano-British salt works dating to around the second century AD. Pottery shards can be found embedded in the cliff below, mostly fragments of the Gabbroic clay vessels used to recover the sea salt. The salt works is just one part of the vast prehistoric and medieval landscape that exists in this area.

Tired, after a long walk, the group reaches Coverack.

Robin draws a quick diagram to explain the geological significance of Coverack beach. Here we can see the Mohorovcic Discontinuity, known as the Moho. This beach was once the boundary between the rocks of the Earth’s crust and those of the lower molten mantle.

Robin Shail, Kenna Hernly and Steve Patterson close the day’s trip whilst standing on what was once the Earth’s mantle.

The group enjoys a much needed drink.

—Kenna Hernly