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March 2005 - Castle Dore

A Foray to Fowey

You could drive past Castle Dore, near ancient Golant, without so much as a glance. Doubtless, thousands do so every day.

Even when you've travelled many miles to pay it a visit, from the road it looks little more than the aftermath of someone's busy afternoon with a JCB, sometime during the last century.

Yet here, lying dormant amongst the quiet greenery of the South Cornwall coast, is a wonderful example of a site that has seen a great many layers of life over the past few thousand years. Despite its currently comatose state, Castle Dore was once a wild and dangerous frontier outpost. It held a section of the eastern border of Lyonesse, which stretched, at its peak, from the Isles of Scilly to the Fowey River - the Kingdom of King Mark (father - or maybe uncle - of Tristan, the romantic knight). Even today, the panorama from the earthworks - to the river in the east and over the roadside hedges to the industrial estates of distant St Austell in the west - marks out this place as a site of great strategic significance.

On yet another sunny, if somewhat blowy, Sunday, sixteen of us turned up to try our hand at uncovering the unseen history of this understated hill-fort. Alan Neal made a welcome guest appearance, but everyone seemed keen to get stuck in - like a Time Team event without the trowels.

Although Castle Dore is best known for its connection with the legend of Tristan and Isuelt, the TDs found evidence of intermittent occupation from the Neolithic, through the Bronze Age to the Iron Age - from which time the denuded embankment dates. The site was then reoccupied for a period during the 6th Century and finally formed the backdrop for a bloody episode of the English Civil War.

We found the energetic remains of huts and wells from the earlier periods, the foundations of the 6th Century buildings, together with the well from that period - and a few personal remnants of the Civil War conflict, which seemed to have occurred outside the enclosed site.

Gordon discovered the traces of buildings of some of the Iron Age craftsmen and community leaders - including their place of worship, their herb garden and their burial ground.

Alan and Peter mapped out the later buildings with pegs to give an impression of the scale of the settlement at that time. We followed the walls and revealed the entrances, hearths and windows.

Larry worked hard on the Bronze Age community, finding their huts and their well. However, when he switched his attention to the 17th Century, he received a call on his mobile from Jen, still at work in Truro, to advise him that he was standing next to the spirits of three soldiers from the Civil War! But the timeless auric remenances seemed content enough with their lot, so we let them be.

There were at least two Ley Lines present, indicating that the site had also been a place of some importance during the time that these were set.

Just when the wind was starting to wear us down and we were beginning to think about taking refuge in our respective vehicles, Alan decided to have a look for energy from the Neolithic period. We found evidence of two elongated structures - which dowsed not to be barrows or buildings, nor were they pens or folds. They appeared to have some connection with burials, but this was no Stone Age cemetery. An enigma.

As people headed off for the sanctuary of tea and teacakes, a few of us decided to finish the day by visiting the Tristan Stone - now standing incongruously alongside the main road, just outside of Fowey, swathed in a wreath of municipal daffodils.

Having been moved twice - once from near Castle Dore itself, and more recently from a nearby crossroads to make way for a mini-roundabout - it was not too surprising to find that the stone itself did not mark any apparent energy features. It is, however, still an impressive Menhir, with its Celtic inscription 'Here lies Tristan . . .' and its embossed Christian cross.

We should have been able to find out where it stood originally - but then, we needed to leave something for another visit.

Many thanks to Annie for the words and map, to Alan for guiding proceedings and to whoever in the group picked this place!

Nigel Twinn

Tamar Dowsers

March 2005


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