The hedge towers above me, the moss is thick and bright green, lush ferns give the scene an ancient and almost topical feel. I am standing on Cornwall’s oldest ‘road’.
The Giant’s Hedge
This route once ran for 10 miles between Lerryn and Looe and was in use around 4000 years old.
The road cuts so deep down into the earth that I am standing on bedrock and that bedrock has a channel worn into it from hundreds of years of rainwater wearing its own path. The level of the field I have just crossed to get here is high above me, perhaps as much as 9 or ten feet, it is no wonder that these banks that mark the route’s way have become known as the Giant’s Hedge.
Discovery on Bodmin Moor
In 2013 the newspapers reported that Britain’s oldest pavement had been found in Cornwall. A cobbled track leading to the Hurler’s stone circle had been uncovered on Bodmin moor during an archeologically dig. The papers described it as ‘one of a kind’ and this sparked my imagination. Might there be similar routes out there? I dug out my maps and fired up the computer. I didn’t have to look far. The Giant’s Hedge is clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps. Parts of it, near Looe, are even incorporated into public foot paths. The section I visited however was completely cut off from the world. Sheep were my only companions.
Jack the Giant
The Giant’s Hedge was once thought to be some kind of boundary wall to protect the territory of a petty Cornish chief. There is also a local rhyme about a giant, (which in Cornwall is hardly a surprise, we like a giant down here).
“Jack the Giant had nothing to do, so he build a wall from Lerryn to Looe”
But despite the folklore it really isn’t the wall that is important. According to English Heritage the hedge simply follows the ancient track and as it passes beside a number of Bronze Age barrows archaeologists date it to that period. Over time parts of it have disappeared or been incorporated into later roads or field boundaries but the section I visited cuts clearly through the landscape for more than half a mile.
I will admit that perhaps there’s not much to see, this is no Stonehenge after all. However this road belongs to that time, around 2000 BC and I found it pretty impressive. Just imagining how many feet have passed by, wondering where they were going, what language they were speaking. It felt like a haunted place. Sometimes it is the smaller fragments of history that touch us more deeply or connect us more clearly to the past.
Much of the Giant’s Hedge passes through privately owned farm land, always ask permission if you want to visit. As I mentioned the section near Looe is easy to access. While I was trying to find the Giant’s Hedge on the backroads between Lerryn and Lanreath I happened to meet a farmer who has part of it running across his land, he gave me permission to cross his fields to see it. He also told me I am the first person ever to ask. (I replied that there is always one!)