Mysterious and unique to Cornwall, fogous have had archaeologists scratching their heads for hundreds of years and they are no closer to solving the mystery. These underground passages are only found the far west of Cornwall, usually close to an ancient settlement. Their name, pronounced foo-goo, means cave in Cornish but they are also known as fuggy holes, vugs or vows.
The fuggy hole found close to the Trelowarren Estate on the Lizard Peninsula is the largest and best preserved of its kind. Halliggye fogou is thought to date from the Iron Age, around 2400 year ago, and was once part of a farming settlement occupied by several families for roughly 700 years. That is perhaps as many as 25 generations on just one piece of ground – working, worshipping, living and dying together.
I have visited several fogous in Cornwall and have always found them fascinating structures. There is something otherworldly about them, something unnerving about stepping down into the damp and dark of the earth.
As you go deeper inside Halliggye the passage grows narrower and lower. Sound appears deadened and the temperature drops noticeably, the world outside recedes.
I am afraid the lack of light makes them distinctly unphotogenic too, so apologies for the quality of the images!
The passages at Halliggye are T shaped. One longer curving tunnel leading off from the side of another, the first reaching some 20m into the belly of the earth. They are lined with dry stone walls and are cold, damp and as dark as a grave.
What our ancestors actually used fogous for remains a complete mystery. There are several theories however. It is possible that they were used as places of safety to escape attack (although it wouldn’t be healthy to spend any length of time hiding in one). Some suggest that they were used for storage because they remain cool even on the hottest days. And the final consideration is that they were used for a ritual purpose.
I have heard it said that the entrance of some fogous aligns with the setting or rising of a solstice sun or that stepping inside these subterranean passages is akin to returning to the womb.
Perhaps their function and importance more than 2000 years ago will never be completely understood but they are another connection to our past that deserves exploration. So why not visit yourself and see if you get a feeling for what the answer may be.
Halliggye fogou is cared for by English Heritage and is free to visit from May to September. There is a torch provided near the entrance but the batteries are often tired so my advice is to bring your own.
If you are looking for others to visit by far my most favourite fogou of all is Carn Euny but you can also visit Boleigh, Pendeen Vau, Trewardreva, also known as the Pixie Hall at Constantine.
There are other ‘lost’ fogous at Chysauster, Boden Vean near Manaccan, Lower Boscaswell and Pendeen at Castallack. I understand that another was found at Penhale Round during recent work on the A30 but was destroyed.
For other similar places to visit try: Boscawen un – When is a Stone Circle not a stone circle? or Tregiffian Barrow & the Cup-marked Stone