Dramatically situated on the cliffs close to Cape Cornwall, Ballowal Barrow is a unique monument. This ancient tomb was once the final resting place for Bronze Age man. And is actually part of a complex of burial cairns and cists in use from the Late Neolithic, around 5000 years ago. The monument would have been built by the local community to house their ancestor’s remains. It was undoubtedly a place of great significance to them.
A Little History
The barrow is also known as Carn Gluze or Carn Gloose. It is made up of two intricately constructed concentric stone walls. These walls enclose five stone lined chambers, known as cists, with at least two cremations sites inside. Excavations have uncovered Bronze Age urns, pottery and burnt bone.
The passage of time, and later human intervention, mean that the site once looked very different. This whole area has been badly scarred by mining activities. The barrow was in fact originally covered in a cairn of stones roughly 65 feet in diameter and over 15 feet high. It would have been a striking landmark, visible for miles around on land as well as out at sea.
Around 1878 there was a rather over-enthusiastic excavation and restoration here organised by local man, William Copeland Borlase. Despite the work that was done then not being ideal by today’s standards it could be argued that it actually saved the site, which was fast disappearing under a pile of waste mining material.
This wouldn’t be Cornwall if there wasn’t an odd story or two associated with a monument of this age but at first I struggled to find anything. Then, in his book Romance of the Stones, Robin Payne writes of a folktale about the barrow. According to local miners unexplained lights can sometimes be seen coming from the mound at night. These strange lights have also been reported at Carn Kenidjack and in recent times at Chun Quoit both nearby. Payne suggests that there might be some natural phenomena occurring that could explain these sightings.
Whatever the case this is a magnificent site that is well worth seeking out. A place that surprises me every time I visit. Partly because of its stunning setting and partly due to its unusual complexity. Despite the interference of grave robbers, mining works and perhaps intrusive archaeology this place retains a mysterious vibe all of its own. I felt very much like I was trespassing somewhere very special.
If you enjoyed this post try: The Dry Tree Menhir – the Goonhilly Downs standing stone