The Buttern Hill Bronze Age Cemetery and Cist

Buttern Hill Cist, Bodmin Moor

I recently visited what I consider to be one of the most enigmatic places on Bodmin Moor. So special that I actually considered not sharing it with you! Every once in a while there are locations in Cornwall you just want to selfishly keep to yourself. For me Buttern Hill is one of those.

Buttern Hill is on the northern fringes of Bodmin Moor. This area of the moor is often considered bleak and inhospitable and indeed there are no villages for miles and very few houses close by. However for me that is part of the attraction.

The top of the Buttern Hill is relatively rock free, smooth in comparison to many of the other significant tors on Bodmin Moor. At first it seems there isn’t much to see. But this is a very special place. It is the site of an ancient Bronze Age cemetery and home to one of the most beautiful and best preserved cists in the whole county. (I believe.)

A cist is an ancient stone coffin or burial chamber and the one on Buttern Hill is the finest and largest I’ve seen.

Five cairns of various sizes and shapes are visible along the ridge of the hill. English Heritage describes them as 2 simple cairns, 1 ring, 1 platform and 1 kerbed. Between these more obvious burial sites there are also the remains of numerous ‘flat’ graves beneath the turf.

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On Bodmin Moor I have read that the cairns usually date from between 2162 and 1746 BC making this site between 3000 and 4000 years old. The diversity of the types of burial cairns here also suggests that Buttern Hill was an important site for the people who used it for many years, probably for many generations.

The largest cairn with it’s cist or burial chamber is strikingly well perserved and wonderfully situated. Like most large cairns it sits on the crest of the hill with panoramic views.

It is a kerbed cairn with a low bank of about 10m around, this has inner and outer kerb stones which surround the burial chamber. All four walls are intact and the cist is about 1.5m long and about 1m wide with a solid granite base.The large capstone is there too but has slid or been pushed off at some point in the past.

The Buttern Hill cemetery was excavated by archaeologist Arthur Langdon in 1907. He was the first to properly record the cairns. His most significant find was a large stone hammer inside the cist. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate a copy of his report yet, which I am sure would be an interesting read.

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Besides the cemetery there is also a stone row on the summit of the hill and this really is the perfect place for anyone fond of wild scenery. From here you can see Davidstow moor, Leskernick hill, Catshole tor and Bray Down as well as Rough Tor and Brown Willy.

Typically beautiful open views, the kind of scenery that I have come to love so much on the moors.

“For many miles the waist stretches forth it’s tinted hills in one expanded scene of serenity.” Murray, 1859

From here the walking options are endless but drop down into the valley from the cemetery to the marshy ground and you will find a rising spring, the source of the River Fowey. It’s a little known fact that Bodmin Moor was once known as Foweymoor as a consequence.

One final note, if you visit this beautiful place please bear in mind that it is a graveyard, the final resting place of an unknown number of souls and so please respect it accordingly.

But most of all take joy in the beauty of this wonderful place!

Getting there

It is easiest to park at the ford near Boswithick and walk up from there. There is a track to follow some of the way. Be aware of ponies and grazing animals.

Further Reading:

The Source of the River Fowey

Harpur’s Downs Hut Circles – Bronze Age Settlements on Bodmin Moor

Kerbed Cairn on Alex Tor, Bodmin Moor

Our Defenceless Monuments: The Threat to Cornwall’s Heritage

Walking Opportunities:

Bowithick to Buttern Hill

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4 thoughts on “The Buttern Hill Bronze Age Cemetery and Cist

  1. I must have cycled past that turning for Boswithick off the Davidstow – Altarnun road many times and do not remember, or likely just not mentally registered, seeing it there before. Thanks for the guide Elizabeth, we’ll look it out soon as it’s on the doorstep… (Google reports just under 7 miles) 🙂

  2. We stumbled upon this beatific location last evening whilst testing the 4×4 looking for a scenic photo, this place kept us hooked and intrigued for hours! Absolutely amazing x

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