Just outside the village of Veryan, which is most famous for its round houses, there is a large mound in the middle of a field. It is known as Carne Beacon because it was at one time used as a signal point. But beneath the turf legend has it a king is buried.
King Gerennius, one of the kings of Cornwall, was born in 552AD. Gerrans Bay and the village of Gerrans are named after him. But other than that, like so many of Cornwall’s kings he is a ghost.
We do know that he was said to have lived in a palace close to Trewithen, across the bay from Veryan.
Dingerein Castle & the Mermaid’s Hole
Dingerein Castle, Gerennius’ palace actually exists to this day. The earthwork, which is now enclosed on two sides by roads, is crescent shaped. It lies about 4 miles west of Carne Beacon and measures a good 135m across. But tumbledown banks and mounds are all that is left of this ancient hillfort.
But this lost castle plays another role in the life of King Gerennius’ life. It was from here that the body of the dead king was taken to its final resting place. There is a story that a subterranean tunnel existed, leading from the castle to coast. Legend has it that the remains of the king were taken down this tunnel to a waiting boat. The tunnel is now known as the Mermaids Hole and was rediscovered in the 19th century by a farmer ploughing his field.
Cyrus Redding saw it in 1842:
‘It is large enough for a man to enter upright and runs about 50 yards in land. Where it contracts so that a person must proceed further on all fours. It is considered to be an old Sally-port.’
Resting Place of a King?
There is little doubt that Carne Beacon, also known as the Veryan Barrow, dates from the Bronze Age. Thousands of years, in fact, before King Gerennius died. But there is a twist to this tale.
According to tradition the dead king’s remains were sailed across Gerrans Bay in a golden boat with silver oars. King Gerennius was then buried beneath the mound lying in his precious ship, crown on his head, sword in his hand.
The antiquarian John Whittaker writes in his book The Ancient Cathedral of Cornwall that:
‘When Gerennius died he was brought from his castle of Dingerein and ferried with great pomp across Gerrans Bay in a barge plated with gold.’
The barrow measures around 40m in diameter and is roughly 5.5m high with a flat top. Large enough to hide a golden boat? Aerial photographs show that the mound is also surrounded by two concentric circles of ditches.
It was excavated in 1855. The dig revealed a central cist burial containing ash and charcoal. But no pottery or treasure of any kind.
There was however evidence of multiple remains inside the barrow. There may not be a golden boat but is it possible that the King of Cornwall, Gerennius really was laid to rest at Carne Beacon. His mortal remains buried alongside those of his ancient ancestors?