Driving west on the A30, heading into the depths of furthest Cornwall, as you approach Reduth, Carn Brea looms to the south of the road, a huge impenetrable mound, dominating the landscape.
And despite spending years stealing glimpses of it as we whizzed backwards and forwards, and even eating at the (slightly bizarre) restaurant in a castle that sits on it’s eastern flank, we’d never actually been up it. So a few weeks ago, on a beautifully clear, sunny day we shunned the miles of famous Cornish coastline in favour of a stomp up Carn Brea.
The best way to approach is via the castle, where there’s a small car park and well trodden paths direct to the top. We however, (inadvertently) approached from the west side, which is more of a climb via thin paths cut into deep gorse and heather.
As you get to the top you can understand why the place would have been such an important site. The vantage point is immense, with uninterrupted views west to Hayle and St. Ives, north to the coast, and east to the Cornish Alps of St. Austell.
It wasn’t just the strategic position that made Carn Brea a favourable location though. Whilst Redruth is most famed for the wealth it amassed during the 18th Century Cornish mining boom, Iron Age man was here doing it first. And human settlement on the site dates back even further, to about 3700 BC and the Neolithic era.
Today it’s a natural beacon in amongst the rambling landscapes of Redruth and Pool, all business parks, old industrial landscape and suburban sprawl. Huge granite stones push up out of the ground, or sit one on top of the other as though delicately placed there by some huge hand. At the very top of the mound is Basset Monument – a 90 ft high Celtic cross made from granite block – and just to it’s side the Cup and Saucer Rock, a boulder with unusual dimple formations on it’s face, which some suggest was used for human sacrifice.