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Iron Age

NGR: SW 7132 2394
Entrance to Halliggye fogou
‘Fogou’ is a Cornish word meaning a cave, and Cornish fogous are prehistoric underground passages constructed by excavating a trench and lining its sides with either large stone blocks or drystone walling, and then roofing it over with large flat slabs. Halliggye is a good example of a large well preserved Cornish fogou.

There are twelve surviving fogous in Cornwall, but many more may have been ‘lost’ over the centuries and new examples are revealed from time to time. They were constructed from the 5th Century BC to the first two centuries AD, placing them in the late Iron Age and early Roman periods. Their function remains a mystery; the most plausible explanations see them as places for storage, or for refuge, or as the setting for religious or ritual activities.

Similar sites are also found in Brittany, Ireland and Scotland where they are known as souterrains, but their architecture, date range, and possibly also their function(s), differ from the Cornish sites. In Ireland, for example they may be constructed or continue in use into the mediæval period.

The majority of fogous are associated with contemporary settlements and Halliggye is no exception, being situated within the earthworks of an Iron Age farming hamlet or Round. The two concentric ramparts of the round survive best in their north-eastern quadrant and contain a broad curving ditch. The modern hamlet is largely confined within the area of the round and the fogou is situated in its north-west sector.

The modern entrance was constructed during repair work carried out in 1980; a modern flight of stone steps leads down into the original 20m long sloping passage orientated north-west to south-east which ends in a small ‘creep’ of reduced height, divided into two parts by a doorway framed by massive stone slabs. This section originally ended in a doorway, now blocked off, which opened into the ditch, and thus provided an alternative entrance/exit to the round. Towards the far end of this straight passage a long curving side passage runs westwards for 28m towards a short south facing creep which ends in bedrock. An ‘old’ entrance is visible in the south wall of this curving passage about halfway along its length. Both passages are over 2m high in places. Precise dating of the fogou is difficult, but the evidence from pottery found during the excavations, which included local Iron Age cordoned wares and some sherds of Samian ware from southern Gaul, suggest a continuity of use from the 4th Century BC to at least the 2nd Century AD.

The fogou and the round within which it sits lies on the western slopes of a hill with panoramic views over the Helford river and beyond - a landscape rich in settlements broadly contemporary with the Iron Age and Roman occupation at Halliggye. These include other round sites which share similar hillside locations, and the very large hillfort known as Gear Camp which is sited just 1km to the northeast.

The modern-day settlement and manor of Halliggye is first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 where it is spelt 'Heligin'. The name is Cornish and means 'Place of Willow Trees'. The Vyvyan family settled at Halliggye in 1427 and in 1861 Sir Richard Rawlinson Vyvyan published a comprehensive account for the Journal of the Royal Institute of Cornwall on restoration work carried out on the fogou.

During World War II the fogou was used as an ammunition store by the Manaccan Auxiliary Unit.

The fogou is also of special importance as a winter hibernation site for Horseshoe bats, a protected species. Access to the fogou is therefore only possible between April and September.

The site lies within the Trelowarren Estate and a small entrance fee is levied. Access is via a short walk from the main car park or from a lay-by which has been constructed on the estate road which runs to the north of the fogou.

Clarke, EV, 1961. Cornish Fogous.

Cooke, IM, 1993. Mother and Sun. Over Wallop, BAS Printers Ltd.

Johns, C, 2005. Halligye Fogou, Mawgan-in-Meneage, Cornwall. Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.

Startin, W, 1981. Halligey Fogou, Trelowarren in Cornish Archaeology 20, pp219-220.

How to get there


The site lies within the Trelowarren Estate and a small entrance fee is levied. Access is via a short walk from the main car park or from a lay-by which has been constructed on the estate road which runs to the north of the fogou.

Map link

Ground & Aerial photographs


Illustrations & Plans


Nearby sites

Chynalls Cliff Castle
Lankidden Cliff Castle
Trebarveth Salt Making Site
Tremenheere Stone
supported by HLF and compiled by the Historic Environment service of Cornwall Council  
last updated: 07/04/2009