NGR: SX 14720 80870
Roughtor is sited on the north-western edge of the granite massif of
Bodmin Moor amidst a wild stony landscape of moorland, bog and rough
pasture. The twin summits of Roughtor and Little Roughtor crown a
prominent ridge commanding extensive views across the surrounding
countryside and northwards to the coast.
The summit of Roughtor is encircled by a series of rough stone walls
which link natural outcrops to form a tor enclosure, a site type
first recognised during the excavations at
Carn Brea and
in the 1970s. The function of such large scale ‘engineering
projects’ is unclear - they may have been constructed simply as
defences for a settlement, possibly occupied only seasonally, or
they may have provided a suitable arena for a range of ‘social’
functions such as tribal gatherings, fairs and markets;
alternatively, their imposing profile might have been the means to
demonstrate status and power, and they may also have been the focus
for religious observation and ritual activities. The excavated
examples have all been dated to the early Neolithic period (c
3500-4000 BC). The walls, which would originally have completely
encircled the tor, are now very scattered and can be difficult to
recognise; in some places however they are well preserved and in two
places sections survive as multiple stretches of four ramparts. The
walls are punctuated by numerous narrow stone-lined entrances; on
the north-western side there are at least two entranceways and along
the south-eastern side there are five.
In the interior of the enclosure, clustered around the main
entrances of both northern and southern ramparts, are a small number
of roughly circular terraces levelled into the slopes. These are
interpreted as the stances for circular houses – presumably
constructed with wooden walls as there are no traces of the stony
‘hut circles’ which are so common on the lower slopes of the tor and
in the in the surrounding moorland. Patches of cleared ground
associated with these areas may indicate cultivated ‘garden plots’.
Stony mounds or cairns have been constructed between the ramparts
near the main entrances, and both of the tor summits have been
‘emphasised’ by the creation of cairns, though these are larger than
those in the entrances and have a defining stone kerb or bank. Large
numbers of small cairns are found among the fields and pastures in
the surrounding moorland, and cairn building is usually considered
to be a Bronze Age activity associated with funerary practices.
Whilst Roughtor certainly sits within a rich domestic and ritual
landscape of Bronze Age date, there is evidence of other Neolithic
activity nearby in the long cairn at Louden Hill. It is possible
that Roughtor represents a transitional form of monument, or
alternatively, an earlier monument that has been modified over time
by progressive use and changing ideologies.
On the summit are the foundations of a mediæval chapel built into
the side of one of the larger cairns. The chapel, dedicated to St
Michael, was first recorded in the 14th century and is the only
known mediæval hilltop chapel on Bodmin Moor. It overlooks an
ancient trackway across the moors and had possibly been intended as
a guide for travellers. A beacon was probably maintained by a hermit
living either in the chapel itself or in a building just below the
summit, the remains of which can also be seen. Recently it has been
noted that a simple cross has been incised into the flat top of the
outcrop immediately to the south-east of the chapel, date unknown.
Johnson, R. and Rose, P, 1994. Bodmin Moor: An Archaeological Survey.
Vol.1: The human landscape to c1800. English Heritage. ISBN 0953
Preston-Jones, A. 1994.
An Archaeological Assessment of Roughtor,
Bodmin Moor. Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County
Ground & Aerial photographs