Roughtor

Roughtor

Roughtor
St Breward
North Cornwall
NGR: SX 14720 80870

Roughtor is sited on the north-western edge of the granite massif of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall 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 Helman Tor 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.

Sources

Johnson, R. and Rose, P, 1994. Bodmin Moor: An Archaeological Survey. Vol.1: The human landscape to c1800. English Heritage. ISBN 0953 3796.

Preston-Jones, A. 1994. An Archaeological Assessment of Roughtor, Bodmin Moor. Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.