Trelissick A-Z: Archaeology and Apples

Illustration of the letter A by Sonia Hensler

It’s time to begin a new feature on this ‘ere blog – drum roll, trumpet fanfare please – it’s the A-Z of the Trelissick countryside!

These alphabet themed articles will run alongside our regular updates and hopefully draw together the more disparate and anecdotal elements of countryside management in a short, sharp and thrilling format that will leave you gasping for breath and speculating with your friends at what the next exciting installment could possibly be.

So, without further ado, let’s get started with an assortment of A’s 

A… is for Archaeology

If you have taken a stroll – or maybe a faster paced jaunt on one of the Saturday morning ‘Parkruns’- through the woods to Tregew and Roundwood, you might well remember passing over a little wooden bridge. The creek that this bridge traverses is called Lamouth Creek and at its mouth is the picturesque Roundwood Quay – a solid and sizeable quay built in the late 18th century to facilitate the exporting of copper ore (brought via packhorse and most likely originating from the Gwennap Parish) and the import of coal to power the mine engines. Roundwood Quay’s significance as a mining port was brought to a halt by the building of the Redruth and Chacewater Railway to Devoran and Point but it still continued to be a centre of industry on the river. A lime kiln and malthouse existed on the Quay in the 1840’s and during the latter half of the 19th century; it was a significant base for shipbuilding.

An aerial photo of the Roundwood promontory, clearly showing the quay with the woodlands above. To the right (from this point of view) is Cowlands Creek whilst, to the left, is Lamouth Creek
Aerial photo of Roundwood Quay and Fort on the Fal River, Cornwall
An aerial photo of the Roundwood promontory, clearly showing the quay with the woodlands above. To the right (from this point of view) is Cowlands Creek whilst, to the left, is Lamouth Creek

In the oak woodlands above the quay are the remnants of a much earlier site – an Iron Age fort consisting of two substantial banks and ditches with an oval earthwork inside of these. Known as Roundwood Fort, this area is classified as a ‘promontory fort’ because of its situation between two creeks, and is one of only a handful of its kind in Europe. Local historians believe it to have once been a bustling centre of activity, dating as far back as the Iron Age (around 350BC). Comparable to a cliff castle in the way it uses coastal topography for defense, Roundwood is believed to have been the stronghold of the local warrior-aristocracy and a centre of tribal power. The coastal location of the fort has given rise to the belief that it also functioned as a trading hub, with feasibly metal, hides, hunting dogs and slaves being exchanged for luxuries (such as wine) from the continent.

Further settlement at Tregew

In recent years, we’ve hosted archaeological field walks to collect evidence of another Iron-Age hillfort at Tregew. These walks have unearthed many fantastic finds that span several thousand years of Cornish history, including Neolithic flint tools, a fantastic ‘muller’ stone (used for grinding corn), some Romano-British pottery and a wide range of medieval items. 

These finds, combined with other topographical evidence, provide evidence of habitation at Tregew. It is also a strong indication that this was a hillfort contemporary with Roundwood, although seemingly with a different purpose (being in such a defensible position) We intend to carry out further surveys over the coming years to define the extent of the settlement and this work could lead to the scheduling of the site, giving Tregew the same level of legal protection as the Scheduled Ancient Monument at Roundwood.

Woodland management and archaeology

In recent years, the Trelissick ranger team has been managing the woodland in and around the fort with the aim of preserving this fascinating archaeology for generations to come. This management revolves around the restoration of the existing woodland to a pre-existent and characteristically Cornish assembly of sessile oaks with an understory of heather.

The composition of the woodland first deviated from this regional form in the early 1800’s when Ralph Daniell, who had purchased the Trelissick Estate (including Roundwood and Tregew) from the Lawrance Family in 1805, decided to plant beech trees (native to the South-East of England) throughout this area. These trees have now reached maturity and pose a very real threat to the archaeology within the fort – beeches usually have a significant sail area and wide shallow roots that, if they were to blow over in high winds (as several have) they would take a great deal of history with them! The dense, shade-casting canopy of a beech also inhibits all but the most determined rays of sunshine from reaching the woodland floor and so offers considerably less opportunities for woodland wildflowers and pollinating insects when compared to the ‘open canopy’ woodland afforded by our native oaks.

Our woodland restoration work at Roundwood has increased light levels and allowed wildflowers such as the wood anemone and native bluebells to thrive
Bluebells in the woodland at Roundwood in Trelissick, Cornwall
Our woodland restoration work at Roundwood has increased light levels and allowed wildflowers such as the wood anemone and native bluebells to thrive

The level of protection at Roundwood has had a strong bearing on our management of the site. We try to have as little impact on the monument as possible and so, when carrying out our woodland work, we have used heavy horses to extract timber.  Bracken must also be controlled because its roots have a detrimental effect on the underlying archaeology and rolling it flat allows our visitors to see the extent of the fort. 

This year, the bracken roller was pulled by a Dales Pony; a small, working pony that is listed on the Rare Breed Survival Trust critical list (meaning there are fewer than 300 left).  The Dales has strong legs, powerful loins and excellent stamina, making them ideal for this kind of work. The breed evolved in the Pennine Dales of North Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland and, until the mid-twentieth century, were the main source of power on Pennine farms.

The Dales Pony pulling the bracken roller. Using heavy machinery would damage the archaeological site.
A heavy horse is used to roll bracken at Roundwood Fort, Trelissick, Cornwall
The Dales Pony pulling the bracken roller. Using heavy machinery would damage the archaeological site.

For more information on the historical management of our woodland please take a look at our earlier article on the subject: Woodland management at Trelissick

Note: The above section is informed by and borrows greatly from the Fal Estuary Historic Audit produced by Cornwall Archaeological Unit.
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A….is for Apples/Apple Day

Apples from our mature orchard at Trelissick being loaded up before we take them to a local company for juice pressing
Apples that have been harvested from the mature orchard at Trelissick, Cornwall
Apples from our mature orchard at Trelissick being loaded up before we take them to a local company for juice pressing

Apple Day was first launched on the 21st October, 1990 by an organization called Common Ground. It was held in the old Apple Market in London’s Covent Garden, bringing fruit back to the market’s stalls after an absence of 16 years. The motive behind the event was to create a date on the autumn calendar that would both celebrate and demonstrate the diversity we are in imminent danger of losing, not only in apples and other foods, but in the richness of landscape, ecology and culture.

Apple Day has since gone from strength to strength and become a permanent fixture on the calendars of local villages, gardens and markets with over 600 individual events taking place across Britain. Since that first event, the day has played an enormous part in raising awareness of the importance of orchards for wildlife, public awareness of provenance and traceability of food and nurturing pride and respect for local tradition and distinctiveness. Apple Day has also been instrumental in developing the nation’s resurgent network of farmer’s markets and helping large numbers of people to re-discover the fundamental connection between food and land, between the resources we use and the resultant consequences for nature.

The first Apple Day at London’s Covent Garden Market
The first Apple Day at London’s Covent Garden Market
The first Apple Day at London’s Covent Garden Market

Of course, many of you will know that we have joined in and supported this wonderful tradition for a long time at Trelissick, holding our own Apple Weekend each and every year in the garden's Cornish orchard. This year it will be taking place over three days, Friday 5 to Sunday 7 October. Several years ago we decided to go even further and, in the spirit of local distinctiveness, develop an area of Tregew (near Roundwood, on the Trelissick Estate) into a Kea plum and Cornish apple orchard. Our intention, as the orchard becomes larger and more mature, is for this to become a community project with school groups, events and wildlife walks taking place and a regular group of volunteers meeting to look after the trees, help with picking and learn new skills.

Apple tree illustration by Sonia Hensler

Tregew Community Orchard

Catch up with the latest news from the Tregew Community Orchard and join us for our events. Follow the link to be taken to our Facebook page.

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Many thanks for reading and keep an eye out for the batch of B’s coming soon!

The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford