exhibition of photo-works
west penwith, the westernmost peninsula of mainland britain, is virtually an island, surrounded by the sea on three sides, with the indented hayle estuary and the lowlands of the river hayle and red river and marazion marsh to the east, where the distance from coast to coast is only 6km. the island character of the peninsula is readily appreciated standing on the summuits of many of the rugged hills, particularly in the north. roughly 20km long from west to east and 8-12 km wide, west penwith is one of the few places in britain from which the sun can be seen to have a watery death and birth at important points in the solar calendar. from this basic observation, without any need to allude further to complex geometry or astronormical alignments, it can be suggested that elemental cosmological themes of fire, water, stone, birth, death, and the regeneration of life, may have had a particular resonance and symbolic power amongst the prehistoric populations.
this is also the only point in southwest britain at which granite outcrops reach the sea. from st ives to penzance, roughly half of the coastline is made up of granite. the rest consists of heavily metamorphosed rocks of devonian age. an elemental clash between the hardness of the granite and the power of the sea forms some of the most rugged and dramatic coastal scenery in britain. except along the valleys which run north south, west penwith is largely tree-less. now, as in the past, the landscape is scoured by the atlantic winds and trees rarely grow beyond a stunted form (caseldine 1980).
in the northern part of west penwith a series of moorland hills face the sea in a series of rock-strewn ridges, crowned by tors (fantastically weathered rock outcrops), and deeply dissected by numerous small streams. these hills are never more than a few kilometres from the coast, and at bosigran rise immediately above it to the sumrmit peaks of carn galver (249 m) which, together with the neighbouring hill, watch croft (252 rn), are the highest points. carn galver, the only rocky tor to rise directly out of the sea, would have had an especial significance in local cosmologies by virtue of this singular relationship. it was a hill linking the sea with the sky, the underworld in which the fiery sun sets, with the heavens. elsewhere, the treeless northern hills are separated from the coast by a narrow band of flattish cultivated land.
the southern part of the peninsula, south of a line drawn between st just and penzance, contrasts markedly with that to the north because of the absence of coastal hills with rocky outcrops, being punctuated only by the lower and more gentle rounded hills of chapel carn brea (198 m), the westernmost hill of the peninsula, bartinney downs, and sancreed beacon, apart from the dramatic rocks forming st michael’s mount to the east.
visually, the most striking of the northern hills with rock outcrops are carn kenidjack and carn galver. both punctuate the skyline and can be seen from a considerable distance away from many of the neolithic and bronze age monuments. there is little doubt that these two were the paramount sacred hills of the northern part of west penwith. other hills with notable craggy tors are zennor hill (particularly striking when seen from the west), carn zennor, trendrine hill, and rosewall hill. the other hills in the north of west penwith, although often boulder-strewn, either lack any impressive rock outcrops (e.g. mulfra hill and chun downs) or these are small and only of local significance (e.g. watch croft and carn downs).