Trereen Dinas Cliff Castle, Zennor Sites

Record ID:  91000*0 / MNA101333
Record type:  Monument
Protected Status: Scheduled Monument
NT Property:  Zennor Sites; South West
Civil Parish:  Zennor; Cornwall
Grid Reference:  SW 4319 3860
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Bivallate Iron Age cliff castle on rocky promontory projecting 350m into the sea. The ramparts (91001) and hut circles in the interior (91002-19) are under separate SMR entries.

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Monument Types

  • CLIFF CASTLE (Middle Iron Age to Late Iron Age - 200 BC to 42 AD)


On this high rocky promontory, projecting 350 metres into the sea, are the remains of a simple multivallate cliff castle of Iron Age date. The ramparts consist of 2 fairly distinctive stone banks with accompanying ditches which cut across the narrowest part of the neck of the promontory, making every possible use of natural advantages. Within the defended headland lie 18 hut circles which are just discernible as shallow scoops dug into the hillside, and are clustered into 2 groups on the sheltered eastern face of the promontory.

On early survey plans of this area drawn up in 1824, no mention is made of the cliff castle as the headland is simply called "Treen Dinas", and similarly on the 1840 Tithe Map, where it is merely called 'Gurnet's Head'.

The site is first noted as 'an ancient cliff castle' by Edmunds in 1857 (1857, 368), and in 1876, Blight wrote how Treryn Dinas was fortified like the other principal promontories in West Penwith (1876, 187). Halliwell had earlier described the ramparts at Gurnard's Head as, a 'vallum of earth and stones', though he made no further comment about the nature of the defended settlement (1861, 134). By the 1880s the ramparts are shown as 'ditches' on the 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map, and later on the 1908 6" O.S. map, the ramparts and ditches are clearly shown and the headland itself is called a 'defended settlement; known as "Trereen Dinas"'.

By the late 19th century other topographical writers only refer to the promontory as a fortified place but make no mention of it being the focus for a settlement (see for example, Matthews 1892, 16 and Hope-Moncrieff 1898, 151). Interestingly enough in early tourist books of the area, many writers marvelled at the splendid outline and geological richness of the promontory, but refer to it as being a 'defended settlement' (see for example Polsue 1867-73, 340 and Folliott-Stokes 1908, 95-96), despite the fact that the ramparts were clearly visible as earthworks, as they had been earlier surveyed by the Ordnance Survey.

Hencken, surprisingly, made no mention of the cliff castle on Gurnard's Head in his county archaeology volume in 1932 (The Archaeology of Cornwall and Scilly), and this may partly be due to the lack of knowledge and detailed study of the Cornish Cliff Castles at that time. In 1939 the West Cornwall Field Club decided to survey and partially excavate Gurnard's Head as part of their campaign to examine more closely the nature of cliff castles in West Penwith (Crofts 1952-53, 3-6). This pre-war investigation comprised of selected excavations carried out by Miss A S Gordon (1941, 96-111) and a survey of the headland undertaken by A Hogg.

The 1939 excavation provided an Iron Age date for the initial occupation of the headland, 'existing evidence indicates a date before rather than after the middle of the second century BC is more likely for the initial occupation of Gurnard's Head' (1941, 111). The discovery of Breton 'duck patterned' pot sherds from the occupation layers in Huts A and B, together with sherds of wheel-turned pottery sherds sheds some light on Gurnard's Head regional status and role. These particular finds indicate an important intercontinental link between West Penwith and North West France. Whilst Gordon was content merely to hint at Gurnard's Head possible role as a `trading station' (1941, 111), it was left up to later writers to expand on this hypothesis.

The general paucity of domestic material found during the excavations suggests a temporary or seasonal occupation of the site. This is consistent with the hypothesis of the promontory being the site of a trading station and occupied by visiting traders. The spindle whorls at first, seem to contradict this hypothesis and without the benefit of petrological analysis, it is not yet possible to interpret them. If they were locally made they may indeed suggest that the settlement was more permanent that the occupation layers suggest. However, if they were brought by traders to the site they may in fact be objects for sale or they could be used by the temporary occupants in the processing of locally produced wool. The site would then be more akin to a service-settlement - possibly a proto-urban site.

The elaborate construction of the defences inspired later archaeologists to search for analogies for the cliff castle, and similarities were noted between the morphology of the Gurnard's Head ramparts and those found at Kercaradec, Penhars, and Finistrere in North-west France (Wheeler 1947, 266). By these structural analogies Wheeler noted and postulated that Gurnard's Head had a continental link with North West France; a cultural link which was corroborated by the discovery of 2nd century BC Breton 'duck patterned' sherds and wheel-turned pottery (op.cited p.58-59). His hypothesis was later supported by Radford (1953, 15-16) and Dudley (1957-58, 50, 115-116) in their general archaeological papers describing the Early Iron Age in Cornwall. In 1959, Alywyn Cotton described Gurnard's Head as 'an excellent type site' of this group (1958-59, 115), and again noted the continental parallels pointed out earlier by Wheeler, Radford and Dudley. By this time Gurnard's Head was accepted as the site of a 'trading station' (Cotton, 1958-59, 116), and earlier O'Kelly wrote, `that the initial spread of the multiple system of defensive earthworks has been attributed to the influence of the Veneti as a result of Breton-Cornish commerce in pre-Caesarian times - a commerce which presumably had to do with the availability of tin in Cornwall and which may have lead to the establishment of such sites as Gurnard's Head' (Wheeler? 1952, 25-35).

This hypothesis was later developed by Thomas (1966, 78-80) who write that Gurnard's Head was clearly an important fortified settlement related to the activities of the Venetii; an Amorican tribe who are recorded by Caesar as operating a fleet between Brittany and Britain. Here Thomas argues that Cornish Cliff castles were Venetii strongholds, as documentary sources suggest that the Venetii lived in the cliff castles (1966, 82).


  • SZC10339 - Monograph: English Heritage. Scheduled Ancient Monuments Core Print Form, Cornwall, Monument 711, Gurnard's Head Cliff Castle.

  • SZC10344 - Article in serial: C A Ralegh Radford. 1953. The Dumnonii. 2. 1.

  • SZC151 - Map: Anon. 1839-1842. Tithe Map and Apportionment, Parish of Zennor.

  • SZC1788 - Monograph: A Folliott Stokes. 1908. From St Ives to Land's End.

  • SZC2055 - Photocopy: National Trust. Map showing National Trust property at Gurnard's Head, Zennor. 10560.

  • SZC2988 - Article in serial: M A Cotton. 1958-1959. Cornish cliff castles. 2. 3.

  • SZC3229 - Article in serial: C B Crofts. 1952-1953. History and Policy of the West Cornwall Field Club. 1. 1.

  • SZC4486 - Article in serial: R Edmonds. 1857. The Celtic and other antiquities of the Land's End district of Cornwall. 3.

  • SZC4754 - Article in serial: Dorothy Dudley. 1957-1958. The early Iron Age in Cornwall. 2. 2.

  • SZC4920 - Monograph: J T Blight. 1876. A Week at the Lands End.

  • SZC5995 - Monograph: J O Halliwell. 1861. Rambles in West Cornwall by the Footsteps of the Giants: with notes on the Celtic Remains of the Lan.

  • SZC7135 - Document: V Russell. 1971. West Penwith Survey.

  • SZC7299 - Article in serial: R E M Wheeler. 1952. 55. 2.

  • SZC7303 - Monograph: Charles Thomas. 1966. The character of origins of Roman Dumnonia. 7.

  • SZC7437 - Unpublished document: J A Nowakowski. 1987. Gurnard's Head, Zennor: National Trust West Penwith Archaeological Survey.

  • SZC7671 - Photocopy: National Trust. 1982. Map showing National Trust property at Gurnard's Head, Zennor: drawing no.Z/001. 2500.

  • SZC8043 - Monograph: A Hope Moncrief. 1898. Black's Guide to Cornwall.

  • SZC8044 - Monograph: J H Matthews. 1892. A History of the Parishes of St Ives, Lelant, Towednack and Zennor in the County of Cornwall.

  • SZC852 - Monograph: J Polsue. 1872. Lake's Parochial History of the County of Cornwall. 4.

  • SZC8746 - Article in serial: Anon. 1957-1958. 2. 2.

  • SZC9154 - Article in serial: A S R Gordon. 1941. The excavation of Gurnard's Head: an Iron Age cliff castle in Western Cornwall. 97.

  • SZC9213 - Article in serial: R E M Wheeler. 1947. Hillforts of Northern France: a note on the expedition to Normandy 1939. 21. 4.

  • SZC9618 - Monograph: Cornwall Archaeological Unit. Cornwall Sites and Monuments Record Card, Zennor.


Other Statuses and References

  • Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Environmentally Sensitive Area
  • HER/SMR Reference (External): SW43/151
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest (Geological & Biologi)

Associated Events

  • ENA443 - Archaeological Intervention,
  • ENA446 - Field Survey,

Associated Finds

None Recorded

Related Records

None Recorded