Kuggar & Kennack Sands

Writer: Suzie Inman
Roger Thorp

What lies beneath?

A fissure in the earth cools over time.
Serpentine snakes to the shore.
Ancient forests. No sea to see.
A lagoon.
Humans settling; burying dead in barrows. 
Pirate treasure? Many chests.
Underground connections.
A winding stream that gives a name.
A mill, lost to the past.

Now static sentinels fan out on hillsides,
Waiting for summer, when sandy-toed tourists will start digging…

“…the traveller must bear in mind that a name, large on the map, is apt to materialise into a few cottages, a lonely farmhouse, or a rocky gorge with never an inhabitant.” – C.A. Dawson Scott, Nooks and Corners of Cornwall

This quote certainly rang true for me when I first visited Kuggar. The first thing that struck me was how unassuming it seems on the face of it: a small outpost Cornish village with a pub. The two static caravan sites on the hillside are the most prominent visual markers of place. 

Researching the origins of the name Kuggar proved elusive too; it isn’t included in many books of Cornish names. It would seem to have first been recorded in 1324 when it was spelt Coger, a name thought to come from the Cornish for “winding stream”.

Below Kuggar, Kennack Sands is an under-visited gem of a beach with a heap of history – both visible and concealed. The “mobile cable” sign on the beach opens up ideas of things hidden beneath the surface – which fits in nicely with the rumour that 17th-century pirate Captain John Avery buried 12 chests of pirate treasure close by!

Relics of defence from World War Two are odd bedfellows with the tourist beach today. The landscape includes an anti-tank wall, a zigzag trench and a Type 24 pillbox (another has been demolished) capable of housing light machine guns.

High on the hill, Kuggar has certainly overseen changes here over many millennia, including the formation of the central spit at Kennack, known as the Caervarracks, made mainly of Cornish serpentine rock. 

During the last Ice Age, ancient forests extended far out into what is now sea. These can still be seen at extreme low tides, poking up through the sand. As the ice melted and water filled the English Channel, Kennack became for a time a huge lagoon, cut off from the sea by a shingle bar and backed by the sand dunes.

Several finds over the years show that this slice of land has been a home to human cultures over many millennia. Stone implements dating to the Mesolithic and even earlier Paleolithic period have been found nearby, as well as Bronze Age and Iron Age pottery, made from the Lizard Peninsula’s distinctive gabbroic clay. Finds on the beach from more recent periods include a terracotta head and right chest of a female figure with white skin and Prussian blue hair, perhaps from a shipwreck.

There’s evidence of the presence of ancient cultures in the landscape all around. Carn Kennack was recorded as a medieval settlement in 1504 but is thought to have been an Iron Age “cliff castle” long before that, one of several such promontory forts along the coast of the Lizard.

Delving deeper, this particular name on a map is full of fascinating history and hidden stories, ripe for weaving into my poem. If you ever visit, hope you find some too.

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