This site is no longer maintained
This website should only be accessed for School Messenger, SIS or planning agents information.

Rillaton Barrow

Introduction to site

On the south-eastern fringe of Bodmin Moor on a broad ridge below the granite strewn slope of Stowes Hill, Rillaton Barrow lies within one of the best preserved prehistoric ritual landscapes in Europe. It is the second largest barrow on Bodmin Moor and is the source of one of the best known Bronze Age grave deposits in Britain.

There are two car parks in Minions. From the southernmost car park there is a footpath up a set of steps to the north. The site is located in a northern direction, about 750m from the car park (about 450m to the NNE of The Hurlers) and can be reached by a series of level tracks.

There are refreshment and toilet facilities within the village of Minions.

The site is free to visit, and is open any reasonable time in daylight hours.

There are no public transport links directly/close to the area of the site. There are bus services to the villages of Upton Cross and also to Higher Tremarcoombe in the general area. Visit the Traveline website for customised sustainable transport options. 

Close to the northern car park, Houseman's engine house contains displays on the archaeology, history and ecology of the surrounding moors.

Visit our interactive Access to Monuments map to find this and other nearby sites.

The barrow was constructed of earth and stones and its present irregular shape is the result of episodes of fairly random digging into the mound for stone, and perhaps for treasure, over many years.

Excavations have shown that Bronze Age barrows have complex histories and that the present form of the site is just the latest in a series of phases of remodelling and redesign. Rillaton Barrow has not been systematically excavated however and it is not possible to discuss its development in detail. It is likely that there is a central cremation deposit, but this has not yet been confirmed.

The barrow is most famous for the stone cist which was accidentally discovered in 1837. A disturbance on the eastern flank of the mound revealed a small chamber, formed with massive granite slabs, which held the remains of a human skeleton buried with an impressive assemblage of grave goods including a bronze dagger, some pieces of ivory, decorated pottery, several blue/green beads made from a glassy material known as faience, and the richest and most prized find, the Rillaton Gold Cup. Most of the finds have been lost, but the gold cup, which disappeared for many years was rediscovered in 1936 in King George V’s dressing room where it was being used to hold collar studs.

The cup was beaten out of a single lump of gold of high purity, and has a riveted handle decorated with two sets of grooves. Its corrugated profile would have required great skill to achieve, and in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, would have added strength to the thin sheet metal. Until recently only two other corrugated gold cups were known from Europe (from sites in Germany and Switzerland) but recently an almost identical cup was found in Kent, known as the Ringlemere Cup.

The original cup is on display in the British Museum, but an electrotype ‘copy’ can be seen in the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro. The cist is still visible at the side of the barrow, and although the contents are long gone, it is still remarkable for a rare and unusual phosphorescent moss which grows on the stones in the dark interior, and produces an eerie green glow.

The barrow is an integral part of an extensive Bronze Age ritual landscape which includes the Hurlers triple stone circles, a stone circle on Craddock moor, standing stones and stone rows, numerous cairns and barrows and the Cheesewring, a remarkable natural stone sculpture. The Neolithic tor enclosure on Stowes Hill, probably a thousand years old when Rillaton barrow was constructed, dominates the skyline to the north.

The monument’s popularity has unfortunately led to a certain amount of erosion of the site which has necessitated repairs in recent years, and visitors are asked to treat the mound and cist with care and respect.