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Porth Hellick Down Burial Chamber

porth hellick down burial chamber

Porth Hellick Down Burial Chamber

For history lovers exploring the Isles of Scilly, no trip is complete without discovering the atmospheric Porth Hellick Down burial chamber. Tucked away on St Mary’s, this perfectly intact 5000 year old site transports you right back to the mystical early Bronze Age.

Positioned overlooking the rugged coastline, visiting involves an evocative clifftop walk too. Here’s everything you need to uncover this fascinating ancient marvel.

entrance to porth hellick down burial chamber

Getting There

First up you’ll need to get to the Isles of Scilly! Year-round helicopter flights and summer passenger ferries make the frequently journey over from Penzance on mainland Cornwall.

The Porth Hellick Down burial chamber sits on the western tip of St Mary’s – the largest island of Scilly. It’s positioned around one mile from the capital Hugh Town.

Follow the well-marked coast path heading west past the golf club and Old Town Church to discover it. You’ll also spot signs for the famous Juliet’s Garden cafe enroute which makes a perfect pitstop.

Opening Times & Tickets

Great news – one of the best things about ancient sites in Scilly is that they are completely free to access and open year-round! English Heritage do a great job of managing and maintaining the site for the benefit of visitors.

Porth Hellick Down burial chamber simply sits openly on St Mary’s awaiting intrepid adventurers. Early morning or late afternoon visits often coincide with fewer other sightseers too.


About Porth Hellick Down Burial Chamber

Consisting of a 7 by 3 metre rectangular central chamber covered by a single giant capstone, Porth Hellick Down’s chamber amazingly still retains its original shape and form.

Built around 2500BC, it would have been used by early inhabitants of Scilly for protecting ritual burials of locals across generations. Any remains have long since disintegrated but its legacy survives.

Its position overlooking the rugged north-westerly coastline only adds to the mystical atmosphere for visitors today.

porth hellick

Standing proud on the northwestern slope, the chamber is the crown jewel of a larger cemetery. Six other entrance graves and mysterious, low cairns huddle around it, hinting at a community bound by shared beliefs and traditions. The chamber itself is an imposing sight, a testament to the skill and dedication of its builders. Four massive capstones, each weighing tons, rest upon the chamber walls, creating a hushed, womb-like space. Sunlight filters through gaps, illuminating the rough-hewn granite, etched with the passage of time.

Archaeologists believe the chamber was constructed around 2500 BC, marking the final resting place of important individuals. But who were they? What ceremonies accompanied their passage to the afterlife? These questions dance on the periphery of our knowledge, forever unanswered. What we do know is that the chamber wasn’t merely a tomb; it was a sacred space, a place of remembrance and connection with the ancestors.

In 1899, antiquarian George Bonsor embarked on the first documented excavation of the chamber. Sadly, much of the chamber’s contents had been plundered or lost to time. However, Bonsor unearthed fragments of Bronze Age pottery, offering tantalizing glimpses into the lives of those who used this space. These shards, like scattered puzzle pieces, speak of a society skilled in pottery-making, perhaps even possessing trade links with mainland Britain.

Today, Porth Hellick Down burial chamber stands as a testament to human resilience and the enduring power of memory. It’s a place where the past and present brush shoulders, where the wind whispers stories of lives lived and loved millennia ago. As you stand amidst the stones, let your imagination take flight. Picture the mourners gathered, their faces etched with grief and reverence. Hear the chants and drumming echoing across the land. Feel the weight of history pressing down, a humbling reminder of our place in the vast tapestry of time.

english heritage sign at porth hellick down burial chamer

What to See & Do

Megalithic history lovers will enjoy reading the great information boards explaining the tomb’s origins and construction. Seeing the huge capstone balanced above head height as you enter the creepy chamber is also not forgotten quickly!

Top highlights include:

  • Reading about excavations and life on Scilly then
  • Entering underneath the capstone into the womb-like chamber
  • Admiring how the covering stones balance
  • Letting your mind wander about past rituals
  • Enjoying epic views over Bryher Island

Whether you’re already exploring magical Scilly or planning a trip, the Porth Hellick Down tomb makes for an unforgettable visit. Just beware the ghosts of Scillonians past when you visit this granite giant!

porth hellick info sign

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the opening hours? – The chamber is always accessible during daylight hours. There are no official closing times, but be mindful of sunset and potential changing weather conditions.

Are there guided tours available? – While there aren’t official guided tours, information boards near the chamber provide details about its history and significance. Guided tours of the Isles of Scilly often include a stop at Porth Hellick Down, where your guide can offer further insights.

Is Porth Hellick Dwon burial chamber accessible for people with disabilities? – Unfortunately, the path to the chamber is uneven and can be challenging for those with mobility issues. Consider alternative viewpoints from the nearby road if access is a concern.

Are there toilets or food facilities nearby? – No, there are no amenities directly at the site. Public restrooms and cafes are available in Hugh Town, a short distance away.

Is there parking available? – Limited parking is available on the side of the road leading to the chamber. Be prepared for short walks from parking spaces during peak season.

Is it okay to touch the stones? – Avoid touching the chamber walls and stones as they are ancient and delicate.Oils and dirt from hands can damage the surface.

Can I climb on the chamber? – Climbing on the chamber is strictly prohibited. It’s not only dangerous but also disrespectful to this historical site.

Is it okay to leave behind offerings or mementos? English Heritage ask that you refrain from leaving behind any objects or offerings at the chamber. Respect the historical and spiritual significance of the site.

porth hellick view

Other nearby places to visit

Some other nearby places of interest include:

  • Tresco Abbey Gardens – Catch a short boat over to Tresco and meander through the breathtaking subtropical Abbey Gardens, which showcase exotic plants from 80 countries that rarely flower in the UK.
  • The Old Blockhouse – Just a 15 minute walk away sits this historic coastal fortification forming part of the Garrison Walls defenses surrounding Hugh Town on St Mary’s. Dating from 1550, it offers lovely views over Old Town Bay.
  • Bant’s Carn – A short stroll inland reveals the remains of this enchanting Bronze Age entrance grave set amidst picturesque farmland. Its massive capstone is dramatically balanced on standing stones.
  • Cromwell’s Castle – Found on Tresco, wander round this scenic 17th century ruined artillery fortress to enjoy panoramic views over Scilly’s many islands from the old circular gun platforms.
  • Porth Hellick Beach – Just downhill lies this secluded white sand cove great for swimming, with the scenic St Helen’s Ledges to spot seabirds from and a cave only accessible at low tide.
  • St Mary’s Boatmen Trips – Take a relaxing wildlife spotting or island hopping boat trip to see puffins and grey seals among Scilly’s uninhabited islands and secluded coves on custom tours.
  • Hugh Town – Just inland lies Scilly’s picturesque tiny capital, with old-style cottages, local shops, galleries and cafés clustered around the harbour.
  • Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust – Join an Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust guided walk or boat trip to explore the abundant birdlife, marine mammals and flora found on Scilly’s many uninhabited tiny islands.

Brooding and mysterious, Porth Hellick Down draws you into Scilly’s mystical past within seconds. Over 5000 years on, it’s lost none of that raw atmosphere since Neolithic times. Just mind where you tread when getting close at this ancient Atlantic outpost!

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