On the North Western side of St Mary’s, on a steep hillside overlooking the Roads lies the Iron Age Village of Halangy Down. Pronounce Ha-Lan-Jee, not as is usually assumed Ha-Lang-Ee the settlement has a wonderful view of Tresco, with Bryher peeking out from behind it. The deserted double hills of Samson are also clearly visible. As well as the bright blue area of sea known to locals as “The Roads”.
Above the hillside sits the wonderful intact entrance grave known as Bant’s Carn (perhaps a post for another time). Further up the hill, back through the trees, sits the imposing Telegraph tower.
The settlement is one of three known Iron age villages on the islands. The others being on Nornour, and Kittern Hill on the Gugh. Despite being several thousand years old, the settlement is in remarkably good condition, with a number of buildings clearly identifiable.
The Layout of Halangy Down
There are two types of dwelling in Halangy Down Iron Age Village. The first is a series of eleven interconnected stone built houses. Most of these are a single oval in shape. The walls are thick, with stone walls retaining earthen banks. Within these walls are a number of stores, or cupbaords.
An archaeological excavation carried out in the 1950s showed that each one has a single central post hole, suggesting that they would have had conical thatched roofs. There are also stone lined drains, built to try to keep the houses free from standing water as it flowed down the hillside.
The second type of dwelling is larger, and more impressive. It starts with a long curving passageway between raised earthworks retained by stone walls. This leads to a central open courtyard area. Off this courtyard lie three individual buildings, each with its own roof. There is evidence of a stone lined hearth in this courtyard house.
Like the other courtyard houses of the period in Chysauster, and Carn Euny on the mainland, the example at Halangy Down is contained within a massive enclosing earthen wall. The stone walls are still present, as well as the large upright stones forming door jambs.
All of the houses show signs of alteration and repair over the years showing that this was not a short lived settlement.
Archaeological finds at Halangy Down
A number of things were found at Halangy Down during the excavations in the 1950s. From pollen types that show the residents were cultivating cereal crops, through to pottery used to store and cook food. Domesticated animal bones such as sheep and pigs, and Red Deer Antlers. There were also a number of small artefacts found, though it is worth noting that there was very little from outside of the islands. A small amount of pottery from what is now France, but nothing else.
Despite the village existing for the entirety of the rise and fall of the Roman empire there was nothing or Roman origin found.
Interestingly the burial chamber above the village that was already ancient when the settlement was built was also excavated and found to contain burial material. Cremation urns and even some small Neolithic finds, suggesting that the Iron Age settlers had not interfered with it much.
As well as the entrance grave we have already mentioned there are a number of other associated structures as well as the buildings at Halangy Down. The first, and most obvious is the overall earthworks shaping the landscape. The entire slope has been levelled off in a series of plateaus. These would not only make the village a more pleasant place to walk around. They would make it easier to build and maintain, and also improve drainage.
The field to the North of Halangy down is separated into small areas by a series of small stone walls. These have existed untouched since the village was new.
To the West of Halangy Down lies a collection of cist graves. It is thought that this would have been the cemetary area for the village.
The Changing Landscape
If you walk down the hill from Halangy Down, and scramble over the rocks onto the beautiful sandy beach you will see a small cliff. It marks the end of the beach and is slowly eroding. This contains not only evidence of prehistoric middens, but also clear signs of earlier stone buildings. As the sea levels rose over the last 3000 years the earlier settlement, which was doen the hillside from Halangy Down was abandoned and relocated further up the hill.
Further evidence of this can be seen at extreme low tide around the islands where prehistoric field walls, and evidence of dwellings can be seen on sand that is normally under several metres of water.
If Halangy Down were anywhere in the world apart from the Isles of Scilly it would be famous. But by the standards of the islands it is simply one more historical site among many. And one that is thousands of years newer than many.
That being said it is an amazing thing to walk through a house that was build when Julius Caesar was a child. And even more amazing sit on the sleeping platform of the man who built it.
Even if you do not like history that much, the grassy plateaus are the perfect place for a picnic. And the view is one of the best on St Mary’s