From the window of my cottage as you gaze west there are three undulating hills. The middle hill is Bartinney Downs. It houses an Iron Age enclosure around the top, various tumuli and contains prehistoric field systems – and because of this, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Bartinney Downs is also a heathland Nature Reserve and supports a large array of rare birds, mammals and insects.
According to local folklore Bartinney has been a sanctuary due to the belief that ‘no evil spirit can exist within it’s boundaries’. It has a wild beauty that many local people appreciate when they walk the hills of West Penwith.
During the night of 5th April 2021, some depraved or benighted individual(s) set fire to the hillside close to this much loved site. The fire spread rapidly due to brisk winds until 120 acres of historic heathland was alight. Fire crews battled through the night and into most of the next day until they eventually extinguished the blaze. Local farmers witnessed various animals and small creatures ‘fleeing in terror from the flames’. Not all made it out alive. It was the worst possible time for a wildfire as it is nesting season for birds and many other creatures who made the Downs their home.
Yesterday I made my way up to Bartinney Downs to see for myself what had happened to the land. I knew that I had to brace myself as it would be upsetting. As I approached I was aware of all the signs of Spring around me in the fields and hedgerows, but when I actually crossed the threshold into the sanctuary it was another matter. All around me was a terrible wasteland with twisted and blackened skeletons of gorse and bramble rising out of a sea of ash. There were heart breaking signs of death – singed eggshells and silvered snail shells just to name a few. No birds sang, no insects buzzing – just the plaintive mewing of buzzards and the raucous caws of corvids high above.
At some points there was a cruel contrast between the blasted heath and the lush springtime which was just yards away. It felt like I was walking between two worlds as I paced the boundary whilst intoning a healing blessing to the Land.
Mercifully for this occupant the fire had been extinguished before they lost their home to the flames. Sadly as I made my way towards the summit it was apparent that many other homes and habitats suffered a very different fate.
Eventually I reached the top where I undertook a full blessing of the Land with appropriate offerings, together with my tears for the wilful sacrilege. I prayed for a speedy restoration of Bartinney’s essence and spirit together with the rejuvenation, which will take years to recover. I dwelt for a while on the irony of the Cornish meaning of Bartinney – bre-tanow or hill of fires…
Then it was time to leave in the hope that the next time I come this way, that some green shoots may be sprouting. After all Nature is resilient and relentless.
Local residents are shocked by this incident and are rightly incensed when they learnt that it was started deliberately. I personally don’t understand what motivates people to destroy wildlife and their habitation in such a violent manner, but I sincerely hope that they get exactly what they deserve for their actions, and may they know no rest in the meantime.