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The Longships

The Longships are a group of rocky islets lying in the Atlantic Ocean a mile and a quarter west of Land's End, Cornwall.

The islets are the visible part of a largely submerged granite reef which has been a notorious shipping hazard, and so today they are marked by the famous Longships Lighthouse, the current structure being first lit in December 1873.

The rocks are very popular for recreational diving, the sea has clear water with prolific marine life and flora.[1]


The Longships lie off the granite headland of Land's End and the contact area between the granite pluton and the ″country rocks″ is just offshore. The reef is within a metamorphic aureole formed after the granite intruded the earlier Devonian rocks between 268 and 275 million years ago, during the Permian period. [2]

Much of the Longship group is submerged at high water but the three largest islets in the group – Tal-y-Maen, Carn Bras, and Meinek – remain above the high water mark. Two smaller rocks known as Kettle's Bottom are situated midway between Longship and the coast.

Names of the rocks

Seals on Tal y Maen

The rocks in the group have individual names, all from the Cornish language that make up the reef and their meanings in the Cornish language.

Name Cornish origin Meaning
Cein Keyn 'back, ridge, or keel'
Farkell Carn Karn Forhel 'forked rock-pile'
Tal-y-maen Tal an Meyn 'brow of the stones'
Carn Bras Karn Bras 'big rock-pile'
Herly Hir Legh 'long ledge'
Plassek Plosek 'foul one'
Meinek Meynek 'stony place'
Longships Lighthouse


It is not known how many ships have been lost in and around Land's End but there are hundreds recorded and probably thousands unknown. One of the earliest recorded on the Longships, is an unidentified ship lost at 'the Long Shipps' in 1532 reported by the bayliffe John Penheleg.[3]

The first lighthouse was built in 1795, but it did not put an end to shipwrecks here. Victorian wrecks included:

  • 1898 S.S. Bluejacket
  • 1901, November. 'Mary James.' Built 1862 by Richard Tredwen in Padstow. For most of her life owned by the St Just family of Harvey James and made many voyages to Glamorgan with copper ore, bringing back coal for the mines. Sank after dismasting.[4]
Enys Dodnan, looking to the Longships

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Longships)


  1. Totnes BSAC
  2. Hall, A (1994). Geologist's Association Guide No. 19 - West Cornwall (Second ed.). London: Geologists' Association. pp. 50. ISBN 0 900717 57 2. 
  3. Larn, Richard; Mills, G Edwin (1970). Shipwrecks at Land's End. pp. 34. 
  4. Jenkin, C.J. (2009) Newlyn. 'A view from Street-an-Nowan'. Penryn: R. Booth Ltd.