Visits: 19th-20th July 2014, 15th August 2015, 31st December 2015, 25th March 2016
The Industrial Revolution features heavily in the UK’s World Heritage Sites – I’ve already written on three others with such a theme (Blaenavon, Pontcysyllte and Ironbridge). As the birthplace of the technologies that industrialised the world, it makes sense, although it does mean the sites aren’t usually as attractive as those in, say, Italy or Peru. Cornwall is where my parents live, so I have been there often. Although the mineshafts and engine houses that dot the landscape are no longer working, they are now generally all protected from demolition and kept as a testament to the industrial heyday of the region.
St Just Mining District
19th July 2014
The WHS is divided into ten areas, of which I have probably been to about half over the last few years – not normally on purpose. These first few pictures are from the St Just mining district, which is almost at the westernmost point in England, not far from Land’s End.
This is the Count House at Botallack. A mine’s count house served as the site’s administrative office and was the building that would greet investors and customers when they came to visit. For this reason the mine’s managers would put effort into maintaining its appearance.
The actual operations of the mine are located by the cliffs in the surrounding area. These two engine houses contained the beam engines that were used mainly to pump water from the mine. As you can appreciate from this picture, the tunnels went not just under land but also under sea, so the ability to pump out water was of critical importance.
At one point I noticed a cave that was unsignposted. We had a look inside, and it went on further than we dared go into the rocks. It was surely used as an entry passage to the mine, and I did wonder how far you could go without being stopped – maybe all the way to the bottom? Inside, where it became pitch black, the walls were luminescent.
The views over the sea are very picturesque, and as we were looking out we spotted a lone seal swimming by the rocks. You see hundreds of seals not too far away at Godrevy, but here there was only one.
After the walk around St Just we paid a visit to the Minack Theatre. It is surely one of the most impressive theatres anywhere in the world, in that is has been hewn out of the cliffs near to Porthcurno beach. Unfortunately there were no performances on the weekend we were down, but they let visitors wander around anyway, which is well worth doing even if you aren’t into theatre. The project was the vision of a lady called Rowena Cade in the 1930s, who worked to build and improve it for the rest of her life.
After the theatre we walked down the cliff path to Porthcurno beach, which you can see on the left, below. There was a military wedding taking place on one half of the beach, which was a really nice location, and they were lucky with the weather too. Later on there must have been a little drama as one of the guests was apparently airlifted to hospital with breathing difficulties.
The Port of Hayle
20th July 2014
The next day we set out for a bike ride, going via the port town of Hayle. This is another of the WHS zones, because in the early 19th century, Hayle was the most important mining port and steam engine manufacturing centre in the world. Initially it produced mining equipment only for Cornwall, but it came to be a supplier to mines all over the world. You can walk around the derelict remains of one of the largest foundries, where the millpond is now full of ducks (and terrapins).
Gwennap Mining District with Devoran and Perran and Kennall Vale
20th July 2014
We cycled on mountain bikes up an old miners’ track from Portreath to Devoran. It is 11 miles end-to-end, and takes you from the north to the south coast. The route goes past many mining sites, most notably the scarred landscape around Twelveheads in the Gwennap mining district.
Here the mining heritage is not so attractive, with the mountains of slag and discoloured streams. The water is still tinted brown because of all the metal and other chemical residues that built up over the years. But it is a good route for a bike ride, although I did manage to get lost and take a detour up a massive hill – something else Cornwall has plenty of.
Tregonning and Gwinear Mining Districts with Trewavas
15th August 2015
Because my parents live in Cornwall I’ve been able to visit different mining areas as I come and go. In August 2015 we went walking in the Tregonning and Gwinear district, which is now a hilly scrubland. From the top of Tregonning Hill you can see the sea on the north and south coasts at the same time.
We then drove over to an exclave of inscribed land on the coast, near the village of Rinsey. Here we walked along a coastal path that is dotted with old mine shafts. The weather was beautiful and we sat a while watching fishermen far below dropping crab pots into the bounteous blue sea.
Tamar Valley Mining District with Tavistock
31st December 2015
I spent eight nights in Cornwall with the family over Christmas, with Natalie and my brother’s girlfiend, Shaz, flying down to join us on Boxing Day. After a relaxing break Natalie and I set off on New Year’s Eve for London, but with the plan of stopping off at one of the mining sites on the way. I made the most of the long journey and chose the easternmost element of this WHS, and the part that gives Devon its place in the site’s official name: Tavistock and the Tamar Valley. We didn’t have appropriate walking boots, so to get a look at the Tamar Valley I simply drove to the highest point for miles around: Kit Hill.
On top of this windswept hill is an old mineshaft, now rather bespoilt by the TV and radio transmitter that cover it like creeping vines. We have had a gusty period this winter, and the wind strength on the top of Kit Hill was enough to make standing upright a difficulty. In spite of that, Natalie managed to take a nice clear photograph of the surrounding landscape, in which old mining buildings are not particularly prevalent, I have to say.
We then drove on to the town of Tavistock, birthplace of Sir Francis Drake, which lies on the River Tavy just a couple of miles east of the Cornwall/Devon border. It was once a mining boomtown, but the sudden rate of population growth brought with it typical social problems like crime and overcrowding. To his credit, the 7th Duke of Bedford – who had grown immensely wealthy on the profits of the tin mines – ploughed a lot of his money back into a complete remodelling of the town.
It is a handsome place, and part of its value to UNESCO lies in it being an example of patrician urban planning with the wellbeing of common working folk in mind. In this regard it shares similarities with WHSs such as New Lanark in Scotland, Saltaire in Yorkshire and Crespi D’Adda near Milan – none of which I have yet been to.
St Agnes Mining District
25th March 2016
Easter 2016, and another trip to Cornwall, this time involving a walk in the St Agnes Mining District. This area is located about halfway between St Ives and Newquay, on the north coast of the county. We parked up in a lay-by and walked to the top of a hill known as St Agnes Beacon, from which there is a 360° view of the countryside and sea.
We then descended toward Chapel Porth, where there is a small National Trust car park and cafe leading on to a wide beach. It feels very Cornish, with the tin mines visible clinging to the hilltops.
We continued our walk along the hilltop path, enjoying the unseasonably pleasant March weather of the early Easter weekend. This was the sixth of ten subcomponents of this World Heritage Site, which I am slowly but surely getting around to visiting 100% of. For me it was one of the better ones so far, in that it combines natural beauty with examples of mining buildings. In that sense it is most similar to the St Just Mining District (top section of this post), which is right down on the western tip of the Cornish peninsular.