Monday, 15th June 2015
Well, hasn’t it turned out to be a lovely day….it has in this part of the world anyway!
We went west today, down to Cape Cornwall – the only headland in England referred to as a ‘cape’ apparently. We used directions from iWalkcornwall.co.uk which, as always, were thorough with some very interesting information included. Didn’t stop us getting lost though…on the way back we got confused, took a wrong turn and ended up back on the coast path.
Never mind, we just walked back along the coast and were rewarded with the sight of dolphins swimming around the headland. Perfect!
Cape Cornwall circular via Levant (7 miles)
This is a rugged coastline, scattered with disused mine shafts, remains of engine houses and tall chimneys. A truly Cornish landscape which makes you realise just what was lost to Cornwall when these mines fell into disuse. The industry here must have been immense and instead of the peaceful, serene coastal walk we are taking, it must have once been noisy and busy and full of a different sort of life.
Still full of life, but of an alternative variety, this place is now home to wild flowers and grasses, and butterflies and birds, as well as those few men and women trying to bring profit in by bringing the history of this place alive for the tourist trade.
We’ve rarely been to this part of Cornwall and haven’t walked here before so the dramatic, post-industrial landscape is new to us. We like it!
Starting from Cape Cornwall itself, now in the hands of the National Trust, we take the path uphill and turn left following granite waymarks along the coast. There is a small ruined building in a field between us and the sea – St Helen’s Oratory, thought to be the site of a 6th century church. In the mid 19th century an ancient cross with 4th and 5th century markings was found here.
We follow the South West Coast Path now, which eventually descends a steep valley side before crossing a stream and winding its way up the other side.
The stream in the valley once powered 50 waterwheels – amazing as its only a tiny little rivulet when we see it. There’s a useful information board which emphasises what a busy, industrial past this valley had before cheap imported tin silenced the machinery and engine houses:
Just before the steep climb up the hill we stop to admire a blackbird perched on the fence just ahead.
The hillside is littered with lichen covered rocks, sheltering tiny plants such as the stonecrop:
and the navelwort:
Further along this valley is a tall chimney, the only remains of a furnace for what was once the arsenic works. When granules of ore are heated, impurities such as sulphur and arsenic are removed and cooled, condensing into a white powder, a few grains of which are fatal. Workers used to protect themselves by stuffing cotton wool up their noses and painting exposed skin with fuller’s earth so that the arsenic couldn’t be absorbed. (Who needs Health and Safety!!). Arsenic was used in manufacture of metal alloys, for clarifying glass and had medicinal uses.
On the way uphill we pause to watch a dunnock, singing away amongst the gorse:
and then we’re walking across heathland towards Botallack Head, amidst the chimneys and engine houses of a bygone era:
There are sea pinks all the way along the cliff top, along with foxgloves and red campion.
We keep going along the coast path eventually reaching Levant.
The mine workings here tunnelled below sea level and went out beneath the sea as early as the 18th century. It was very hot under the sea as there obviously can’t be ventilator shafts here.
The mine had it’s share of disasters, notably in 1919 when a bearing failed as men were on their way out of the mine and ‘a living pillar of men’ dropped down into the shaft. Men dropped from just over 100 feet below the surface to the bottom of the 1800 foot shaft. 31 men lost their lives and many were seriously injured.
The Levant Mine operated continuously for over 100 years until abandoned in 1930. It’s now a mining museum, very popular judging by the number of people here. We stopped for a cup of tea and snack, sitting outside looking over the cliffs to the calm sea and listening to a very knowledgable tour guide talking about the industry including what women wore to work and why they took to drinking teas made with plants gathered from the cliff tops.
Our route takes us up through the ruined buildings, past the old mine workings and inland onto country lanes. On the way we read some of the information boards and agree to return and take the tour one day!
Along the lane, still passing those old buildings, pausing at one point to wonder whether it was a statue we could see atop one:
But it is an artist with a good vantage point!
Along the road the verges are crammed with wildlife including foxgloves, nettles and campion. And then there’s this pretty little blue flower:
being enjoyed by a Six-spot Burnet Moth
There’s a Speckled Wood butterfly:
And now a whole series of fields, stiles, lanes and waymarks to navigate our way through and somewhere along the way, we take a wrong turn and end up on a roadway. It’s a long way back and opposite is a waymark to the coast path, so we decide to carry on and eventually we reach the track we’d earlier walked. Of course, this means we now have to go down into Lanidjack Valley and up the other side again! Never mind….think of those miners who had to walk these paths after a long and exhausting shift underground.
At the top of the far side we’re rewarded with the sight of a pod of dolphins swimming around the headland and do our best to get pictures, but sadly they’re too far away.
We make our way back down over the hill to Cape Cornwall with all that history in our heads and in awe of the people who lived and worked here when the Cornish mining industry was alive and well.
Total miles this year – 419.5
Associated artwork for Ricketyrambler by Mr RR: