Old tin mines stand tall
Telling stories of the past
On Cornish coastline
I recently spent another lovely week in Cornwall. I wanted to be near the sea while still being near Truro for my hubby’s regular dialysis sessions, so I opted for a cottage in St Agnes. St Agnes is a beautiful, unspoilt little town on the North Cornwall coast. It is full of fascinating relics from the days when tin and copper mining was the main industry. It seemed strange to me to see derelict tin mines visible from behind houses and forming the boundary walls of gardens. In fact tin is still produced in St Agnes at the Blue Hills Mine, the only place in the UK that still produces it. St Agnes is an area of outstanding natural beauty and it has been designated a World Heritage Site. I can certainly see why. I just loved the rugged land and seascapes. Even in our state of unfitness we were able to walk some of the coastal path. This leads to sights that can never be appreciated from the road. One of these is Wheal Coates Mine. It is truly amazing when seen from a distance with its three shafts and its spectacular position on the side of the cliffs. In fact the mine goes all the way down to the sea and at high tide you can hear the waves crashing against rocks through a grid in the ruins. It was possible to get into this mine via a large cave at a nearby beach. There is a local legend that says Wheal Coates is haunted by the spirits of the miners who died there. I expect the eerie sounds of the sea account for the legends.
I’ve always been interested in industrial buildings. I guess this is mainly due to my father’s influence as he was a steel man from the age of 13 and he developed in me a passion for ships, bridges and buildings. The other reason could be because of where I grew up. I lived in the Felling, a shipbuilding and mining area in the North of England. I skipped past the railway station and shipyard every day on my way to school and there was a derelict engine house complete with winding gear at the end of our street of 2 up and 2 down back to back miners’ cottages. These were our adventure playgrounds. Children were never allowed to play on the grass or ride bikes in the municipal parks in those days! Parks were for floral displays and grown-ups to walk in and the park warden was fierce.
Being a traditional and romantic sort of person I regret that industrialisation almost destroyed the crafts of blacksmiths, weavers, spinners, millers and grinders. But I find there is great beauty to be found in the derelict buildings, in the machinery that drove the mines and the mills, and in the engines that turned their wheels and moved their goods
Around St Agnes there are beaches, bays and coves with caves where wreckers and smugglers, no doubt, once hid their treasures. We visited a pub reminiscent of Jamaica Inn. The pub is called the Driftwood and it has a fascinating history. It is a 17th century building which in its time has been a warehouse for the tin mines, a ships’ chandlery, and a sail maker’s loft, before becoming a characterful old pub. It is built of Cornish stone and slate and ship’s timbers and spares. Behind one of the fireplaces in the pub there is a tunnel which was uncovered during restoration. It is said that this was the secret escape route for the wreckers and smugglers of the area as it leads all the way to the beach.
The cottage we stayed in was perfect and my joy was complete when my daughter came to stay for a couple of days with my adorable grandson. He just loved the sea and sand, the horses in the paddock and the trampoline in the garden. We took him to Lappa Valley Railway, which is kiddie heaven in my book. Built on the site of yet another ruined mine, there are castles and treehouses and adventure equipment to satisfy any age. There are also 12 steam engines giving rides on trains which Stanley really loved. There is also a boating lake, café, shop and everything you could want for a fun day out. I loved it.
Sadly it will be another year before I can go away again due to the shortage of holiday dialysis spaces around the country. But until then I have my photos to remind me of the fun we had and the beauty of Cornwall. Enjoy!