The coastline from Land’s End to St. Ives is undeniably picturesque in a rugged sort of way. Even the remains of the old mining engine houses add a certain sort of appeal and atmosphere to the landscape, but it has to be said that Geevor doesn’t quite fit into this idyll - but don’t pass on this tip just yet because, in my view, it’s a much better experience than the one at Land’s End.
Geevor tin mine operated from 1911 until it closed in 1990 and the site has been left more or less as it was when the last shift finished.
Although it’s a 20th cent mine, the workings are still pretty fascinating, and even if you didn’t have any real interest in this sort of thing before you came I’d be surprised if you didn’t have a change of heart afterwards.
The museum is open all year round except Saturdays and the full adult admission charge is £12 (Feb 2015), which may appear a bit steep at first, but you’ll need 4 hours here to see everything. Also bear in mind that this is a joint venture between Cornwall County Council and the local Pendeen community and is quite an undertaking for such a small village. Help has been forthcoming from the Heritage Lottery Fund but the site covers some 67 acres and without the local volunteers the complex probably wouldn’t be able to survive as a tourist attraction.
I think it’s best to point out that although there is a tour underground in Wheal Mexico it’s only short and very near the surface. The reason being of course is that the lower parts of the mine are now flooded. You’ll still need to be short and trim though to walk through it.
The other part of the guided tour is through The Mill. This is where the ore was crushed and ground down before the ’Shaking Tables’ separated the tin. It’s a really interesting part of the plant so don’t miss it.
The rest of the site you can explore yourself and there’s plenty to see. I’m not going to explain all of it here but my favourite is ‘The Dry’ where the miners changed and showered.
Tin miners are well known for liking their pasties and you’ll be pleased to hear that the café sells some really good ones.
To be honest it’s tempting to go into a lot more about Geevor but I think it’s best to leave some of it to your own imagination. I’ll just finish this review by saying that the mine may have closed down but the community still seems to be alive and kicking. This museum may be about the buildings and equipment that have survived to show people what it was like to work here - but more importantly this is a place with a human side to it and you can almost believe that the miners are going to come back through those gates any minute!
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- Museum Visits
Although Pendeen Lighthouse, or Pendeen Watch as it’s also called, isn’t open to the general public it’s still worth taking the short detour down the lane from Pendeen village. There’s plenty of space for parking, not that you need it because it’s not usually overrun with people.
The headland that the lighthouse is built on had to be levelled off before construction could begin and some of the rock was re-used for the extensive perimeter wall that surrounds it. Work started in 1900 and being only 17m tall didn’t take long to complete.
One of the main reasons the lighthouse was built was to eliminate disasters caused by frequent summer fogs and you don’t need me to tell you not to come down here in foggy conditions - not just because you don’t want to disappear over the cliff edge, but because you won’t want to go deaf from the foghorns either.
Behind the tower is the accommodation blocks for the keepers and their families, and behind them are strips of land intended to be used for growing fruit and veg.
Whether they got around to cultivating any of these plots I don’t know because according to Oliver Hawker in his excellent book ‘Land’s End’, that in the first 5 years of living here 4 keepers introduced 3 wives, 10 children, 2 dogs, three cats, 5 pigs, 3 goats, 2 ponies. 30 chickens and 3 geese. It sounds as though there was more going on here than there was in St. Just. It’s a wonder they kept the light going let alone grow fruit and veg as well.
The light became fully automated in 1995, being controlled remotely by Trinity House from their operations centre in Harwich.
Even if lighthouses don’t float your boat, so to speak, the views from here, as you would imagine, are superb.
- Hiking and Walking
I don’t suppose many mines could be called picturesque but I reckon Botallack could be an exception, or to be more precise the engine houses at the Crowns Mine at Botallack.
It’s the location of course that makes it so photogenic. Perched as they are below the cliffs, they really couldn’t be any closer to the sea.
Botallack is situated between St. Just and Pendeen, but directions to the mine are non-existent. It’s easy to find once you know which way to go. If you’re coming from St. Just, turn off left as soon as you see the village sign for Botallack and go past the Queen’s Arms. Keep going to the left, even though you might think that you’re just heading towards a farm, and eventually the rough track will bring you down to the Count House and an adjacent car park.
The Count House has been acquired by the National Trust and is usually open even at the quietest of times, but not necessarily manned. It’s original purpose was as an account house where the important business of sorting out the finances of the shareholders and wages for the miners was all dealt with. Today it’s used more as an interpretation, education and community centre, plus the all important facility for those of us who have weak bladders.
I could also add that it’s somewhere to shelter from the elements which always seem to do its worst in this part of the world. It’s also worthwhile picking up a self-guided trail which will explain everything you would need to see and do without the need for becoming a university graduate about tin mining.
Not everyone is interested in industrial archaeology and so I won’t go into any more details about the workings around here (mainly because I don’t know that much myself), but it really can become infectious. Suffice it to say that this is another subterranean mine such as Levant, which is just a short walk along the coast path from here. http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/24271d/
The short trail includes West Wheal Owles which was the scene of yet another tragedy when nineteen men and a boy were drowned in 1893. No wonder the average age of a miner was only forty back in those days.
Fortunately these days all we have to do is walk down the path a short way, take a few pictures and retire to the Queen’s Arms.
Directions: Between St. Just and Pendeen
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Less than a mile from the centre of St. Just is the small beach of Porth Nanven, or Cot Valley Beach as it’s also known.
To be honest it’s not all that well signposted which is why not too many tourists come down here. It’s almost as though the locals prefer it that way, although I have to admit that it was a local who told me about it in the first place. It’s worth bearing in mind that there no facilities when you get down there though.
From the centre of the town take the road as though you’re going to Cape Cornwall and then take the left turn into Bosorne Rd which will then take you all the way down to the beach. There is a small National Trust car park at the bottom, but if you’re up for it you can walk down there instead and enjoy the Cot Valley at a more leisurely pace.
Apart from it being a secluded spot, the other main reason for coming down here is to take a look at the beach. If you’re hoping to see a nice sandy cove I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed, but if you like your beaches to be interesting geology-wise then you won’t be.
For once, it’s not the minerals that are the main feature but the ‘Raised Beach’ and its ‘ovoid’ boulders. The crumbling cliff face divulges several layers of rock which show how the water has receded over the last hundred thousand years or more leaving an older beach high above the strand line.
I’m certainly no geologist, and I’m not even sure which layer of rock reveals what, but it’s easy to see why people refer to these boulders as ’Dinosaur eggs’ (it’s illegal to take any of these ’eggs’ home as a souvenir by the way) - but you don’t have to be a geologist to enjoy this tranquil spot - it’s just a great place to spend a peaceful hour or so.
Directions: On the coast just under a mile from the centre of town
A couple of miles along the B3306 out of St. Just travelling towards St. Ives will bring you to Trewellard, where a signpost on the left will direct you down to the Levant mine.
The first thing that you’ll probably notice when you get here is how close it is to the cliff edge, and the reason for it is that the mineral lodes are exposed in the Levant Zawn, which is a sort of chasm cut into the cliffs.
Work started here in 1820 to extract the minerals, primarily copper and tin, although there were small quantities of other minerals such as cobalt, iron, lead, quartz, tungsten, uranium, zinc and even silver and gold. There were by-products as well including arsenic.
With this abundance of wealth in the ground it’s not surprising that the mine became extremely profitable - the only problem was that it wasn’t really in the ground - it was under the sea. Shafts were sunk as far down as 350 fathoms (640 metres) and extended over a mile out under the seabed. Bear in mind that these miners had to climb down there and then walk under the seabed before they started work - and then walk and climb back up after their shift had finished!
In 1857 a Man Engine was installed to transport the miners up and down the shaft but in 1919 the rods broke and 31 miners were killed. It came at a time when the price of the minerals was falling and it virtually meant the end of the Levant mine.
Today, what’s left of the mine is in the care of the National Trust. Understandably there’s no possibility of going underground but it’s worth going in to see the only Cornish mine engine still worked by steam. This beam winding engine, also known as a whim, was used to raise the ore from the submarine workings up to the surface via the Skip Shaft whose black head frame can be seen nearby. It’s regularly worked by volunteers known as the ‘Greasy Gang’, who not only restored it but will also give you a guided tour if you should wish. You don’t have to and you’re free to go on your own self-guided tour if you prefer.
It costs £7 per adult (£7.70 gift aid - Jan 2015) to enter, but the whole site covers some 30 acres so there are parts of the workings, such as the arsenic works, which don’t require entry to the restored part of the mine.
Walking along the cliff towards Pendeen will not only cover much of the old workings but also bring you to Geevor - a mine that was still being worked right up until 1990 and is now an excellent museum.
I hope Levant has whetted your appetite because I’ll be writing a review about Geevor shortly.
Directions: The St. Just side of Pendeen
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If you make it to Cape Cornwall don’t miss the Coastwatch Lookout Station. It’s free to go in and you’ll be made very welcome.
Originally a fully operational coastguard station, it finally closed in 1981, but with the help of volunteers it re-opened as a coastwatch in 1996.
Just in case you were wondering what the difference is between the two, quite simply a coastguard is run on a professional basis and coastwatch is run by volunteers. With the latest round of cuts there will only be four coastguard stations in the UK operating around the clock (Aberdeen, Southampton/Portsmouth, London and Dover) supported by five sub-centres during daylight hours (Swansea, Falmouth, Humber, Belfast or Liverpool, and Stornoway or Shetland for the Scottish Islands).
The station here overlooks the Brisons and out into the Atlantic. Cape Cornwall is where the Atlantic divides into the Celtic Sea and the English Channel, and it doesn’t matter which way the wind is blowing you’ll feel it, believe me.
The volunteer that we met was friendly and helpful and showed us all the things he did to help him do his job. Some of the things he used were high tech but others were a more old fashioned way of doing it - but in the end it was the binoculars he seemed to use the most.
It’s a fascinating way to spend half an hour or so, especially if you’re interested in these things. These people do a fantastic job and many lives have been saved by these volunteers and although he didn’t ask for any donation I dropped a couple of quid into his box to help keep the thing going. He was very grateful but I think it’s the general public that should be grateful.
Directions: On the seaward side of Cape Cornwall.
Access is either up to the top and drop down the other side, or around the headland and up the steps.
- Hiking and Walking
Just over a mile from the centre of St. Just is Cape Cornwall
This headland and short section of coastline is cared for by the National Trust and is a good example of how this spectacular coastline should be looked after.
A decent sized car park gives easy access to the cape but obviously walking up to the top will mean a certain amount of mobility. The main access point is where some steps have been thoughtfully provided next to the large white house, but it’s also possible to walk around the headland and up to the Coastwatch lookout on the seaward side.
Human activity stretches back to at least the Bronze Age, but as the chimney on top will indicate this was also where the Cape Cornwall tin mine was located. Unlike other parts of the coastline around here though, evidence of mining activity is not particularly apparent. It’s really the coastline that takes centre stage.
Directions: 1 mile from St. Just on the coast
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...and look at the architecture.
The church porch is an excellent example of Medieval twiddliness.
Don't miss the little house right next to the churchyard. It is clearly very old indeed, almost certainly dating from the early 1300s.
The Kings Arm pub also dates from that time.
Look at the rows of terraced granite cottages built for the workers during the mining 'boom' of the 1800s.
You'll spot quite a few more interesting buildings as you wander round the town centre.
Directions: St Just town centre.
- Historical Travel
Make sure you have a look at this place, because it's one of the best examples left of an uniquely Cornish custom.
These 'playing-places' were created in Medieval times for the performance of Mystery plays, Miracle plays, meetings, sports and so on and so forth. They consist of a wide open space surrounded by banks, on which the audience could sit whilst the performance went on in the middle of the 'amphitheatre'.
St Just's plein-an-gwarry was recorded in the mid-1800s as having banks seven feet high, with stone seating for spectators. The stone seating has disappeared (or now lies under the grass) but it is still a pretty impressive spot.
You won't find anything like this anywhere else in the UK. The only 'amphitheatres' which remain outside Cornwall are those which were built by the Romans (e.g. at Cirencester).
So seeing the plein-an-gwarry is another excellent reason for visiting St Just.
Directions: Stand with your back to St Just's church. The plein-an-quarry lies across the square and over the road, to your right.
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This is a fascinating church, dating from the 1300s and set on a very ancient holy site from almost a millennium earlier.
It i the only church I have seen where the interior plasterwork has been removed (in Victorian times) and the bare stones pointed with a mixture of pitch and mortar. The intention was to reflect the rugged, rocky local landscape and, in a way, it works.
There's a lot to seek out.
1. The Selus stone dates from the late 500s/early 600s and bears the Latin inscription 'Selvs hic iacet' (Selus lies here). It is thought that Selus was St Just's brother, Saint Selevan.
2. 'Christ of the Trades', an early 1400s secco wall painting. It shows a wounded Christ blessing the tools of the parish trades.
3. St George and the Dragon, another secco wall-painting from the early 1400s, showing St George fighting the dragon.
4. The stairway leading to the top of the rood screen (a wooden partition which divided the altar area from the main part of the church). In past times sermons were given from the top of the rood screen.
5. The Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft, intricately-decorated in typical 'interlacing' style. It now forms the lintel of an alcove, but is though to date from the late 700s or early 800s.
6. A rather beautiful alabaster reredos behind the altar, with the figure of 14 Cornish saints. It only dates from 1894 but is a lovely piece of skilful work.
7. The detailed carvings on the capitals of the pillars, dating again from the early 1300s.
If you have any interest in history then a visit to St Just's church is essential. Don't miss the ancient Celtic- style cross at the entrance to the churchyard.
Directions: Visible in the main square. Hopefully, the church will be open if you visit in the daytime.
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Long title? - yes and quite a long way too -either a car or change buses in Penzance.
The outdoor theatre is the Minack. I've not been to a show there but its reputation is phenomenal and its setting, which I do know, leaves nothing to be desired.
The beach is Porthcurno - lovely hard white sand and fine land/seascapes.
The telecommunications museum is at Porthcurno because it was from 1870 the terminus of the telegraph cable from India and later was probably the main communications centre in the world. Without the museum this would take a bit of believing.
The phone and website given are for the museum but 'Minack theatre' in Google gives a site for there.
Directions: On the south coast near Land's End
Phone: 01736 810966
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I was told this was Bollawal but it seems that 'o's and 'a's are pretty well interchangeable. It's near Carn Gloose [alternative spelling - Carn Gluze.] The distance from St Just is easily walkable but there's a car road if you prefer.
Directions: Leave St Just along clearly marked unclassified road for Cape Cornwall and turn left shortly into Carn Gloose Road.
To me Cape Cornwall is one of England's great coastal points. I've never seen the Scilly Isles from it but you can when the view is clear enough.
Just out from the Cape are two large rocks called the Brissons [rhyming with prisons.] The area is owned by the National Trust and there is adequate parking - off-season at least.
Directions: Clearly marked road from St Just
Yes, another church - and I'm not even religious! This one is granite, like all the others in the area, but it has some interesting features.
The font dates from about 1100 and there are some spectacular pew end carvings. Outside the coffin rest in the north entrance is shaped - most being rectangular. Then there's St Levan's Stone. In early times this stone was venerated. How it became split is a matter for speculation but , if you want to, you can pick the legend about the saint. He tapped it with his staff and it split [it being well known that granite is softer than wood???] and he decreed:
When with panniers astride
A packhorse can ride
Through St Levan's stone
The world will be done.
Directions: Inland from Porthcurno
This may take a bit of finding but it's worth the effort. It's an iron age settlement and it's delightfully peaceful. The sites of the ancient dwellings are very clear but THE thing that makes Carn Euny is the excellent fogue [underground passage.] There are exotic ideas about its use but I'm afraid the most likely is very prosaic - storage.
Our cross-collie loved jumping across the dwelling sites and playing with Biggles, an old English sheepdog, who was 'helping' a man working there for English Heritage.
Directions: Take the Land's End road. Turn left when you reach the Penzance-Land's End road and get to Crows an Wra. Continue towards Penzance until you find a sign to your left.
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