Blog WHS Visits

WHS #562: A Mining Landscape

The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape is one of the more remote sites on the UK mainland. The closest international airport I could fly into was Bristol, still a 2 hour and 45 minute drive away from my first destination. The WHS is spread out over 10 locations, most even much further at the tip of Cornwall and totally out of reach for my weekend trip. Together they form a partly relict and partly evolving cultural landscape, the result of 18th and early 19th century copper and tin mining.
Hiking around St. Agnes
I had been advised to start at St. Agnes Mining District. St. Agnes is a coastal village with a mining history since prehistoric times. I had brought with me a print of a 9km circular walk along the coast, taking in some of the mining ruins. After parking the rental car in the town center, I started walking immediately. Signage isn't great, but somehow I found my way to the Trevaunance Cove. From here copper ore was shipped to Wales for smelting, and coal and other goods were unloaded for use at the mines. Already on this first stretch I saw a couple of the characteristic chimneys from the former mines. It's a very pretty landscape. After my lunch at the Driftwood Spars (a former warehouse), I started hiking the full loop along the coast. There were numerous people about, often walking their dogs or just enjoying the sunny weather like I did. The leaflet I brought pointed out several points of interest on the way, but I found it difficult to trace them down. Most of the time my eyes were drawn to the carcasses of the mines - with some imagination they resemble Crusader castle ruins. In the distance you can also see the remains of waste and spoil heaps, but the landscape in general feels quite natural. I spent some 3 hours in this area, and the scenery certainly lived up to my expectations.
Gwenapp Pit
The next morning I set out for Gwenapp Pit, a former hollow created by mining turned into an amphitheatre. It is situated way out in the countryside, only reachable by a series of typical English narrow roads and even narrower bridges. Although I found the visitor center closed, the gate to the Pit itself was open and I had a look around. It's a funny construction, used in the late 18th century for the Methodist preachings of John Wesley. Its stepped form with turf seats dates from later remodelling. My last stop was Tavistock, a town in West Devon clearly on the well-worn tourist path. The Tavistock Canal that crosssects it is a good example of the transport network that resulted from the mining in the region. The local museum only opens from Easter, like others that I encountered over the weekend. Maybe for the better, as it prevented me from making more derogatory remarks about regional British museums! So I just roamed around in town a bit. The former Iron Works now have been turned into housing. I tracked all sites of historic interest down, from the Sir Francis Drake statue to the Wharf. I ate a cheese and bacon pasty and drove on after 1.5 hours or so.
Traditional houses in Tavistock
I found it hard to really get a good grip on the value of this WHS, having to put the pieces of the puzzle together myself as the elements are so scattered. The nomination file is an interesting read, though it focuses mostly on the mining heydays of this region and less so on the resulting landscape. There's no doubt about the importance and global impact of these pioneering industries. The effect of mining I found much less visible than at the Nord Pais de Calais Mining Basin WHS for example, which peaked some 100 years later. The St. Agnes Mining District definitely was the most rewarding location of the 3 that I visited.

Els - 25 March 2015

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Ian Cade 26 March 2015

Whilst it isn't as authentic as a proper Cornish pasty I am rather fond of the cheese and bacon ones. Though I think you would have to spend all day mining to burn off the calories.

Paul Tanner 26 March 2015

You Dutch can't stay away from the cheese - the traditional meat and potato would have had fewer calories!

Els Slots 26 March 2015

I did try the "Pasty" because Ian had mentioned it in his review! I am afraid it has loads of calories.

Paul Tanner 26 March 2015

Note you tried a "Pasty" if not with the "traditional" ingredients. The "Cornish pasty" has been given PGI ("Protected Geographical Indication") status in Europe (much to the annoyance of many in UK from beyond Cornwall who do not appreciate the EU's propensity for controlling the minutiae of life!) and is linked closely with the mining industry as food which the miners would have taken down the mine with them and would have been made by their wives with whatever was "on hand". See Wiki for a fuller introduction to the "Cornish Pasty" -