Text by Marina Dewing - Photos by Richard De Nul
The Tamar Valley is noted not only for its mining heritage, but also for a wealth of tradition which still survives in the form of local events and festivities. Why not combine the two to make a memorable day out with this special month by month Journal diary.
This text was previously published in the Plymouth Mineral & Mining Club on February 2008 (Vol. 37, N° 3).
Spring - February
... can surprise us with some mild days and bright sunshine. Make the most of them by exploring the mines of Luckett village. All the information you need is contained in volume five of 'Exploring Cornish Mines' by Kenneth Brown and Bob Acton.
There is still plenty to see and photograph at both New Consols and Wheal Sheba.
An added attraction is that you are just a mile away from the 15th century Royal Inn at Horsebridge, which is also a brewery. The anticipation of a roaring fire, good food and locally brewed ale will sustain you throughout a day rich in I.A.
Spring - March
.. is the ideal month to visit Holmbush mine sett before new growth on the trees obscures the enigmatic grandeur of buildings which once housed mining machinery.
There is public access and a good parking area. A comprehensive guide and history can be obtained from Callington Town Hall (01579 384039).
Less than two miles north of Holmbush the pretty village of Stoke Climsland holds a market on the first Saturday of each month from 9a.m to 12.30p.m. Visit the market first to stock up with home made goodies for your picnic! Later in the day the quaintly named Swingletree Inn at Kelly Bray would make an ideal place to stop for sustenance.
Spring - April
... showers won't put you off an expedition to Hingston Down where the exposed position of the engine house at Bailey's shaft provides spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
Include the Greenhill arsenic works for an engrossing day out. Volume four of 'Exploring Cornish Mines' contains a wealth of information about the area.
For a unique hostelry try the Rifle Volunteer at St. Anne's Chapel - both the view from the dining room and the food are superb— but be warned, the bill will not be small !!!
Calcite from Lutcott Mine - Holmbush Mine - Hingston Down Mine
Summer - May
... can bestow the gift of some amazing weather, and where better to enjoy it than the lovely village of Calstock.
Surrounded by mine sites it nestles deep in the Tamar Valley, sheltered by steep wooded hillsides which conceal a wealth of industrial archaeology. The largest mine in this area was Okel Tor, well served by a public footpath and described in 'Exploring Cornish Mines' volume five.
As well as the delights of this popular village you can experience the fun of Calstock Festival during the Spring Bank Holiday at the end of May (www.calstockfestival.co.uk).
If you fancy an interesting boat trip the passenger ferry runs from May to September between Calstock and Cotehele. For details telephone 01822 833331.
Summer - June
... would not be the same without spending time on Kit Hill. There is so much to see and explore that most people return time and time again.
Views are stunning and unsurpassed, walking is easy on well marked paths and the mines are identified with large information boards containing plenty of detailed diagrams.
There is a tea room nearby for refreshments - you will need them if you intend to stay and watch a dramatic sunset with the stack silhouetted against a vibrant, darkening sky.
For an extra treat be there on the nearest Saturday to the Summer Solstice and join in with the celebrations organised by the Old Cornwall Society. The traditional ceremony marks Mid Summer with a bonfire lit at sunset, verses spoken in Cornish and English and the old custom of casting herbs into the flames. This year’s event will take place on Saturday 23rd June at 10p.m.
Summer - July
... is a good month to get out and about, and what could be better than getting away from it all on a leisurely stroll beside gently flowing water. A public footpath follows the Tavistock canal along the towpath from West Bridge for about two miles, and is a very pleasant amble.
Built in the early 1800s, the canal carried the ore from the mines of Mary Tavy and Tavistock in iron barges to the port of Morwellham.
The canal tunnel at the end of the towpath is not accessible to the public.
For added interest, however, the wharf (between West and Abbey bridges} is the place where barges were loaded. Most of the original buildings remain, and the cobbled loading area has been preserved.
Another good reason for visiting the area is the food and drink festival in the Bedford car park adjacent to the wharf. This year it takes place on 26/27 July.
The Tamar River - Kit Hill - Mary Tavy Mines
Autumn - August
... can be a month of stifling heat, so what about choosing a location with plenty of shady trees? Clitters mine at Gunnislake is a large wooded area providing a good range of mining interest.
The full walk is set out in 'Exploring Cornish Mines' volume four. The mining enthusiast should make a note of the fact that the four days preceding (and including) the first Saturday in August is Gunnislake Festival.
Advertised as 'art, music, heritage and fun’ it includes a local history exhibition in the public hall which displays many features of Gunnislake's rich industrial past.
Autumn - September
... brings the beginning of term for most schools and local traffic builds up as a result, so we'll take the train!
The Tamar Valley Line runs from Plymouth to Gunnislake with stations at Bere Ferrers, Bere Alston and Calstock. Not only will you enjoy wonderful river scenery but will also get a good view of many of the Tamar Valley mines.
It is quite an experience to cross Calstock viaduct with the train seemingly perched precariously high above the river! From Gunnislake station it is a short stroll to the Queen's Head at Albaston, taking in the stabilised ruins of Drakewalls mine along the way.
There has recently been dramatic subsidence at Drakewalls East where an old gunnis is opening up. The area, directly behind the filling station, has been fenced off and work to stabilise the adjacent engine house is due to start soon. For train times go to www.nationalrail.co.uk.
Autumn - October
... and the sun is getting lower in the sky. Perfect for visiting Devon Great Consols to get those photographs with long shadows and bags of atmosphere.
The enormous dumps glow amber and gold in Autumn sunshine, framed by moody, dark green towering fir trees.
On the second Wednesday of October you could end your day at the famous Tavistock Goose Fair. Just three miles from D.G.C. you will find the pubs open all day and festivities going on well into the night!
Clitters Mine - Childrenite from Drakewalls Mine - Devon United Consols
Winter - November
... can be chilly so keep warm at Morwellham. Many of the exhibits are indoors and you can take a train ride into the George and Charlotte mine (normal admission charges apply).
At weekends the Ship Inn on the guay has live music in the evenings and special events are organised throughout the winter. For what's on visit morwellham-quay.co.uk.
Winter - December
... needs a Christmas theme so first take a walk through the Danescombe valley at Calstock. It is National Trust property with a public footpath running through it.
The buildings of Calstock Consols and Danescombe Mine have mainly been converted by the Trust into holiday cottages. Even the Engine house has a penthouse apartment perched loftily on the top floor of the structure.
South of the valley lies historic Cotehele House, reached by a well signposted footpath through the woods.
At the house a traditional Christmas welcome still includes fine festive fayre, log fires and the Christmas Garland for which Cotehele is justifiably famous. More details at the website of the National Trust.
Winter - January
... days are short but there's plenty of time for a tour of Gawton mine. These days the buildings play hide- and-seek amongst the growing saplings and the tips change shape with the erosion of winter's storms.
Nevertheless it never loses its appeal - the charm of that famous bent stack or the reticence of its ivy-clad engine house only adds to the charisma of this once-thriving complex.
Before January's chill reaches the bones, make your way to the nearby village of Bere Alston for a hot beverage.
It is worth traveling a further two miles to the picturesque village of Bere Ferrers, where the Old Plough Inn has a warm welcome for the weary miner.
Morwelham Quay - Dartmoor - Gawton Mine