Holiday haven and artists7 retreat on a wide, sandy bay
The dune-backed beaches of St Ives Bay attract holi-daymaking crowds, but the coast between the town and Cape Cornwall provides a striking contrast. Granite cliffs are topped with a patchwork of small, stone-walled fields overlooked by steep slopes clad in gorse and rich in prehistoric remains. Only at Cape Cornwall and Pendeen Watch may cars be driven close to the sea, and Portheras Cove is the only place suitable for bathing.
A much quieter spot than its well-publicised neighbour Land’s End, Cape Cornwall misses by only 1,000 yds the distinction of being the westernmost point in mainland England. The headland – the only one in England or Wales bearing the name of ‘Cape’ – is crowned with a tall chimney, standing in isolation, which marks the site of the 19th-century Cape Cornwall tin mine. Its long-abandoned workings extended north-westwards under the sea. From the modest summit there are good views of Land’s End and the Longships lighthouse.
Cape Cornwall is reached by a narrow, twisting lane from St Just, England’s westernmost town and a centre of the tin-mining industry during the Victorian era. From the car park at the end of the road a path leads down to Priest’s Cove, a sheltered inlet with a small stretch of sand.
On the clifftops north of Cape Cornwall, more derelict engine-houses, heaps of shale and closed-down mine shafts mark the site of what used to be one of Cornwall’s busiest mining communities. The mine on Botallack Head, which ceased working in 1895, was very close to the shore, and miners deep underground could hear the pebbles being scraped along above their heads as the tide ebbed and flowed.
Opened in 1977, the village’s Tin Mining Museum vividly illustrates the history of the hazardous industry that played such a major role in Cornwall’s life during the 19th century. The museum is on the site of the Geevor Mine, one of the few mines still in working order in the county. Visitors can see the machinery with which tin is extracted when the mine is operating.
Founded in 1911, the company’s early interests included the ill-fated Levant mine whose main shaft was more than 2,000 ft deep. In 1919 the ‘man-engine’ broke and claimed 31 lives. The device was essentially a rod, powered by a steam-engine, which rose and fell 12 ft with every stroke. A miner on his way to work stepped on to one of the rod’s many platforms, went down to the end of the stroke, stepped off on to another platform in the shaft, and repeated the process until he reached the appropriate level. It took about 30 minutes to descend the 130 platforms of Levant mine’s deepest shaft, from which levels went out more than a mile beneath the Atlantic.
Ore deposits stain the sea a rich, dark red as it batters the rocky headland from which a lighthouse has guided ships since 1900. From the car park by the lighthouse a cliff path leads down to a tiny cove where a sandy beach is exposed at low tide.
About half a mile east, reached by a path, lies Portheras Cove, a larger but still beautiful and secluded bay with a sandy, shingle-backed beach. Walkers who follow the clifftop path for 6 miles to Zennor can enjoy some of England’s finest coastal scenery. Near Rosemergy the path crosses 50 acres of National Trust land, where bracken and boulders lead to cliffs that delight expert climbers. They were used as a training area for commandos in the Second World War and, in 1963, were climbed by Lord Hunt and Sherpa Tensing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the conquest of Mount Everest.
LANYON QUOIT The stones of this ancient grave were originally the heart of a huge mound, about 90 ft by 40 ft, erected around 2500 BC.
GUIDING LIGHT Pendeen Watch lighthouse guides shipping off the coast between Cape Cornwall and Gurnard’s Head. Its beam can be seen 20 miles away.
One mile inland, in the village of Pendeen, a Mineral and Mining Museum is open daily. An organised cliff walk takes in sites connected with Cornish mining. Two miles further inland, a lane from Trevowhan to Penzance passes Lanyon Quoit, one of the Penwith peninsula’s many ‘gallery’ graves.
This tiny village, built of gale-defying granite, stands 300 ft above the sea in a landscape of wild beauty, and is watched over by the church of St Senara, dating from the 12th century. A memorial by the porch commemorates John Davey (1812-91), said to have been the last person to speak the ancient Cornish language as his native tongue – though this distinction is more generally claimed for Dolly Pentreath, who died at Mousehole in 1777. Postcards with the Lord’s Prayer in Cornish are on sale.
The church’s best-known feature is the Mermaid Chair, whose medieval carving depicts a mermaid with a mirror in one hand and a comb in the other. She is said to have been enchanted by the singing of a chorister, Matthew Trewhella, who eventually followed her down to the sea at Pendour Cove, beneath the spectacular cliffs of Zennor Head. The couple were never seen again, but legends relate that their sweet singing is sometimes heard at night.
D. H. Lawrence and his German-born wife Frieda lived at Zennor from 1915 until 1917, while the novelist worked on Women in Love. Rumours that the couple were spies, signalling from the cliffs to German submarines, were fuelled by the fact that Frieda was a cousin to Manfred von Richthofen, the ‘Red Baron’. The stories were untrue, but the Lawrences were eventually ordered to leave Cornwall within three days and report to the police when they found another place to live. The unhappy episode was later recalled in ‘The Nightmare’ chapter of Kangaroo, Lawrence’s semi-autobiographical novel.
Zennor’s Wayside Museum, in the garden of a cottage, has exhibits relating to tin mining and other aspects of local life. They include implements used to cut turf and gorse for fuel.
A sculpture called ‘Dual Form’, presented to St Ives by Dame Barbara Hepworth, stands outside the Guildhall and symbolises the town’s reputation as a haven for artists. Visitors flood in during the holiday season, but the oldest part of St Ives – between the harbour and Porthmeor Beach – retains its old-world character. It is a compact and enchanting maze of narrow streets, and even narrower lanes, paved with granite and squeezed between picturesque buildings. There is much to delight the stroller with an eye for detail.
Porthmeor Beach is ideal for surfing, while Porthgwidden and Porthminster are sheltered by St Ives Head. The harbour also dries out to form a sandy beach at low tide, and is protected by a stone pier built in 1770. It was the work of John Smeaton, the civil engineer who had pioneered bold new techniques when he designed the third Eddystone lighthouse in 1759. John Smeaton’s harbour helped St Ives to become Cornwall’s biggest pilchard port in the 19th century, when the fish were exported to markets as far afield as Italy.
St Leonard’s, a tiny building at the landward end of the pier, dates from the Middle Ages and was a chapel for fishermen. It stands on the site where St la, after whom St Ives is named, is said to have arrived by coracle from Ireland, in the 6th century. The building now houses a wall-to-wall photograph of the harbour in the days of sail, together with models of fishing boats.
The harbour is one of the few places between Land’s End and Newquay where trailer-borne boats can be launched; but a fee is charged and permission must be obtained from the harbourmaster. St Ives has seaside amusements, museums and art galleries. Lifeguards patrol Porthmeor Beach in summer, surfboards can be hired, and boat and fishing trips are available.
Steep slopes, sprinkled with houses and hotels, plunge down to the sheltered, sandy beach at Carbis Bay. The rocks near by are popular with fishermen, who catch pollack, plaice and mackerel. At low tide there are walks along the shore to Porth Kidney Sands and on to the old church at Lelant.
Motorists wishing to avoid the narrow streets of St Ives can take advantage of a
AN UNDERWORLD WHERE
FORTUNES WERE MADE
On granite headlands, in boulder-strewn valleys and perched on cliffs high above the sea, the gaunt chimneys and engine-houses of Cornwall’s derelict mines are stark relics of the days when fortunes were made in copper a,nd tin mining. Phoenician merchants from North Africa came to Cornwall for tin as long ago as the 5th century BC, and the Romans also extracted ore from near the surface by means of opencast mines. For centuries, deep mines were impossible because of the flooding that occurred when a shaft sank below the water-table. It was the invention of Thomas Newcomen’s steam-engine early in the 18th century that first provided a means of pumping water from the workings, and launched the boom years of Cornish mining. Newcomen’s engine was developed by Richard Trevithick to become the Cornish beam engine, which enabled mines to go down to great depths. Dolcoath, near Camborne, reached 3,300 ft, the deepest metal mine in Britain. After 1750, copper became the county’s most important mineral. By 1800 more than three-quarters of the world’s copper was mined in Cornwall, and copper mines outnumbered tin mines until the 1860s. Then the industry declined, due to competition from cheaper imported metal. Many mines were worked into the 20th century, but only a handful weathered the slump of the 1920s. special park-and-ride ticket from Lelant Saltings railway station. Lelant itself is a pretty village that prospered as a port until gale-driven sands started choking the.River Hayle’s estuary in the 15th century. A Survey of Cornwall, published in 1584, described it as ‘somtyme a haven town of late decayed by reason of the sands which hath choaked the harbour and buried much of the land and houses’.
The 15th-century church, dedicated to St Uny, stands on the edge of the dunes in a graveyard notable for four lichen-covered Celtic crosses. A path crosses the dunes to Porth Kidney Sands, where lifeguards patrol in summer; swimmers should avoid the estuary where the River Hayle joins the sea, causing cross-currents. Walkers following the long-distance coastal path cross the estuary by ferry.
Copper, tin and a foundry established by John Harvey in 1779 made Hayle the busiest port on Cornwall’s western coast for more than 100 years. By the 1830s it had a packet steamer service to Bristol and was linked to the mines of Camborne and Redruth by a railway. A notable cargo, shipped out by the foundry in 1844, was an immense steam-engine built to drain the Haarlem Lake in Holland; the cylinder weighed 25 tons.
The foundry’s closure in 1904 started Hayle’s decline as a port. Its harbour, built at the estuary of the River Hayle, is still used by private craft, but coal piled high on the riverside wharves is brought in by road. Paradise Park includes a bird garden, rare breeds of animals and a steam railway. At the head of the Hayle estuary an area called the Saltings is a breeding ground for a variety of birds, including kingfishers, cormorants, terns and herons.
Low cliffs and a huge expanse of turf-topped dunes – towan is Cornish for ‘sand-dune’ -overlook 3 miles of sands which sweep up the coast from the Hayle estuary towards Godrevy Point. There are caravans and holiday homes among the dunes.
Swimmers should avoid the mouth of the estuary, where they risk encountering swift currents and deep channels. There are lifeguard patrols in summer, and surfboards for hire. Windsurfing beginners are advised to take advantage of the gentler conditions in the estuary, or on Copperhouse or Carnsew pools in Hayle.
Reached by road, or on foot from Gwithian village, this is part of the 3 mile beach which runs south-westwards from Godrevy Point. Dunes sprinkled with chalets lead to low, unstable cliffs battered by the sea at high tide. North of Strap Rocks, patches of sea are stained by the Red River, which bears waste from old tin mines.
THE BEAM ENGINE The tall engine-houses of the Cornish mines were built to hold Trevithick’s beam engines. The beam in the early engines ions made of timber – later cast iron zoas used -and pivoted on the front wall of the engine-house. A rod from the piston mounted vertically in the house was attached to one end of the beam, and at the outer end a series of rods descended into the mine shaft. The pumps lucre simply plungers attached to the rods, and as the rods moved up and down the plungers lifted the water to a drainage level where it ran away through a boring and into a convenient valley. Some of the largest engines had a cylinder W0 in. in diameter and operated a 450 ton beam. Such an engine could pump more than 400 gallons per minute from a shaft more than 1,000 ft deep.
In some mines, men descended and climbed the shaft In/ near-vertical ladders. In others there was a ‘man-engine’ – a rod fitted with slept to raise and lower miners – alongside the pump. To reach the surface the miner would step on to the device at the bottom of the shaft, ride up until the rod started to descend again, step off and then on to the next step and so on until he reached the top.
THEN AND NOW The largest concentration of mining was in the Camborne-Redruth area, with about 100 mines in 6 square miles. South Crofty, north-east of Camborne, is kept ready for production when the price of tin is right, in conjunction with nearby Pendarves. So is Wheal Jane, east of Redruth. Along the coast derelict mines can be seen from Newquay to St Just, where Geevor near Pendeen is kept in working order.
MINERS’ WORLD Cornish miners toiled in a dark and dangerous world of rough-hewn caverns, such as this one at the East Pool Mine, north-east of Camborne. Baulks of timber shored the cavern walls and wooden ladders linked the various levels. At the turn of the century, when this picture was taken, the mine’s deepest level was 1,200 ft. It was still producing tin during the Second World War, and closed only in 1949.
UNDERGROUND TOILER TlltS typical miner of the 19th century has a coiled fuse at his waist, candles hanging from his neck and a candle stuck to his hard felt hat with clay.
MINES THAT CAN BE VISITED
Some idea of how tin was mined a century ago can be gained at Poldark Mining, near Helston, where a section of the old underground workings is open to the public. At Geevor Mine, visitors are taken down workings 2,000 ft deep, some extending under the sea. There are guided tours of the processing plant and a museum. Tolgus Mill at Portreath (closed for renovation in 1986) shows another age-old technique of extracting tin -by ‘streaming’. Though modern equipment is used, the basic technique is similar to the way in which early gold prospectors panned for gold. A number of engine-houses have been preserved and still have their pumping and winding engines, as at East Pool, Camborne. The Camborne School of Mines Geological Museum has a wide range of rocks and minerals on display.
TIN ‘STREAMING’ The earliest method of extracting tin was to ‘wash it out of the ground, using a mixture of fine sand and water, and then skim it off into a mould.