Walk - Blue Hills Tin Mine Walk
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Coming out of the bottom Quay Road car park turn right to pick up the South West Coast Path a little way uphill on the left, beside Driftwood Spars. (From the higher pay-and-display car park turn left to walk down the road to Driftwood Spars and pick up the Coast Path on your right). Follow the Coast Path uphill and around the cliffs above the beach to drop steeply down into the next valley. Turn left when the path joins the road and walk to the Blue Hills Tin Streaming entrance.
Trevaunance Cove has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its national geological importance, showing the two principal ore-bearing mineral veins associated with granite from the Variscan period of mountain-building when two continents collided around 400 million years ago.
Another fascinating feature to be seen at Trevaunance are the granite blocks scattered around the cove, the last remnants of what was once a very busy port. There were no fewer than four unsuccessful attempts to build a harbour at here between 1632 and 1709 by the local Tonkin family leaving them deeply in debt. A fifth, built in 1710, was also washed away within 20 years, and it was not until 1798 that a harbour breakwater was finally constructed which was capable of withstanding the pounding of the waves.
The harbour served the ships supporting the many mines around St Agnes Head. Ore was dropped to these down a chute from the ore bins, still visible on the cliffs above, while coal was raised to the mines using a horse whim - a round platform where a horse would be led around a winch. In the winter of 1915, a great storm washed this harbour away, and with mining having declined by this stage, no further attempt was made to rebuild it.
Jericho Valley, as this area is known, has for over a hundred years hosted a leg of the Land's End Classic Trial on its steep lanes. The motor race, held every Easter, runs from London to Land's End. The original challenge in 1908 was to ride to Land's End and back, and it was run by the Motorcycling Club. Cars were admitted in 1914, and after 1920 the route was one-way only. Blue Hills was a famous part of the event with as many as 500 competitors taking part. In 1936 the Club enlarged the old miners' path to make the current road.
- For a detour to the beach turn left here to follow the road and then a path towards the coast. There are some striking remnants of old mine workings along the river. Otherwise turn right through the Blue Hills entrance.
Cornish mining dates back to prehistoric times. Metal traders from the Mediterranean visited as long ago as 2000 BC, referring to Britain as the 'Cassiterides' ('tin islands'). Most of Britain's tin, arsenic and copper were produced in Cornwall and West Devon.
The earliest tin workers extracted tin from the sand and gravel on beaches and on the beds of streams. Later they extended this underground, and by the sixteenth century they were tunnelling into hillsides and cliffs, wherever the rich veins of tin ore were visible.
The Blue Hills Tin Mine is one of a handful of the old mines that worked here until 1780, before the depth of the shafts exceeded the pumping facilities available at the time. The harnessing of steam power brought a new range to the pumps' capabilities, and the mines reopened in 1810. By 1897, however, Australia and Malaya were dominating the market in tin and, unable to compete, the Blue Hills mines closed, with the loss of 100 jobs.
The small tin processing plant still working today at Blue Hills is Cornwall's last tin stream works and produces tin which has been gathered along the coastline, mined by the sea and washed by the waves.
Here you can see rock being crushed to a coarse sand by stamps shod with iron, powered by a water wheel, and then finely ground in a ball mill. After this the tin powder is washed and separated on a shaking table, and the concentrated ore produced by this is smelted in a furnace running at very high temperatures. This produces the brilliant white metal which is then cast into ingots or turned into the jewellery, tableware and other gifts available for sale in the mine.
The mine is open from Monday Saturday between April and October, from 10 am until 2 pm.
After visiting Blue Hills (or not), carry on along the footpath through Trevellas Coombe towards Barkla Shop.
- Passing a footbridge, fork right uphill to the lane, bearing right on it to carry on up to the road. Continue ahead along the footpath opposite to the next road (or carry on down the road for a shortcut to 5, below).
- Turn right along the road and walk to the junction, bearing right to return to the main road.
- Cross the road again to take the road opposite and carry on over the high Goonlaze plateau until you come to another road.
'Goonlaze' comes from the Cornish 'goon las', meaning 'green down'. Although this has since become an industrial estate, this was the site of Wheal Kitty, formed of a collection of mines working the numerous lodes heading in various directions through the granite. Some of the old buildings still stand.
To the left was the old Count House the administrative centre of the mine while to the right are the remains of the Holgates Shaft and the Old Sump Shaft. Ahead are the dressing floors, where the ore was processed, and the recently restored engine house. Equipped with a 65-inch beam engine bought second-hand, the engine house's function was to pump out Sara's Shaft, which was no less than 950 feet deep when the mine finally closed in 1930.
- Turn left on the road and walk to the main road at Peterville.
- For a detour into St Agnes turn right and then left; but otherwise turn right and then right again onto Quay Road.
- A short distance beyond, turn right onto the footpath marked up a rough lane. This leads gently uphill above Quay Road and rejoins the Coast Path at the start of the walk. Turn right to return to the car park.