Walk - Wheal Coates
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
If you are starting the walk from Wheal Coates, begin at 9 to walk to Chapel Porth and then follow the route directions from 1.
- Walk to the back of the Chapel Porth car park, passing the beach cafe and crossing a small stream, to pick up the South West Coast Path running alongside the stream.
- When the Coast Path turns sharply right to double back on itself up the hill, carry on along the path ahead, bearing left towards the trees when a path leaves on the right.
This is Chapel Coombe. A little way ahead the path is partly blocked by two banks of earth, the supports for a wooden bridge used in the Second World War by US troops stationed nearby. The circular area of bog raised above the bank is the remains of a buddle, used to separate out the minerals from the waste after mined ore is crushed. This was associated with the Charlotte United mine, whose engine house is visible ahead, one of a group of mines recorded as having produced a phenomenal 23,000 tons of copper ore before closing.
- In the willow bushes take the path to the left, crossing the stream and a smaller spring. Turn right and continue ahead when a path heads off to the left and another a short while later leads off to the right. Carry on alongside the stream for about half a mile, coming out on a lane at a T-junction.
In spring migrant birds such as chiff chaffs, black caps and willow warblers call from the bushes in the valley, and dragonflies and damsel flies hover above the water on sunny days.
- Towards the end of the open ground, when a track crosses from the right and your path disappears with it into the trees, turn left to walk a short distance to a narrow lane. Turn right here and walk along the lane to the road ahead, passing a couple of small lanes on the left.
To the right of you before you turn into the trees, the hedge travels along the remnants of a massive earthwork known as the Bolster Bank. The bank once stretched right across the headland from here to Trevaunance Coombe, and opinion is divided over its origins. Some historians believe that it dates from the Bronze Age, maybe 4000 years ago, but it is thought more likely to be a territorial boundary from one of the local tribal chieftains in the fifth or sixth century, when they were under increasing pressure from Anglo-Saxon invaders heading west. In the village of St Agnes they tell a different story again: the bank was the handiwork of the Giant Bolster, who terrorised the unfortunate locals until clever young St Agnes put paid to his evil tricks (see the St Agnes Head Walk).
- Turn left on the road and walk to the junction.
- At the junction take the road on the left and follow it to another lane on the right, just beyond the drive to the Beacon Hotel.
- Turn right on this lane and walk to Goonvrea House on the right-hand bend. Bear right around and behind the house to follow the path to the left past the buildings beyond. After this the path pulls away to the right to where it meets a number of other paths running in all directions over the open ground. Bear left at the first junction and fork right a moment later, following the path through the field ahead to come out by the buildings at Beacon Cottage Farm. Follow the main drive through the campsite to come out on Beacon Drive.
- Turn left on Beacon Drive and then turn right just before the corner to go through the car park and on along the path ahead to walk to the mine buildings at Wheal Coates.
Almost 300 million years ago, great heat and pressure was generated by the collision of continents, melting the Earth's crust to form granite, which was forced upwards through the slate. In the intense heat, water circulated through the cracks in the granite, dissolving minerals from the rocks around them. In time this formed the rich tin, copper and tungsten deposits exploited by Cornwall's highly successful mining industry. Some 50 million years later, further earth movements led to the formation of lead, silver, iron and zinc
Now part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, the local area was worked for tin for centuries and was a bustling industrial centre in the nineteenth century. It is thought that primitive mining operations were carried out here even in prehistoric times, and there is evidence of medieval mine workings. Wheal Coates Mine opened in 1802, and the famous Towanroath Pumping Engine House was built in 1872 to pump water from the adjacent shaft. In 1880 the Stamps Engine House was added to crush the ore, and at its peak production the mine was employing 138 people to mine and dress the tin, which was found in lodes just below sea level. Wheal Coates closed in 1889, although it reopened briefly between 1910 and 1913, when a calciner was built to roast the ore and remove impurities (principally arsenic). In 1986 the National Trust stabilised and preserved the three remaining buildings and now maintains the site for visitors from all over the world.
- From the mine buildings carry on towards the cliffs to pick up the Coast Path again, turning left to walk back downhill towards Chapel Porth.
Beside one of the paths as you descend to the beach there is a hollow in the ground, said to be a footstep left by the giant Bolster, and towards the bottom of the hillside are the remains of an ancient chapel, where villagers re-enact the Bolster story every May Bank Holiday as part of their St Agnes Bolster Festival.
Before leaving Chapel Porth, take the time to explore the beach. There are sea caves, formed when the pounding of the ocean enlarged a fault in the rock into a cavern, and the rock arches left behind when the currents and the air pressure they created inside the caves caused the roof to fall in. The towering cliffs below the engine houses of Wheal Coates are stained red by the iron oxide associated with the minerals in the rock, (although the Bolster legend claims that it is in fact due to the giant's bloodstains after St Agnes lured him to his death). Inside many of the caves, the walls are vivid with the colours of many different minerals, while to the left of the beach as you walk down it there are dramatically-veined red and green outcrops studded with limpets, mussels and whelks and encrusted with tiny barnacles, with sea anemones like strawberry jellies dotted between them.
Lelant-born author Rosamunde Pilcher set many of her novels in Cornwall, and they have been extensively adapted for stage and screen. Chapel Porth and the area around Wheal Coates provided some of the breathtaking Cornish scenery for the filming of her novel 'Nancherrow', filmed in 1999 and starring Susan Hampshire and Patrick Macnee. Pilcher was established as one of Britain's best-loved storytellers in 1987, when her novel 'The Shell Seekers' sold more than 5.5 million copies, and she wrote more than 20 novels and countless short stories before retiring from writing in 2000. In 2002 she was awarded the OBE for services to literature