I must admit that we were inspired to explore Kenidjack valley after visiting the exhibition of Kurk Jackson’s work in St Just last year. Cornwall was bursting at the seams then and so we saved the intriguing walk through Kenidjack valley to Porthledden Cove until now.
Our walk through the steep sided Kenidjack valley followed a route that perfectly frames views to Cape Cornwall.
We were accompanied by a stream that gurgling beside us upon its journey to the sea through a landscape rich in history.
Tregeseal River is the very river that has given the valley life through the centuries. When mining was king, the water would have flowed red with minerals but now it’s cool and clear after extensive environmental works The path that it carved through the valley floor has been changed and redirected many times over the centuries, as miners sought to channel the power of the water. This gives a fascinating tapestry of intriguing granite ponds and leats – half hidden archaeological remains with uses as nearly forgotten as the names of the mines along the route.
Mining in Kenidjack valley
The stream itself would have been the earliest source of ore through tin streaming; In fact the earliest registration for tin streaming was in 26th October 1502 for an area measuring 16 perches by 4 perches. (Perche = a measurement or maybe 5 and half yards but dependent on the nation of origin)
Tin streaming was a surface operation and it wasn’t until the invention of explosives that the seams of ore were followed deep into the earth. The seams were never broad below Kenidjack and the supplementary income from extracting arsenic from the ore made the difference between profit and loss.
Kenidjack Arsenic Works (Carn Praunter)
The arsenic works have a haunting beauty now, on a bright spring day yet they must be bathed in melancholy on the days that the mist swirls up from the sea.
Over 160 tons of arsenic laden soil and soot were recovered from the site make it safe to explore. Sad to think that the men working in the mines years ago only used pieces of cotton wool in their nostrils as a safeguard as they retrieved the arsenic.
However the recent works have allowed wildlife and nature to flourish in the valley once more
Mines and workings associated with Kenidjack valley.
It’s difficult to trace the history of the mining here. Some of the old mine building collapsed in the big freeze and others were destroyed for demolition practice in the Second World War. But these are some of the mines associated with this area.
Wheal Boys (1670 audit can still be seen) Wheal Williams, Buzza, Wheal Praze, Yankee Boy (1859 – 1860), Great Trelewack/Porthledden, Little Trelewack, Great Weeth, South Weeth, Kenidjack Cliff, Wheal Castle and Wheal Zennor (1782). By 1822 Wheal Castle, Wheal Owles* Wheal Call (Call means Great Wheal) the final greatest mine was Bosewedden Mine.
Bosewedden Mine – including Wheal Castle and Wheal Call.
Between 1837 – 1876 Boswedden Mine produced 1.375 tons of tin and 200 tons of copper.
There were five engine houses associated with the mine and the remains of the Wheel pit can be found at the foot of the valley. (Wheel Call means great wheel) In 1822 this wheel of 65” (20 metres) was the second largest in operation in Britain.
Mining disaster near Kenidjack
We parked on the layby near Lower Boscean Mine and Wheal Drea (incorporated into the Wheal Owles group) It was the flooded workings of Wheal Drea that caused a caused a mining disaster.
The miners of Wheal Owles who could add a mile of tunnels a year in pursuit of the Ore broke through into the flooded mine of Wheal Drea. The surveyor had failed to take the changes of magnetic North into account when preparing the maps for the miners.
In those fateful moments a violent torrent of water and air, said by the miners to resemble thunder, extinguishing the miner’s candles and they were left in the pitch black of the underground world. In the darkness the men scrambled for the ladders and survival. Nineteen men and one boy were lost that day and their bodies lay entombed there still.
It is said that three mines were lost to the water and now there’s a vast underground lake that stretches for a mile and half from the Wesleyan Institute to St Just Churchtown.
A sobering though of the unknown province beneath our feet. Read more – National Trust
The rocky horseshoe of Porthledden cove is presided over by the might chimney above Cape Cornwall to the left and flanked by the Iron Age Promontory fort of Castle Kenidjack further to the right.
This is where our walk stopped for that day, basking in the sunshine beside the stream as it flowed into the sea..It was Perfect spot to watch the sea birds bath in the fresh water from the stream with sea dozing languidly in the still waters of the cove.
Our walk through Kenidjack Valley found a richly historic landscape, wildlife haven and artists paradise. No wonder Kirk Jackson was inspired to paint here!
To walk further it’s possible to cut across the cove to the far slipway at low tide to Cape Cornwall. (At high tide take the coastal footpath just above.) Or maybe turn right for the further rich history of the World Heritage coastline to The National Trust’s Crown Mines and Levant Mines. Look out for the memorial to the lives lost near to the West Wheal Owles disaster, between Castle Kenidjack and Botallack Mine. The spectacular Engine House of Wheal Owles West was used for filming in the Poldark series.
Parking and toilets
There’s free parking in St Just along with toilets or Cape Cornwall if approaching from the other direction.
There’s a small five car lay by towards the end of Old Foundry lane just before the industrial site of J&T Polglaze
The Little Wonder Café is normally open on the National Trust car park at Cape Cornwall through the busier periods.
St Just has foodie cafes, Pubs, Fish and Chips and the most awesome Moomaid of Zennor ice cream in the square of St Just.