Travel

On Not Meeting Demelza in Poldark Country

No, not even Ross. Rather reality crept in upon me as I took nimble steps down to ruins of tin mines perched upon the rugged cliffs of the Cornish landscape, the inky-turquoise waters of the Celtic Sea crashed dashed against granite rocks and frothed below a strong afternoon sun. Paths ribboned around the cliffs, some muddy and slithery enough to make me take a step back, and, hold the husband back too. “If you are going, leave the car keys behind,” I said into the quiet of the noon. Unfeeling? Tough luck. You have got to figure out ways of dealing with stubbornness.

So you swoon over Ross Poldark, that well-toned torso in the buff, the scarred cheek beneath the tricorn hat and the smouldering good looks, but Winston Graham’s world does not even begin to touch upon the dangers which tin miners faced every day of their lives when they went about work. You see, what I have shown photographs of, above and below, are remnants of engine houses. The miners used to travel down shafts and go into a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels that ran below the sea for miles. Ponies were also sent down those shafts to work for months below in those tunnels. As they worked on extracting metal from the seams along the coastline, the sea pounded away above their heads.

There were dreadful accidents. Men used to work within the shafts, perched upon ledges as they worked man-worked engines to deliver their fellow workers to the tunnels. When an iron cap or bolt did not work right, entire pillars of men were mangled and crushed to death. Certainly not cheery, but the realities of life and how they have changed with time. You wonder if people still lead such lives, fraught with danger, in a bid to garner their daily pieces of bread.

We spent hours charting paths up and down the cliffs, exploring the disused tin engine houses and remnants of labyrinthine structures where arsenic was solidified and cooled into crystals. Yet we were in the midst of our explorations beneath a chirpy sun and blue skies – just close your eyes and lend your imagination to the same landscape under stormy skies and a gale-swept turbulent sea. That is the terribly truth of tin mining which is now conserved in these UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There were once 3,000 tin mines strewn around the coast.

I would say give it a go. It is the real story behind Poldark’s world.

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We walked down a narrow path to the bluff. From that big boulder jutting out above the bluff is a view of Botallack mines (it has been featured in Poldark). On both sides of the path are steep falls into the rocks below. It is a little alarming as you see that path from above the bluff, but as you scramble down, you realise that the trail is not as fatal as it looks.
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Before we climb up the cliffs and go down to the Botallack tin engine houses.
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Tall and Taller.
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Making our way down to the engine houses of Botallack. In the old days they used to have ladders that would take the miners to the engine house at the very bottom of the cliffs. We had no way of going down there. 
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Dramatic views around the Botallack ruins.
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Paths that suddenly taper off, hugging cliffs and snaking around them.
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Like that…
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Levant mines
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Fragrant gorse and mine remnants sticking out into the firmament.
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The tin miners who worked at Levant in the 19th century.
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Botallack in tatters
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Pendeen Lighthouse that tin miners must have seen as they went about their rigours.
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Towanroath Engine House in St. Agnes. Adi tripped down the slopes off the charted paths, and I had to follow, till I stopped short in dismay. Running down ’em slopes carpeted with heather and prickly bushes is not a plum idea. Period.
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The 19th century Towanroath Engine House is perched right above the Celtic Sea.
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Ponies around Land’s End
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Conversations with curious listeners
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Disused tin mines at Porkellis.
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The Celtic Sea beneath a mellow sun as it starts its journey into the horizon after an full day of shining strong above us.

Which Tin Mines to Explore: Head to the tin mines of Botallack, Levant and Geevor around Land’s End and the ones along the stretch of St. Agnes. Poldark Mine is the only one that takes you underground but the mine was re-dubbing taking advantage of the novels and the telly series. Botallack is the most dramatic of the lot.

Where to Stay: Book former lighthouse keepers’ cottages at Pendeen Lighthouse through Rural Retreats (www.ruralretreats.co.uk).

What to Do: Long rambles around the tin mines. The thing to remember is this: Do not go tumbling into the granite rocks below. Some paths are dangerous. We took some of them so I would not say wuss out completely. But do take a call and keep a check upon those adventurous genes in places where you do not feel quite so sure of making it back. You also have to keep this in mind that in this part of mining country, you do not have to make an effort. Drama will come your way.

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