Cornish Chronicles: tin mines

Tin mining was once West Cornwall’s major industry, and ruined engine houses are still a common sight. We visited four of them – Levant and Geevor have an entrance fee, the others are free.

Levant

Levant Mine is built right on the coast and its tunnels used to extend a mile under the sea. As well as the ruins, you can see the 1840 beam engine, restored and operated by volunteers. It’s the only Cornish mine engine still worked by steam, and obviously had a strong appeal for the engineer in our party. Levant is also known for its man-engine, a rod-and-platform arrangement which transported the miners up and down the shaft saving them hours climbing ladders. On 20 October, 1919 (95 years ago today) the rod collapsed, killing 31 men in the shaft. It was moving to read survivors’ accounts, and to walk along the tunnel leading to the man-engine where all those miners trod before us. It’s pictured below – to me, it looks more like a passage in a castle or monastery.

Botallack

A mile along the coastal path from Levant is Botallack Mine, so we visited both on the same afternoon. Botallack is  unstaffed, but you can pick up a self-guided trail – be prepared for a steep descent if you decide to go down to Crowns engine houses perched at the base of the cliffs. Once again, I’m reminded of castles.

Geevor

A short walk in the other direction from Levant lies Geevor – though we came back a different day to visit this one. It was one of the last mines in Cornwall to close (1990) and has been lovingly restored as a museum. In some parts, it felt as if the miners had just left with plenty of evidence of the, eventually futile, struggle to keep Geevor open. Once again, the engineer enjoyed playing with the machinery! I was impressed that the three large compressors (from 1922, 1929 and 1951) were all built in Glasgow. You could also go underground here, into some early 19th century tunnels – not for the claustrophobic. Nice café for lunch too!

Ding Dong

We passed many other deserted ruins, but only at Ding Dong were we on foot (it was en route during a circular walk between prehistoric sites). This is reputed to be Cornwall’s oldest mine – official records date back to the 17th century but legend has it that the mine was worked over 2000 years ago and visited by Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea. Other than my Lonely Planet guidebook I know of no source for that! Lets agree it’s very old anyway.

Coming next – that prehistoric walk.