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The National Trust tour I had pre-booked for the Sunday afternoon of my Cornwall holiday was of the Levant Mine and Beam Engine, in the St Just area on the north coast of the Penwith peninsula. As requested by the Trust, because of the earlier start of the Tour of Britain, I had allowed plenty of time to get there, and, also at their request, parked not at the Mine itself but a 20-minute walk away at Geevor mine, open to the public, but not NT property.

It was a very grey day, with rain threatening all the time.

As I had thought, the Tour of Britain had no impact on access, having passed surely three hours previously – but thank you, National Trust, for having alerted me to it! I had therefore, even allowing for the walk to Levant, some 30 minutes in hand, so I wandered around the desolate landscape for some while.

I was surprised to see how little nature had taken over from the abandoned terrain, but later learned that Geevor had only closed in 1991.

My first, but not last, sight of the South West Coast Path, here going north-east. But I had to go south-west and make my way to the Levant Mine.
The name of this valley is Trewellard Bottoms.
Arsenic processing buildings
L to R: Compressor house chimney, Stamps chimney and Arsenic chimney

Vince was our volunteer guide, a geology teacher of both aspiring mining engineers and of A level students. (In reply to a question from me, he said that the future’s in lithium, indium and gallium apparently, although the first two are running out, especially indium, essential for our touch screens to work, and that will be all mined out by 2030.) From his style, I would guess that Vince is an excellent and passionate teacher.

He gave us full and fascinating explanations, and was also a mine (sorry) of historical anecdotes. I was very conscious that I would manage to hang on to very little of what he said, which is perhaps fortunate, since this post would be very long if so. But I do recall that he said that mining in this area had started some 4500 years ago. Beaker people from Switzerland had brought the skills here, but it was not known how they had acquired those skills. Here is a full account of mining in Cornwall and Devon.

The only piece of 20th century equipment in the mine, which closed in 1930.
So much more protective than a modern geologist’s plastic helmet, this miner’s hat is made of felt and rendered rock solid with resin.

Vince explained about lodes and the way their valuable constituents separated themselves out, into tin, copper, arsenic and silver, and how they went for miles out to sea.

The turquoise reveals the continued presence of copper.
The picture shows a pony being lowered into the mine. It would then live there for four years before being brought up, gradually accustomed to the light, and put out to pasture. Apparently the conditions the law insisted on for ponies were much better than those it prescribed for miners.
The tools used by bal maidens to break up the rocks. Their conditions were even worse than those of the men down the mines.

After a while, Vince took us to the beam engine, and handed us over to Peter, the engineer, who explained how steam was raised and worked the engine. For various reasons I was able to follow little, and just concentrated on the sheer beauty of the thing, and loved seeing it set in motion.

Entrance to the Beam engine house
The beam from the top.
What the wheel turned. I was just outside in time to see them in action.
Looking back on the various buildings

Ahead was the Miners’ Dry. a huge room where the miners dried out at the end of a shift. But before that, Vince explained why some parts of the land were so dangerous.

When a shaft was closed, it was just covered with wooden boards which were grown over and just rotted in due course. Tread on one of those areas and…

In its heyday this was the Miners’ Dry:

Just the floor remains now, with the Compressor house chimney beyond.

Next and last we descended to the start of the the man engine shaft. The man engine was an ingenious but very dangerous mechanism for lowering the miners to their working areas. It broke in 1919, killing 31 people, after which mining the lowest levels was abandoned.

Botallack mine (also National Trust, though not part of this tour) was just a kilometre further down the coast. I was shattered, and had a 15-minute climb back to the car park ahead of me, so I decided I would not join a couple who were planning to visit, but returned to my car tired, but very happy, at the end of two excellent days.

I had planned nothing yet for the Monday, but had lots of competing ideas.