Carn Brea and the Great Flat Lode

A circular walk along the Great Flat Lode, where the Basset family made their fortune from the rich mineral reserves, to Carn Brea where they built a hunting lodge balanced on a tor in the style of a castle.
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The walk follows the Great Flat Lode from South Wheal Frances to Wheal Basset before climbing Carn Brea to the castle. The walk follows the ridge, passing the tors and the Basset Monument before descending into the Red River valley. After climbing out of the valley, the route circles through Higher Condurrow where the Camborne School of Mines still have a teaching mine and passes the King Edward Mine Museum. The return route is via the trails along the Great Flat Lode from Wheal Grenville.

Reviews

We did that walk in May and it's a lovely walk up to the monument.
This is such an interesting area for walking, with plenty of industrial archaeology and some spectacular views!
We did this walk over Easter - fabulous views and steeped in tin mining history.
It’s a beautiful walk - interesting and great view across to the tin mines dotted around
Beautiful walk with amazing views ...
Great iwalk done. Love the rumps

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.9 miles/9.5 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: South Wheal Frances
  • Parking: South Wheal Frances TR166JX. Turn off the A30 at Tolvaddon Junction signposted for Pool and Camborne. Follow the A3047 into Pool past Heartlands and Tesco to the junction over the bridge signposted to Brea and Four lanes. Follow the road until you reach a staggered crossroads with a Great Flat Lode sign to the right. Turn right and South Wheal Frances car park is a short distance along this on the right.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Panoramic views from Carn Brea
  • King Edward Mine museum
  • Shire Horse and Carriage museum
  • Vast amounts of mining heritage

Directions

  1. Make your way along the track through the centre of the car park to the back to reach a metallic information board. Turn right onto the path running behind this and follow the path to reach a fork at a waymark.

    The area around South Wheal Frances has been worked from the 1700s. A lease was granted in 1834 by Lady Frances Basset (hence the name Wheal Frances) and by 1891 miners had extracted 68,000 tons of copper ore and nearly 7,000 tons of tin ore.

  2. Keep right at the fork and follow the path to the road. Cross the road to the path opposite marked Great Flat Lode. Follow the path through the tunnel until it ends in a junction with another path.

    The tunnel that the walk passes through was rebuilt in 1997 as part of the Great Flat Lode trail.

    The Basset tramway was constructed to transport ore from the mineshafts of South Wheal Frances and Wheal Basset to the stamps for crushing and the dressing floors. The trams were originally horse-drawn but a steam locomotive was later added during one of the extension and modernisation programmes.

  3. Turn left at the junction and follow the path until it emerges onto a track.

    The Great Flat Lode is a large deposit of tin ore south of Carn Brea that was worked in the 1870s. It was given the name "flat" because the angle of the mineral vein was unusual in not being near-vertical but sloped at a more gentle angle, allowing more of it to be worked before if became too deep to mine.

  4. Turn left onto the track and follow it until it ends on a lane.

    When the continental plates collided and pushed Cornwall up from the seabed, upwellings of magma gradually cooled to form granite. During cooling, the granite cracked (vertically as the weight of rock above compressed the granite horizontally). Later, mineral-rich molten rock bubbled up into these fissures and crystallised. The result is that nearly all the mineral lodes in Cornwall are close to vertical and the Cornish mines consequently consisted of large numbers of vertical working areas known as "stopes".

  5. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until it ends in a junction opposite Carkie Methodist Church.

    In the early 18th Century, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Meanwhile in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers. The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. Services were held in the cottages which was attractive to women who needed to look after young children, and in the many villages where the parish church was more than a mile away or at the top of a steep hill. A combination of these factors made Methodism very popular in Cornwall and through the late 18th and the 19th Century, many chapels were built (in the centre of the villages).

  6. Turn right at the junction and follow the road to a track marked South Carn Brea where the row of houses on the left ends with a postbox and telephone box.
  7. Turn left onto the track and when you reach West Basset Stamps continue along the track to the Cattle Grid sign. Follow the track around the bend past the engine house to reach the cattle grid. Go through the kissing gate beside the cattle grid to reach a fork in the track.

    Extensive mining took place around Carnkie in the 17th and 18th Centuries but when a licence was granted in 1832 for South Wheal Basset (which became simply Wheal Basset), the mine was an immediate success and made a huge fortune for the Basset family. Rich copper reserves were found at relatively shallow depths and over 128,000 tons of copper ore had been extracted by 1880. Beneath this were rich tin reserves in the Great Flat Lode which was struck both from the original southern mine and North Wheal Basset (which had been merged into Wheal Basset at that point).

  8. Keep right at the fork and again bypass the cattlegrid via the kissing gate and follow the track to reach a junction of tracks.
  9. Follow the path ahead in the direction indicated by the light blue waymark. Continue to reach a junction of paths.

    Common honeysuckle is a native plant also known as woodbine because it wraps itself around other plants and can cause distortions in their growth also called woodbines. Honeysuckle might be regarded as having plant OCD in that it only ever entwines in a clockwise direction. Flowers appear from June to August and their fragrance is due to a class of chemical compounds known as Jaminoids that occur in, as you might have guessed, Jasmine but also Ceylon tea. Honeysuckle is the food plant of the White Admiral caterpillar so keep a look for the butterflies in summer.

  10. Take the middle of the three paths ahead and follow it uphill to reach a junction of paths.
  11. Bear left to follow the path uphill towards the castle. Continue as the path bends left past the castle to emerge in a small car park.

    Carn Brea Castle is on the site of a 14th Century chapel dedicated to St Michael. In the 18th Century it was rebuilt as a hunting lodge for the Basset family in the style of a castle. During the 1950s to the 1970s the building fell into disrepair but was renovated from 1975-1980 and is now in use as a restaurant. There are panoramic views which include St Ives Bay and the coast around Portreath. Consequently, from the sea, the building is a clear landmark and formed an important beacon for shipping: a lease from 1898 stipulates that the tenant must maintain a light in a north-facing window.

  12. Follow the concrete track ahead from the car park to reach another parking area where a small path departs to the right.

    One of the 15 Ford Anglia cars used for filming the "flying car" scenes in the Harry Potter films was stolen from studios in St Agnes in 2006 and found dumped in the car park at Carn Brea castle after, police assume, the thieves failed to find a Harry Potter fan who would buy it. Since the car had no engine, the thieves are thought to have towed it there on a rope. In 2015, one of the cars used in the film was sold to the One Direction boy-band singer Liam Payne for "a pretty penny" who, unfortunately for the thieves at Carn Brea, was only 12 in 2006.

  13. Turn right onto the small path and follow it to the base of the monument.

    The tors on Carn Brea were used as the basis of a Neolithic settlement around 3700-3400BC. The settlement is thought to have consisted of around 14 long houses surrounded by ramparts. There is a lot of evidence that stone axes were made on the site. Pottery was also found, made of clay from the St Keverne area, suggesting a complex trade network. The presence of over 700 flint arrowheads and remains of burnt timber structures could be the result of attack.

  14. Continue ahead towards the tors and either follow the path along the left side of the tors or walk over them and climb down the other side to reach a path leading ahead.

    The 90ft high Celtic cross on the top of Carn Brea was erected as a monument to Francis Basset and is inscribed "The County of Cornwall to the memory of Francis Lord de Dunstanville and Basset A.D. 1836."

    Basset gained the title of Baron for defending Plymouth from the combined fleet of the French and Spanish in 1779, and calming a miners' food riot in 1785. Towards the end of his life, he was part of the group who petitioned the House of Lords against slavery in 1828.

  15. Follow the path ahead along the top of the hill to reach a fork in the path.

    The granite at Carn Brea is part of a very large subterranean mass known as the Tregonning outcrop which is thought to stretch as far west as Porthleven.

    The word granite comes from the Latin granum (a grain), in reference to its coarse-grained structure. Granite forms from a big blob of magma (known as a pluton) which intrudes into the existing rocks. The huge mass of molten rock stores an enormous amount of heat so the magma cools very slowly below the surface of the Earth, allowing plenty of time for large crystals to form.

  16. Keep left on the major path to reach a crossing of paths and continue ahead towards the boulder. Take the left-hand path at the boulder and follow it ahead to reach the large tor at the end of the hill.

    Heather plants can live up to 40 years. Heather plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi which grows inside and between some of the plant root cells. Up to 80% of the root structure can be made up of fungi. The fungi are able to extract nutrients from poor, acidic soils that plants struggle with. Conversely the plant is able to generate other nutrients that are useful to the fungi by photosynthesis.

  17. Follow the path along the left side of the tor and continue on the main, stony path until it eventually ends at a junction of paths with a boulder ahead.

    Tors are the result of millions of years of weathering. They started out as a molten blob of rock beneath the surface, which cooled and crystallised into granite, cracking (mostly vertically) as it cooled. Hot water circulated through the cracks, reacting chemically with the rocks and depositing minerals. As the softer rocks above were worn away fairly quickly, the reduction in pressure from the weight of the rock above caused the granite to crack (this time more horizontally). Water, acidic from carbon dioxide in the air, circulated in the cracks, causing weathering. Repeated freezing and thawing during Ice Ages caused blocks of varying sizes to break off. The "basins" on the tops of some of the tors are also the result of repeated freezing and thawing of water which has collected on the surface.

  18. Turn right at the boulder and follow the path to reach a bungalow on the left with a wide, grassy path leading downhill to the left alongside the building.
  19. Turn left and follow the grassy path past the bungalow. Keep right to join a small path departing beside the telegraph pole and follow this until it ends in a T-junction with a pair of Public Footpath signs.
  20. Turn left and keep left to pass the house. Follow the drive to reach the road.
  21. Turn left and carefully follow the road to reach the pavement. Continue to no 9 with a track opposite marked with a Public Footpath sign.
  22. Carefully cross the road to the Public Footpath and follow this to eventually emerge on a tarmacked driveway; follow this a short distance further until it ends on a lane.
  23. Turn right onto the lane and follow it past West Carnarthen Farm and Harley Farm and over a bridge to a junction.

    Mineral works have been carried out in the Red River catchment area for many centuries and the river water was used for separation processes and as a source of power to drive mills. Relics from this still exist in the form of modifications along the river's course including embankments, diversions and canal-like channels. Even with the advent of steam power during Victorian times, this was still one of the most industrialised areas of Cornwall. Until the late 20th century, the river water was coloured a distinctive red, stained by iron ore washing out of the slime pits and dressing floors into the tributary streams. Towards the end of the 19th Century it was estimated that £30,000 of tin was being lost from the mines into the river each year and ″squatters″ could earn a living by recovering this from the slimy river-bed.

  24. Cross the road to the path opposite and follow this uphill to emerge onto a track.
  25. Continue ahead onto the track and again where the track merges with another. Follow the track until it ends in a junction with a lane.
  26. Turn left and follow the lane until it ends in a T junction with another lane.
  27. Turn left onto the lane and walk towards the engine house, then turn right onto the bridleway marked with a Great Flat Lode sign. Follow this until it ends on a road.

    In 1897 an abandoned part of South Condurrow Mine was taken over by the Camborne School of Mines for a combination of training and commercial production, and renamed King Edward Mine in 1901. This drained into Wheal Grenville until 1921 when Wheal Grenville closed causing both mines to flood. A new venue was sought in a small area of Great Condurrow Mine which was above the water table and is still in use at the time of writing.

  28. Bear right across the road to the Great Flat Lode sign and follow the track to reach a fork just past the gate for Northern Lights.

    In 1987 a volunteer group was formed to turn the unused mill complex of King Edward Mine into a museum. Machinery has been restored to working condition, based on how it would have been operating in the early 20th Century.

  29. Bear right at the fork to follow the path uphill and reach another fork.
  30. Bear left at the fork and follow the path to reach a lane with a public footpath on the left.

    The engine house was use to drive ore-crushing machinery.

    In order to be processed, ore-bearing rock mined from mineral veins needed to be crushed to a powder. In earlier times, millstones were used to grind down lumps of ore but later it was done using a process known as "stamping" where the ore was crushed by dropping heavy granite or metal weights to pound it against another hard surface (often a piece of granite known as a mortar stone - as in "pestle and mortar"). The crushing was automated first with waterwheels and later with steam engines. The process was far from quiet and could often be heard from a number of miles away.

  31. Cross the stile on the left below the footpath sign and then cross the field in the direction of the engine house to reach a stile in the fence.
  32. Cross the stile and follow the path to emerge onto a grassy track in front of the engine houses. Turn right onto the track and follow it until it ends on a lane.

    During the mid-19th century, Wheal Grenville was sold several times after failing to make profit initially from copper and later from deeper tin reserves. In response to falling tin prices in the 1870s, exploration was carried out for any richer reserves and with some good fortune an area of the Great Flat Lode was discovered. By 1881 the mine was profitable and highly so by the 1890s, leading to investment in new engine houses, the remains of which can be seen today. The mine closed in 1914. The shortened chimney on the pumping engine house is due to a lightning strike in 1897.

  33. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until you reach a path on the left marked with a Great Flat Lode sign, just past a farm.
  34. Turn left onto the path and follow it past the engine house to emerge on a track outside the Shire Horse Farm and Carriage Museum.
  35. Turn left onto the track and follow this to merge onto a tarmacked section and follow this to a junction.

    The Shire Horse Farm and Carriage Museum were established in 1972. This was the first place to exhibit heavy horses in the country. It also has a collection of horse-drawn carriages which have been rescued from all kinds of places including forgotten corners of farmers' barns, and restored.

  36. Continue ahead, indicated by the Great Flat Lode sign, until you reach a track on the right opposite Thursday Cottage.
  37. Turn right and follow the track indicated by the Great Flat Lode sign. Follow the main track past the engine houses to reach a waymark at a junction.

    South Wheal Frances was amalgamated first into South Frances United in 1892 and with Wheal Basset into Basset United Mines in 1895 which contained all the major tin mines on the Great Flat Lode. In the last few years of the 19th Century, the site was redeveloped and new buildings were added in the first decade of the 20th Century such as the Miners Dry. The site finally closed in 1918 and all the machinery was sold for scrap.

  38. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path (keeping right to stay on the main path) back to the car park to complete the circular route.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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