Delabole

The walk starts at the Delabole slate quarry and follows paths around the quarry then through fields, heading up through the hamlet of Medrose and onto a wide, grassy, cattle-droving track which skirts across the top of Delabole. The route then heads through Higher Pengelley, down into the woods at Helland Barton and along the River Allen, before climbing the slate tips back to the quarry.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.6 miles/5.8 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Delabole quarry car park
  • Parking: Quarry car park. In Delabole turn down Pengelly lane (opposite the "Bettle & Chisel" pub) and follow it to the end. Satnav: PL339AZ
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Delabole slate quarry - once the biggest man-made pit in the world
  • Pretty woodland at Helland Barton with bluebells in spring
  • Panoramic views of the surrounding countryside near the cemetary
  • The Bettle & Chisel Inn within distance from the route
  • Quaint, old slate cottages built for the quarrymen in Pengelly
  • Pleasant scenery and wildflowers along the old cattle-droving track across the top of Delabole

Directions

  1. Walk through the car park, to the left of the visitor's centre (ahead), and follow the track to the quarry viewing platform.

    Delabole Quarry is over a mile in circumferance and was once the deepest man-made pit in the world. It is England's oldest slate quarry; the first written records of a slate order date from 1314 and slate almost certainly from Delabole has been found in prehistoric settlements on Bodmin Moor. Delabole slate is noted for its uniform colour, durability and imperviousness to rain, making it ideal for roofing. There is a visitor centre (open Mon to Fri 8am - 4:30pm) with some interesting historical photos including the Duke of Windsor (then Prince of Wales), plummeting down the tram line into the quarry! Guided tours of the quarry are available at 2pm daily, Mon-Fri from the start of May to the end of August.

  2. Facing the quarry, turn right onto the path around the quarry; follow it to the junction with a track.

    The layers of slate in the quarry were eloquently described in 1758: "The strata in the following order: the green sod, one foot; a yellow brown clay, two feet; then the rock, dipping inwards into the hill towards the south-west, and preserving that inclination from top to bottom: at first the rock is in a lax shattery state, with short and frequent fissures, the lamina of unequal thickness, and not horizontal: thus the rock continues to the depth of ten or twelve fathom, all which is good for nothing, and entirely to be rid off; then comes in a firmer brown stone, which becomes still browner in the air; this is fit for slating houses, and the largest size for flat pavement never sweating as the cliff slate, which is exposed to the sea air. This is called the top-stone, and continues for ten fathom deep, the stone improving somewhat as you sink, but not at the best till you come to twenty-four fathom deep from the grass; then rises what they call the bottom-stone, of a grey blue colour, and such a close texture, that on the touch it will sound clear, like a piece of metal. The principal horizontal fissures, which divide the strata, run from ten to fifteen feet asunder; they are no more than chinks or joints, and contain no heterogeneous fossil. The stone of this quarry weighs to water as 2-(62/121) are to 1, is not subject to rot or decay, to imbibe water, or split with falling, as the bottom-stone of Tintagel, and other quarries; but for its lightness, and enduring weather, is generally preferred to any slate in Great-Britain."

  3. Cross over the track and bear left onto the waymarked path along the fence. Follow this to a kissing gate and stile leading into a field.

    The working of the quarry is described in 1758 as follows: "The whole quarry is about three hundred yards long and one hundred wide: the deepest part from the grass is judged to be forty fathoms. The masses are first raised rough from the rock by wedges driven by sledges of iron, and contain from five to ten, twelve or fourteen feet, superficial square of stone: as soon as this mass is freed by one man, another stone-cutter, with a strong wide chisel and mallet, is ready to cleave it to its proper thin-ness, which is usually about the eighth of an inch; the shivers irregular from two feet long, and one foot wide, downwards, to one foot square and sometimes (though seldom) dividing into such large flakes as to make tables and tomb-stones. In this quarry several parties of men work on separate stages or floors, some twelve fathom from the grass, some twenty, others forty fathom deep, according to the portion of ground belonging to each party; the small shattery stone, not fit for covering houses, serves to shore up the rubbish, to divide the different allotments, and shape the narrow paths up and down the quarry; all the slate is carried with no small danger from the plot where it rises, on men's backs, which are guarded from the weight by a kind of leathern apron, or rather cushion; the carrier disposes his charge of stones in rows side by side, till the area allotted to his partners is full, and then horses are ready to take them off, and carry them by tale to the person that buys them."

  4. Go through the gate and follow along the fence on the left to reach another stile and kissing gate.

    The working in 1882 had changed with the advent of the steam engine: "The scene is enlivened by a throng of men busily engaged in various noisy employments, while waggons and horses are everywhere in rapid motion, and steam-engines are lifting with a harsh sound their ponderous arms, and raising loaded trucks from the depths of the pit, or masses of slate of several tons' weight, which are seen slowly ascending guide-chains to stages which overhang the quarry. The quarry is about 260 ft. in depth. Upon the edge of the quarry is the Papete Head, a projecting platform, from which a number of guide-chains are stretched like the shrouds of a ship to the base of the pit. The slate is first loosened by small charges of gunpowder ; it is then torn up by wedges and crowbars, and placed in trucks, which, being attached to a wheel which traverses a guide-chain, are drawn up by the steam-engine some feet above the Papete Head, Movable stages, called hatches or tables, are then run out under the trucks, which, being lowered upon a framework on wheels, are drawn away by horses to the different workshops, where the slate is split into various sizes, according to the purpose it is intended to serve. The water is pumped from the quarry by water-wheels into an adit, and the slate is shipped at the little harbours of Port Gaverne, Port Isaac, and Boscastle, the former being the principal port in the summer, the latter in the winter, as affording the best shelter to the vessels. About 1000 men are employed in these works, who raise on an average 120 tons of slate per day." ("Papete" is thought to be a local abbreviation of "Parapet").

  5. Go through the gate and follow the left fence to join a stony path at a waymark. Follow this along the fence to reach a kissing gate on the corner of the fence.

    The huge pieces of slate winched from the quarry by steam engines were known as "steamers". Occasionally, a chunk would fall off one, back into the quarry, or a chain would snap and whip into the edge of the quarry, causing a rockfall. Landslips also occurred occasionally, due to faults in the rock above the face being quarried, or material on the edges of the pit collapsing. There were a number of injuries and fatalities but also some miraculous escapes. One quarrymen was saved by his pasty, which a cheeky raven grabbed and he gave chase, narrowly avoiding a landslip where he had been standing. Another quarrymen, ascending a ladder, was hit in the backside by a flying piece of slate and found himself sat, unhurt, on the grass at the side of the quarry pit!

  6. Go through the gate and turn left, following the path along the fence to a gate leading to the houses on the right.

    Even in Victorian times, slate was blasted with black powder (aka gunpowder), rather than high explosives such as dynamite. This is because high explosives combust with a supersonic shockwave known as a detonation wave, travelling at a speed of more than a mile per second. This causes very high pressure and resulting high temperature in the explosive, setting off neighbouring parts. This would shatter the brittle slate into tiny pieces, rather than breaking off large chunks.

    As fuse technology improved, holes were drilled at regular intervals along a quarry face, filled with black powder. These pockets were all blasted simultaneously using a linked fuse (electrically triggered in the latter years of quarrying), to break off a very large chunk of slate. You can sometimes see the blasting holes in waste pieces of slate on the slate tips.

  7. Continue ahead along the fence to pass the gate and reach a flight of steps with a metal handrail on the right.
  8. Climb the steps and turn left onto the lane. Follow the main lane (ignoring junctions to the left) until it ends in a T-junction with the main road.
  9. Cross the main road and turn right onto the pavement. Follow this past some houses until you see a track on your left marked with a public footpath sign.

    The road from Port Gaverne which joins the Delabole road was quarried out in the early 1800s by the Delabole Slate company and known as "The Great Slate Road". Around 100 ships a year came to Port Gaverne to collect slate, each capable of carrying 50-80 tonnes. It would take thirty wagons, pulled by over a hundred horses, to load a sixty ton ship. The slates were loaded by women, who then packed them in straw to protect them on the voyage. The incoming ships also brought coal from Wales and limestone, for the local limekiln, which was used to whitewash the cottages.

  10. Turn left down the track marked with a footpath sign, and follow it to a stile at the end.
  11. Cross over the stile on your right and bear left across the field towards the opposite left corner to reach a stile about 30 metres to the right of the field corner.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you can't avoid it: if cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  12. Cross the stile into the next field and cross the field diagonally to stile in the opposite corner between the two gateways.
  13. Cross the stile and turn left on the track, following it until you reach another stile.

    The slate tips you can see are from Trebarwith Road Rustic Quarry.

    Trebarwith Road Rustic Quarry is located on the road from Delabole to Trebarwith village. The quarry was originally known as "Jenkins Quarry" and reopened in the 1990s under the new name. As well as rustic slate, Blue Elvan is also quarried here.

  14. Cross a stile and follow the grassy track to a gate and stile.

    Elvan is very hard volcanic rock formed where magma intruded into other rocks to form a (vertical) dyke or (horizontal) sill that cooled fairly quickly, resulting in fairly small crystals. Chemically it is very similar to granite, but in the case of granite, slower cooling resulted in large crystals. Elvans can be seen in many of the churches across Cornwall where it is often used for intricate parts of buildings, such as doorways, so they can be finely carved.

    The term "greenstone" is used by quarrymen to describe igneous rocks that, unlike granite, are rich in iron and magnesium and these give it a blue-green colour. When greenstone is formed as a sill or dyke it is sometimes called "blue elvan". This is also quite common in Cornwall and has been quarried for a long time: in the Neolithic period, stone axes made from blue elvan were exported from Cornwall to various parts of Britain.

  15. Cross the stile onto a track by a farm and continue along the track to the end, where it meets a lane.
  16. When the track emerges on a lane, turn left and follow it to a junction with the main road.

    At this point, turning right and following the road for about 200 metres would take you on a mid-walk diversion to the Poldark Inn.

    The Poldark Inn is situated at the top of Treligga Downs on the outskirts of Delabole. During the Second World War, a building near the Poldark Inn was used for counting holes in drogue (fabric) targets. These were towed behind aircraft known as a "target tug" for naval firing practice and dropped over Treligga Downs by the towing aircraft. They were then retrieved and laid out on long tables where the holes were counted. A reward of 5 shillings was offered to any member of the public who found one. Piloting a target tug aircraft was not without risk! The planes were often painted bright colours to help distinguish them from the targets they towed.

  17. At the junction, cross directly over the main road onto a track, which passes to the right of Pentire Workshops. Continue to follow the track downhill past the cemetery, until you reach the slate sign for Helland Barton House.

    Another mid-walk diversion to a local pub can be taken here by turning left and following the road for about 200 metres to the Bettle & Chisel.

    The Bettle & Chisel is a public house on the main road in Delabole nearly opposite the lane to Pengelly. The pub takes its name from two of the tools historically used by slate quarrymen - bettle is a local dialect word for a lump (club) hammer. "The Bettle", as it's known locally, was, and still is, a favourite hangout of the quarry workers. The bar attests to just how much of a pub can be made from slate!

  18. Where the track forks in several directions, keep right and follow the track signposted to Helland Barton to a second slate sign for Helland Barton.

    Slate is formed when clay or volcanic ash is compressed under millions of years of deposits to form shale, and then the shale is subject to a (relatively low, in geological terms) heat and pressure transforming it into a harder, less-crumbly rock - slate. The heat and pressure can arise from an intrusion of molten magma into the sedimentary rocks or from the friction associated with collision of tectonic plates. Like shale, slate also has a layered structure, splitting into thin sheets which have proven ideal for shedding water from roofs without collapsing them under the weight of stone. However, the direction that the slate splits into layers is often not the same as the direction of the layers that were laid down in the original shale. This is because a reorganisation of the mineral components occurs during the metamorphosis, based on the direction that the pressure was applied. In other words, it's possible to have stripey slates.

  19. At the slate sign, go through the waymarked kissing gate between the 2 tracks which joins onto the left track; follow the track until you reach a gate.
  20. Go through the kissing gate next to the gate (or the gate if open) and follow the track past a first waymark, to a second waymark at an intersection of paths and tracks.
  21. At the junction of tracks, turn sharply left to take the small path and follow it downhill until it joins another path at a waymark.
  22. At the junction of paths, go left, passing a small quarry on your left and follow the path until a footbridge comes into view.

    There is a spectacular show of bluebells in the woods during the early spring.

    Some estimates suggest the UK has up to half of the world's total bluebell population; nowhere else in the world do they grow in such abundance. However, the poor bluebell faces a number of threats including climate change and hybridisation from garden plants. In the past, there has also been large-scale unsustainable removal of bulbs for sale although it is now a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild bluebells.

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  23. Keep left past the footbridge, following the path alongside the stream. Follow the path up the valley to return to the stream and continue upstream until you reach a stone wall from which the stream emerges with the path leading over a bank to the left.

    The stream is the start of the River Allen which is fed by the marshes around the edges of the slate tips.

    The Rivel Allen is a major tributary of the River Camel, joining it just above the estuary near Wadebridge. It was known as the Dowr Alen in Cornish, which is documented as meaning "shining river". There is also a River Allen in Truro, although that one is Dowr Lain in Cornish, so as long as you speak Cornish, you won't get them confused!.

  24. Follow the path to the left over the bank to reach a junction. Turn left at the junction and follow the path to another junction of paths.
  25. Turn right at the junction and follow the path to top of the hill to reach a junction of paths with fence ahead of you.

    After copper was discovered on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula in 1859, large numbers of Cornish miners settled there. By 1875, the Moonta mine on the Yorke Peninsula had surpassed Cornwall as the largest copper producer in the British Empire and became the first mine to pay out dividends of one million pounds. As as result, 10% of the South Australian population is of Cornish descent and there is even a Delabole Quarry in Willunga, near Adelaide.

  26. At junction of path at the top of the hill, turn left and follow the path to a kissing gate. Go through this and follow the right-hand path to return to the car park.

    Swanky beer was traditionally brewed six weeks before Christmas in Cornwall so it would be ready for the festivities. The beer is still brewed there on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. One of the Cornish-descended South Australians - Jan Gluyas - kindly posted this recipe:

    Boil five gallons of water and add 8 oz hops, 4lb brown sugar, 8oz ground ginger, 4 oz raisins and an ounce of salt. Boil for 45 minutes, then empty into a vessel and let stand until nearly cold. Then add two tablespoons of fresh yeast and allow to stand for 15-18 hours. Strain off the liguor and allow it to stand for at least 24 hours before bottling, making sure the bottles are clean and dry. Into each bottle put one fresh raisin (to prime the swanky) - then fill and cork, making sure that each cork is securely tied down. Swanky is a great "worker" so leave enough room for its head to form. It is ready for drinking when the head is about to force the cork out of the bottle.

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
  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is also useful.

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.

A free way to not kill penguins: discarded ink cartridges float in rainwater, can wash into rivers, be broken up by the sea into reflective shards eaten by dopey fish, and build up in the stomachs of seabbirds, causing them to starve to death. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.
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