Botallack Head circular walk

Botallack Head

A circular walk around Cornwall's most iconic mining remains, used for the filming of the BBC's Poldark series

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The route stretches between West Wheal Owles (filmed as Wheal Leisure and Wheal Grace in the BBC's Poldark), the engine houses on Botallack headland, and Levant mine where a beam engine has been restored to working condition.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 2.5 miles/4 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)


  • Rugged coastline with views to Pendeen Lighthouse
  • Engine houses perched on Botallack Head
  • Mining Interpretation Centre at Botallack Count House
  • Working beam engine at Levant Mine
  • Wildlife including choughs and peregrine falcons

Adjoining walks


  1. Turn left out of the car park and follow the track until you reach a track departing to the right just past the remains of a barn.

    The Count House at Botallack was built during the 1860s when the dressing floors were expanded on the cliff top, replacing a previous Count House on the track leading down to the engine houses on the headland. As the name suggests, it was where the miners collected their pay but it was also the hub of the day-to-day running of the mine. It was restored by the National Trust and is now open to the public with a café and an information centre about the history and wildlife of the area (no entry fee). The building is now heated geothermally, by bore holes in the ground below it to heat water using the same hot rocks that made the mines unpleasantly hot to work in.

  2. Turn right and follow the track past the remains of engine houses until you reach a junction by the coast near another engine house with a path departing to the right (waymarked on the far side of the granite post as the Coast Path to Levant).

    The engine house ahead with the spoil heaps housed the pumping engine for West Wheal Owles.

    In 1783, the mine was known as Crackegodna. In the 19th Century, this was taken over as part of the Wheal Owles complex and renamed West Wheal Owles although the old name still survives as Cargodna shaft. The surviving engine house was for the pumping engine. The corner of a wall is all that remains of the winding engine house which was used to power a double track tramway leading down to a shaft on the cliffs.

    The West Wheal Owles pumping engine house was used for filming both Wheal Grace and Wheal Leisure in the BBC's Poldark series. There was a real mine called Wheal Leisure at Perranporth where Winston Graham lived.

  3. Turn right onto the Coast Path and follow this until you reach a waymark where a path departs to the left to the engine houses beside the sea.

    The Cornish name for Botallack Head is Lae Maen Veor, meaning great stone ledge. The two engine houses perched on the ledges were part of Crown mines, named after The Crowns rocks off the headland. The mine was built in 1815 and the workings extend for a quarter of a mile under the Atlantic ocean; the deepest shaft is 250 fathoms below sea level. In 1863 the chain which pulled the mine gig suddenly broke, causing eight men and a boy to plummet to their deaths down the shaft. The mine finally closed at the outbreak of the First World War.

  4. Keep right in the direction waymarked and follow the path until you reach a fork in the path at the bottom of some rough steps.

    The tall chimney to your right was part of an arsenic labyrinth. A path leads up to it via the building with the arched brick doorway. Once you have finished exploring, return to the path alongside the dressing floors and continue until it forks.

    The granules of ore were heated in a furnace to remove impurities such as sulphur and particularly arsenic. By heating the ore in air, the arsenic impurities could be driven off as a vapour. As the impurities escaped as gasses, the particles of ore melted into grey crystalline lumps of tin oxide known as "black tin".

    The exhaust gasses were cooled and condensed to form a white powder deposited in the flues or purpose-built condensers. The white powder - arsenic - was collected and sold. A few grains of pure arsenic are enough to be fatal but the majority of arsenic workers managed to protect themselves by stuffing cotton wool up their noses and painting their faces and any other exposed areas of skin white with fuller's earth to prevent arsenic being absorbed through the pores of their skin.

  5. Bear left at the fork to follow the path up the steps to a granite waymark. Turn left at the waymark and follow the track until you reach another granite waymark where the coast path departs to the left.

    Arsenic is a chemical element that is part-way between a metal and non-metal, known as a metalloid. In the natural environment it reacts with oxygen to form an oxide which readily dissolves in water to form arsenic acid. This is able to leech into groundwater and cause contamination. Deeper in the ground where sulphur is more available than oxygen, arsenic is found as sulphide compounds.

  6. At the waymark, turn left onto the coast path and follow this until you reach a fork just after passing over a stone wall.

    The conical structures in the old dressing floors are the remains of devices known as "buddles". These were used to separate the ore from the rock (known as gange) in the ore slurry created by the stamping mill. The slurry was trickled onto the centre of the dome and a rotating set of brushes, suspended from wooden spokes, smeared the slurry around the circular structure. The heavy ore fragments would deposit near the central dome whereas unwanted rock fragments would travel further and end up in a pit around the outside.

  7. Take the right-hand path and follow it to the remains of a chimney then a little further to a waymark. Keep left at the waymark to join a path running across the tips from the mine. Continue until you reach a (concrete) trig. point.

    Peregrine falcons nest on the cliffs here so you may see one flying overhead or perched on a rocky outcrop as you walk along the coast to Levant.

    The peregrine falcon can reach over 322 km/h (200 mph) during its hunting stoop (high speed dive) making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom. In 2005, a peregrine was measured at a top speed of 389 km/h (242 mph). The air pressure at this speed could damage a bird's lungs. However small bony tubercles on a falcon's nostrils guide the powerful airflow away, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving. In Cornish dialect, these falcons are known as "winnards" and local expressions include "shrammed as a winnard" (meaning chilled) and "rumped up like a winnard" (meaning huddled).

  8. Bear right very slightly at the trig point to stay on the major path ahead. Follow this past some mineshafts until you reach a junction of paths.

    Choughs nest in the area and are fairly regularly seen.

    After several decades of extinction, a pair of choughs settled in 2001 on the Lizard Peninsula. Since then, the birds have successfully bred and been joined by a few more incoming birds, and the population has steadily grown and spread further across Cornwall. Each Cornish chough is fitted with one leg ring in the colours of St Piran's flag and two other colours on the opposite leg to identify them.

  9. Keep right at the first junction beside the stone wall then, almost immediately, where path forks, take the path to the left towards the pair of chimneys on the skyline, and follow this to a gap in a stone wall.

    Heather can grow in soils which have concentrations of metals normally considered toxic to other plants and they are also tolerant of salty (high sodium) environments on the coast. Their symbiosis with fungi restricts metal uptake through their roots.

    The temperature of the rocks increases by 1 degree roughly for each 15 fathoms that a mine is sunk so mines were unpleasantly hot places to work. The deepest mine in Cornwall was Dulcoath where air temperatures of 43°C were recorded at the 550 fathom level.

    Extra shafts were sunk into many mines to improve the ventilation and bring down the temperature. You can see these on OS maps marked as "Air Shaft". Under the sea, shafts to ventilate and cool the mines were not an option so most submarine mines were particularly uncomfortable with temperatures of 32-38°C being common.

  10. Follow the path through the gap and down into the gully to a crossing of paths. Take the path ahead and follow it to the small rock outcrop on the top of the headland where there is a junction of paths.

    The gully is part of the inlet known as Whealcock Zawn.

    According to "The Z to Z of Great Britain", there are just over 40 place names in Britain that begin with the letter Z; over three-quarters of them are in Cornwall. One of the main reasons for this is that the Cornish word for "coastal inlet" is zawn, and coastline is something that Cornwall has rather a lot of.

    Zawn Brinny, near Levant mine is an example of one of these.

  11. Continue on the major path ahead and follow it to the remains of the chimney on the next headland. From the chimney, continue along the path until it ends in a turning area at the end of a track overlooking Levant Mine.

    Cornwall has the longest stretch of coastline of any county in the UK, stretching for roughly 400 miles around 80% of the county, and there are over 300 beaches. Wherever you are in Cornwall, you are never more than 16 miles from the sea, and from the majority of hills you can see it on a clear day.

  12. Continue ahead to the corner of the wall. At this point you can optionally visit Levant Mine and return here. Otherwise, turn right onto the track along the wall. Follow the track along the wall to reach a fork in the track.

    As early as the 18th Century, mine workings in the Levant area tunnelled below sea level and went beneath the sea. In 1820 the operation known as Levant Mine was established and operated continuously for over 100 years until 1930, after which it was abandoned and slowly flooded. It got the nickname of "mine under the sea" because its network of tunnels over 60 miles long extends under the Atlantic Ocean, stretching 1.5 miles out from the coast. Within the tunnels, a blind miner helped others to navigate when their candles failed.

    The beam engine is still in situ and was restored after 60 years of decay by a group of enthusiasts known as the "Greasy Gang". The working engine can be seen within a mining museum run by the National Trust.

  13. Keep left at the fork and follow the track back to the Count House car park to complete the circular route.

    Some of the Cornish mines were up to half a mile in depth and every day men needed to get from the surface to the bottom of the mine and back after doing a day of physically exhausting work. Having men climb a half-mile long ladder was not efficient for mine operators, so faster and less exhausting means to move men about were invented. Winding apparatus could be used to lower and raise men in a basket, and mechanisms along these lines were still in use in the granite quarries of Bodmin Moor during the 20th Century.

    However, the beam engine offered an alternative approach: the long rod of a pumping engine could have steps on which men could ride down, usually 12 feet, during one beam engine stroke and the sides of the shaft could have ledges, so the men could step off onto a ledge whilst the engine reversed direction, then step back on for the next stroke. Some of the larger mines had dedicated "man engines" which were tailored for this purpose.

    The man engine was first invented in Germany in 1833. The Cornwall Polytechnic Society immediately realised its potential benefit to miners' well-being and sponsored a trial which took place in Tresavean mine at Lanner. Initially this was a small scale installation powered by a water wheel. It was then replaced by a full-scale model, more than ten times longer and powered by a steam engine. Although successful, the cost of building a dedicated man engine put off many mine owners who were much more interested in profit than the welfare of the workforce. It was not until the productivity improvements (resulting from miners not spending 3 hours climbing ladders) were costed-in that some other mines deployed them.

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