Carn Brea and the Great Flat Lode circular walk

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.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 5.9 miles/9.5 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 104 OS Explorer 104 (laminated version)

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


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


  1. Make your way to the far end of the car park 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. 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.

    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. During the 18th Century in Cornwall, a rift had developed between the the elite Anglican clergy and the majority of the population who were predominantly miners, farmers and fishermen. The "down to earth" nature of the Methodists appealed greatly and is one of the reasons it was enthusiastically adopted.

  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.

    Postboxes are a Victorian invention. The first pillar boxes were erected in the 1850s and by 1857, the first roadside wall boxes were in place. Early postboxes were green and it wasn't until 1874 that some in London were painted red. Over the next 10 years this was applied elsewhere. Postboxes are initialled with the reigning monarch at the time which allows them to be approximately dated. For example Edward 7th (marked as E VII) was only on the throne for 10 years so these date from the 1900s before the First World War.

  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. Cross this 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, bypass the next cattle grid via the kissing gate and follow the track to reach a junction of tracks.

    Crocosmia (also known as Montbretia) is a garden plant in the iris family with bright orange flowers in summer. It has South African origins and was bred in France as a garden plant, then introduced into the UK in the 1880s.

    It has spread into the wild, particularly along the west coast of Britain and is extremely invasive. It is now a criminal offence to cause it to grow in the wild.

    Crocosmia means "saffron scent" and alludes to the smell of the dried leaves (the crocuses which produce saffron are also members of the iris family).

    The engine houses on the hill to the right are part of Wheal Uny, located on the northern edge of the Great Flat Lode. It mined copper and tin between 1800 and 1893. Closure was forced by a drop in tin prices coinciding with a very wet winter that made the cost of pumping water from the mine prohibitive. Consequently there are still likely to be reserves of minerals, particularly in the deeper levels of the mine as much of the working was relatively shallow.

  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.

    There are six species of the tit family of birds found in the UK but the blue, great and coal tits are the most common. Coal tits are the least colourful (grey with a black and white head). Both blue tits and great tits have green backs but great tits are larger with a black and white head, whist blue tits have a blue top to their head.

  10. Take the middle of the three paths ahead and follow it uphill to reach a junction of paths.

    The church that you can see is St Euny.

    St Euny Parish Church is one the oldest surviving buildings in Redruth. It was the original parish church for the Redruth area, thought to have been founded in the 6th Century. The current church building has late mediaeval origins: the tower is 15th Century but much of the rest was rebuilt in Georgian times.

  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.

    More about Carn Brea Castle

  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 3700-3400 BC. 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. Evidence was also found of a complex trade network: pottery was found, made of clay from the St Keverne area and axes from greenstone are thought to be from the Mount's Bay area. 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 follow the path along the left side of the tors. Keep right at the junction to pass around the tors and reach another path departing towards the rock outcrop part-way along the hill.

    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 past the rock outcrop 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 with the bench to its right. 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 and over time they form woody stems. This provides them with a way of excreting heavy metals that they absorb by locking it up in the layers of dead wood (found by researchers as the areas in the plant with the highest concentrations). Their woody stems have also found many uses over the centuries including fuel, thatch and ropes. One other use has made it into the genus name for heather - kallune is Greek for "to brush".

    Granite formed as a molten blob of rock beneath the surface, underneath millions of tons of other rock. As the granite cooled, it cracked, mostly vertically due to the pressure from above. Hot water circulated through the cracks, reacting chemically with the rocks and depositing minerals. Over millions of years, the softer rocks above were eroded and the pressure from the weight of the rock above was released, causing horizontal cracking in the granite. The result is cubic blocks where the rough edges have been gradually smoothed by weathering.

  17. Follow the path along the left side of the tor and continue on the main, stony path until you reach a fork in the path.

    Tors started out as a lump of granite beneath the surface, which cracked vertically into squares and then part-way through horizontally to form something resembling a stuck-together stack of square pancakes. Millions of years of weathering then gradually rounded these off and widened the cracks between the layers to result in a more burger-like appearance.

    In some cases the horizontal cracks didn't go all the way through so the layers are still joined (the skewer through the brioche bun to stretch the burger analogy to its limit). In the cases where they did fully separate, a massive rocking stone such as the famous Logan Rock at Treen could be created, or the whole lot could collapse into a pile of huge rocks.

    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.

    The word is from the Celtic language but is likely to have come from the Latin turris, meaning "tower", derived from a similar word in Ancient Greek.

  18. Keep left at the fork to follow the major path. Continue until this ends at a triangular junction with a boulder opposite.

    An impressively purple blackberry, pear and ginger chutney can be made with blackberries stashed in the freezer. Simmer 500g blackberries, a few chilli flakes, 4 chopped pears and a finely-chopped 8cm piece of fresh ginger until the liquid reduces. Add 150ml distilled or white wine vinegar, and sugar to taste (amount will depend on tartness of the blackberries). Reduce a bit longer until the desired "gloopy" consistency is achieved and finally season with a little salt to taste to balance the sweetness.

    The growth rhythm of brambles is so steady that it can be used in forensics to work out how long remains have been at a crime scene.

  19. Turn right at the junction and follow the path to reach a cottage on the left with a wide, grassy path leading downhill to the left alongside the building.

    South Crofty was worked continuously for 400 years and was the last Cornish tin mine to close in 1998, brought about by a collapse in tin prices.

    Due to demand for use in technology (e.g. solder) the price of tin has since increased to nearly five times what it was when the mine closed. Consequently, there is now a real possibility of the mine re-opening.

    Since 2016, an assessment of mineral resources has been carried out, finding millions of tonnes of tin-bearing rock. This included the second highest grade of tin ever recorded in a mine. It's estimated that the reserves would be likely to yield tens of thousands of tonnes of tin. Water treatment trials have also been carried out in preparation to drain the mine.

  20. Turn left and follow the grassy path past the cottage. 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.

    The larger trees near the bottom of the slope are sycamore.

    Research suggests that sycamore was common in Britain up to Roman times but then died out due to the warming climate apart from some mountainous regions such as in Scotland. During the Tudor period it is thought to have been reintroduced from southern and central Europe by landowners looking for a rapid-growing tree for their estates and was found to be salt-tolerant - essential in Cornwall.

  21. Turn left and keep left to pass the house. Follow the drive to reach the road.

    The ferns with solid leaves are appropriately called hart's tongue as the leaf resembles the tongue of a deer. It's an evergreen so leaves can be seen all year round but there's usually a flurry of new growth in mid March when new leaves can be seen gradually unfurling over a number of days. The Latin name for the species means "centipede" as the underside of the leaves have rows of brown spore cases that form a pattern resembling centipede legs. The plants thrive in shady places and are tolerant of the lime used in mortar so are sometimes found growing in old walls.

  22. Turn left and carefully follow the road to reach the pavement. Continue to no 10 with a track opposite marked with a Public Footpath sign.
  23. 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.

    Another name for celandine is pilewort as the tubers of the plant are said to resemble piles. Based on the "doctrine of signatures" (i.e. a plant that looks a bit like something must be a cure for it), the resemblance suggested to mediaeval herbalists that celandines could be used to cure haemorrhoids. This was done by applying an ointment containing crushed celandine leaves to the relevant area. Since celandine contains a poisonous compound, some attempts to ingest celandine in an effort to cure piles have not gone too well.

    During late winter or early spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    All plants in the onion family including three-cornered leeks are poisonous to dogs. Keep dogs away from the plant and wash their paws if they come into contact with it.

    Pasties became popular with miners initially as a meal that could easily be carried to work though some mines eventually had stoves so a batch of pasties could be lowered down raw and baked fresh at the bottom of the shaft. Mines were very wet places so keeping a pasty dry for several hours would have been a real challenge.

    The popular story of pasties eaten in mines being held by their crimped crust which was then discarded is likely to be an urban myth. As well as the difficulty of holding a "man size" pasty by its crimp without it snapping off. You can try this experiment for yourself with a "large" (enormous) size Philps pasty (but not on a harbour wall). Miners were generally too poor and hungry to throw away food. Photos from the 1890s show miners with pasties wrapped in a cloth bag to keep them clean down a mine. Some researchers (very dedicated to the pasty cause) have checked through thousands of photos and found none where a miner is holding a pasty by its crimp.

  24. 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.

  25. Cross the road to the path opposite and follow this uphill to emerge onto a track.

    In the 19th Century this stretch of the Red River had extensive streamworks both upstream and downstream of the bridge.

  26. 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.

    Most 19th Century mines had an office building for the accountant (purser) and the managerial staff. The purser was often one of the mine's investors (known at the time as "adventurers", and today as "venture capitalists"). The office building was known as a "count house" (from "account houses") and is where shareholder meetings and sometimes extravagant dinners were held and, on a more day-to-day basis, the workers were paid.

  27. Turn left and follow the lane until it ends in a T junction with another lane.

    Great Condurrow Mine covered both the area to the left, and areas either side of the road on the next direction.

    The first record of Great Condurrow is from 1815 when it was operating as a copper mine. Although it was primarily a copper mine through to the 1860s, some tin began to be raised from the 1850s. It was then worked for tin in the 1870s but closed when the prices collapsed.

    The well-preserved engine house beside the road is one of the most recent in Cornwall, built in the 20th Century. The last engine house ever to be built in the world was in 1924 at East Pool mine. This one was a little earlier, in 1906, for a re-opening of Condurrow mine using an engine salvaged from another mine. However the operation couldn't be made profitable and finally closed in 1914.

  28. 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 this was used until early in the 21st Century.

  29. Bear right across the road to the Great Flat Lode sign and follow the track to reach a fork just past the gates for Happy Acres Farm.

    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.

  30. Bear right at the fork to follow the path uphill and reach another fork.

    The flowers of the hawthorn are known as "May Blossom" and were traditionally used as decorations in May Day celebrations. Now, however, the hawthorn generally doesn't flower until the middle of May. The reason for this is that May has moved! Until 1752, Britain used the Julian Calendar which had leap years every 4 years but no other corrections. This results in a length of day that is fractionally too long, so the first of May gradually slipped forwards over the centuries. By the 1700s, the first of May was 11 days ahead of where it is today.

    The genus name for hawthorn - Crataegus - is derived from krátys the Greek word for "hard" or "strong". Hawthorn wood is fine-grained, dense and most definitely hard. It has traditionally been used for things that benefit from these properties such as wooden mallets, the teeth of rakes and cogs for mill wheels.

  31. 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.

  32. Continue ahead onto the lane and follow this around a bend to the left to where a path departs to the right marked with a Great Flat Lode sign, opposite the farm.

    The area on the left was part of Wheal Grenville. There are capped mineshafts in the field.

    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 path and follow it past the engine house to emerge on a track outside the Shire Horse Farm and Carriage Museum.

    The path passes a number of wetland areas which are good spots for dragonflies

    Dragonflies are named after the way they hunt, as both the larvae and adults are carnivorous predators. Mosquitoes form a large part of their diet both for adults and particularly for the larvae (nymphs). One dragonfly can eat tens of mosquitoes in a day and an average of over 100 per day has been recorded for the nymphs of some species. It is thought that this is an important factor in keeping the mosquito population under control.

    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.

  34. 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.

  35. Continue ahead, indicated by the Great Flat Lode sign, until you reach a track on the right opposite Thursday Cottage.
  36. Turn right and follow the track indicated by the Public Bridleway sign to reach a gate. Pass this and 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.

  37. 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.

    Lithium is in demand to make batteries for everything from mobile phones to electric cars. Lithium is not super-rare, being in the top 30 most common elements in the Earth's crust and there are around 230 billion tonnes of it in the sea. However, it is normally spread very thinly, making it uneconomical to recover: a tonne of average rock typically contains only around 50 grams. Satellite imaging has revealed high concentrations of lithium in the granites of the Clays and Camborne areas. Between 2010 and 2018, the price of lithium quadrupled and if the trend continues then it may become economical to mine it in Cornwall.

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