Gwennap Pit and Carn Marth

A circular walk through an area steeped in mining history, with panoramic views from Carn Marth and the almost legendary Gwennap Pit which became so famous that even the neighbouring mine was renamed to Cathedral

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From Gwennap Church, the walk passes through the woodland along the edge of the Trevince Estate to reach Carharrack and then passes through the area of the Damsel and Cathedral mines to reach Gwennap Pit. The route then circles Carn Marth before climbing to the top via Pennance Mine, Figgy Dowdy's Well and the ampitheatre. The route returns to Gwennap Church via a coffin path where an inscribed Celtic cross shaft has been re-used as a coffin rest.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 6.2 miles/10 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Gwennap church
  • Parking: Gwennap Church car park TR166BD. Take the A393 to Comford and turn off towards Carharrack then immediately right onto the small lane with the Weak Bridge Ahead sign which will take you to Gwennap Church.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • The infamous Gwennap Pit
  • Panoramic views from Carn Marth
  • Mining Heritage
  • Woodland wildlife

Pubs on or near the route

  • Carharrack Stars

Directions

  1. Enter the churchyard and follow the path to the church. Follow the small path around the right side of the church to join the path from the other entrance and reach a gate onto a narrow lane.

    Gwennap church is mostly from the 15th Century (including the detached bell tower) although a few elements (such as the piscina and south porch) are likely to be from Norman times. The church was extended to accommodate the growing population of miners in the area and the north aisle was added at least a century later. The church underwent a Victorian restoration in 1862 by which time the mining community in the parish numbered 10,000. During the restoration, an ancient ornamented cross shaft found in the church wall was put to one side but was accidentally picked up by builders and used for the vestry foundations. A central gallery, described as "an eyesore", was removed in 1882 and another restoration took place in the 1890s.

  2. Turn left onto the lane and follow this to a bend. Follow the lane left around the bend and continue until it ends in a T-junction with a road.
  3. Turn right and follow the road for about half a mile until you reach a Public Bridleway sign on the left just after the entrance to Trevince gardens.

    The first record of the settlement of Gwennap is from 1199 when it was spelt Lamwenep. The first part of the name is from the Cornish word lann, meaning an early mediaeval religious enclosure, typically oval in shape. The second part of the name is associated with the saint to whom the church is dedicated - St Weneppa.

  4. Turn left onto the bridleway and follow the track uphill. Keep following the track to reach gates either side with "Danger. Keep Out." signs and a small path leading ahead.
  5. Join the narrow path ahead and follow this until it ends in a T-junction with a track.

    The Trevince Chemical works was located at the bottom of the hill in the area behind the fences to the right.

    The Trevince Chemical Company set up a factory before the late 1870s on the old workings of United Mines. It produced arsenic and there was also a streamworks for tin. Additional capital was raised by the sale of 200 shares in 1881. Unfortunately the price of arsenic collapsed and it closed in 1884. By 1893 it had reopened and the buildings were still shown as in use on the 2nd edition of the OS map published at the start of the 20th Century. The buildings were still standing in the 1960s but by the end of the 20th Century, the site had been cleared.

  6. Turn left onto the track and keep left to join the path with a wooden post. Follow this until you pass another wooden post and reach a tarmac lane on the right.

    Rhododendrons are so successful in Britain that they have become an invasive species, crowding out other flora in the Atlantic oak woodlands. They are able to spread very quickly both through suckering along the ground and by abundant seed production. Conservation organisations now classify the Rhododendron explosion as a severe problem and various strategies have been explored to attempt to stop the spread. So far, the most effective method seems to be injecting herbicide into individual plants which is both more precise and effective than blanket cutting or spraying.

  7. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until it ends in a T-junction.

    The lane is named Squire Lane and passes Squire House. Squire Mine was located to the left.

    The meaning of the word "squire" has changed considerably from mediaeval times when it was a term used for a knight's apprentice. From the late 17th Century, the term was used to mean "lord of the manor". The connection with the previous use of the word may be that many landowning families could trace their ancestry to conquering Norman knights.

  8. At the junction, turn left and follow the road past the pub to a junction beside the entrance to the church.

    The first record of the settlement of Carharrack is from 1290 when it was spelt Carrarthek. The first part of the name is from the Cornish word for fort. The rest may be the name of the owner. Although arth is a Cornish word meaning "height", it is thought more likely in this case that this was part of a personal name rather than a description of the fort's location.

  9. At the church entrance, cross the road to the opposite side then turn left and walk a short distance to a junction.
  10. Turn right onto Chapel Terrace and follow the road past the Sunday School and Social Club to a bend with a sign for Sunflower Cottage.

    During the 18th Century in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers due to their methodical practices. John Wesley began open-air preaching to recruit followers to his movement and formed small classes for each community where followers would receive ongoing religious guidance. Wesley always advocated the practise of Methodism as an extension of the Anglican faith and encouraged his followers to attend the parish church regularly. Nevertheless, senior figures within the Church of England feared the effects (or perhaps popularity) of Methodist practices, suggesting that an overdose of the Holy Spirit might be unhealthy for weak minds.

  11. Bear left off the road and past the cottages to a waymark. Join the leftmost path and follow this until it emerges on a track marked with a Public Bridleway sign, near a road.
  12. Turn right onto the track (away from the road) and follow it until a path departs to the left at a blue waymark.

    Wheal Damsel operated in this area.

    Wheal Damsel started in about 1795 by driving an adit (horizontal tunnel along which water could drain) and tunnels above this to find veins of ore (lodes) Although some small vertical lodes were found, the mine wasn't very productive and nearly closed. However, when a small tunnel was created between different levels to connect the main tunnels, it struck an incredibly rich area of copper ore and by 1806 Wheal Damsel became the most productive mine in the area. After 1818, the mine was operated intermittently, initially for copper, later for tin and finally for fluorite.

  13. Bear left and follow the small path uphill until it ends on a road.

    Sycamore flowers are pollinated by flies such as bluebottles rather than the wind. Within the female flower, two of the carpels (reproductive parts) are fused together. These develop into the pair of fused seeds with their "wings" at an angle. When the seeds fall, this creates the "helicopter" action that allows the seeds to be caught and carried by the wind as they slowly spiral downwards.

  14. Bear right onto the road and follow it uphill for just under half a mile to a bend with a Gwennap Pit sign.

    The area where you join the road is known as Lower Trevethan and the area near the bend is Higher Trevethan.

    The first record of the settlement of Trevethan is from 1302 as Trefudon. The tre- part of the name implies it dates from at least the early mediaeval period when Cornish was spoken by landowning families. In 1516, it was recorded more faithfully as Trefuthyn which is from the Cornish for "meadow farm" (tre vuthyn).

  15. Keep right to follow the road around the bend and continue to reach the entrance to Gwennap Pit.

    Cathedral mine operated in the area on the left.

    Cathedral mine began in the 18th Century focusing upon a group of small copper lodes near the centre of Carn Marth. It was originally known as Jengenter but was renamed after the Wesleyan "Cathedral" of Gwennap Pit. The mine was active between 1827 and 1842, was re-opened after 1866 and became a part of the Consolidated workings.

    In 1882 an accident occurred which resulted in the loss of 8 lives. A man and a boy fired off 2 charges on the 50 fathom level which breached old flooded workings. The water came up to the 30 fathom level before stopping. The man managed to get out but the boy was drowned along with 2 other boys and 5 men. An excavation of the mine in 2000 found felt hats amongst pieces of broken wood and iron.

    Until around the end of the 1960s, water from this mine and a couple of others formed the supply of tap water for the Redruth area.

  16. Go through the entrance gates to Gwennap Pit and climb the steps to reach the pit. Cross the pit to the steps leading down the other side and go through the gate, then bear right to reach a lane.

    Gwennap Pit originated as either a mine collapse (reputed to have been formed from subsidence of part of Cathedral Mine) or possibly from an open-cast working. It became famous as it was used in its unimproved form by John Wesley for preaching on 17 occasions from 1776-89. In memory to Wesley, in 1806, local miners further excavated the pit into a neater oval shape and added terraces to create 13 rows of seats, creating the elegant structure that is visible today.

    Somewhat at odds with preaching a religion based around modesty and restraint, Wesley greatly exaggerated the size of the pit. His estimate of an audience of 32,000 also seems unlikely as the current pit can accommodate around 1,800 people. Moreover, in the mid-late 1700s, the entire population of Cornwall was only around 150,000 and due to quite high infant mortality at the time, a large percentage of the population were babies and young children. Audience size would also have been limited by transport: most poor people didn't possess a horse and would need to walk from their homes. In fact, the long walk from fishing villages to Anglican parish churches (often on high ground, nearer God) was one of the reasons that Methodism (which could be practised within the village) became so popular.

    More about Gwennap Pit.

  17. Turn left onto the lane and follow it for just under half a mile to reach a junction to the left with a wooden sign for Lancarn.

    In most of the UK, thatch was the only roofing material available to the bulk of the population until Victorian times when slate became more widely available. At this point, thatch became regarded as a mark of poverty and therefore socially undesirable. In Cornwall, the transition from thatch to slate began earlier due to the local availability of roofing slate, particularly from Delabole.

    During the 20th Century, availability of good quality thatching straw declined after the introduction of the combine harvester and the release of short-stemmed wheat varieties. In 1964, heavy fines were introduced for growing an unregulated variety of wheat and all the traditional, tall-stemmed varieties that were used for thatching became illegal.

  18. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to where a track marked with a Public Bridleway sign departs to the right, just before the large green tank.

    The style of the remodelled Gwennap Pit was copied in 1850 at Indian Queens, and a couple of years later at St Newlyn East. A quarter-circle version also exists near St Austell at Whitemoor, first documented in 1871. An old quarry on Tregonning Hill was also used in its unimproved form for Sunday School meetings from the late 1800s which is also likely inspired by Gwennap Pit's fame.

  19. Turn right and follow the track to where a driveway to a house splits off to the left.

    The spike at the very top of the hill ahead is the Basset Monument on Carn Brea.

    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.

  20. Continue ahead on the main track to where a small path departs to the left, opposite a waymark post on the right.

    To the right of the Basset Monument is Carn Brea castle.

    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

  21. Turn left onto the path and follow this to a junction of paths and tracks in a clearing a few paces after passing a garage on the right.

    Before the Industrial Revolution, gorse was valued as a fuel for bread ovens and kilns as it burns rapidly, very hot and with little ash. It was in such demand that there were quite strict rules about how much gorse could be cut on common land.

  22. Turn left and follow the track until it emerges onto another (concrete) track.

    Bracken is both poisonous and carcinogenic to many grazing animals which will avoid it if at all possible. Eating bracken is not recommended as it is thought that the carcinogenic properties may also apply to humans based on the circumstantial evidence that Japan, where young bracken fronds are a delicacy, has the highest levels of stomach cancer in the world.

  23. Bear right and follow the track to where a path marked with a Public Bridleway sign departs to the left a few metres before the track ends in a main road.

    Robins are one of the birds that you're likely to see in an area such as this close to human habitation.

    Robins are able to hover like kingfishers and hummingbirds and use this skill when feeding from bird feeders, which they are unable to cling to.

  24. Turn left and follow the path uphill until it ends on a track.

    Navelwort grows on the shady wall beside the path.

    Navelwort produces flower spikes with small green bells from June to September. When the flower spike is first forming it is a rather beautiful structure and is a perfect subject for macro photography.

  25. Bear right onto the track and follow this to where it forks either side of a grassy triangle with a waymark post.

    Where tracks met in a T-junction, this presented a challenge for horses and carts as these didn't have a tight turning circle. The triangular islands often visible on junctions of tracks and small lanes today were formed by the cartwheels cutting the corners of the junction. Eventually these cut corners were formalised as surfaced tracks with a grassy triangular island in the centre.

  26. Keep left at the fork to join the mining trail and follow this past the engine house to where 4 tracks depart.

    Pennance mine (originally known as Wheal Amelia) was a small mine which produced copper, and later tin. It was renamed "Pennance Consols" in order to make it sound larger and attract money from investors "upcountry", ignorant of its small size. It closed in 1874. Its unofficial local name was Wheal Bloody Nose which has been attributed to a fight between miners but could also have been a reference to the outcome for unwary investors.

  27. Bear left onto the concrete track with the "No public right of way for vehicles" sign (immediately to the left of the Mining Trail) and follow it uphill to where it widens with two gates into quarries either side of a Carn Marth information board.

    Roughly half-way between the gate and the end of the concrete wall and where the track widens to the quarry entrance is a small gap in the wall on the right leading to some steps which lead down to Figgy Dowdy's well.

    The well is associated with a woman known either Figgy Dowdy or Margery Daw (as in the see-saw nursery rhyme). This may have its origins in a Celtic saint or possibly a pre-Christian fertility goddess. In the 19th Century, there was a custom to bring dolls here to be Christened.

    The see-saw nursery rhyme is thought to have originated as a sawyers' work song, used to keep rhythm on a two person saw. It is thought that the name "Margery Daw" was simply invented to rhyme with "see-saw", whilst the part about living on a penny a day for slow work was encouragement to keep sawing!

    More about Figgy Dowdy's Well.

  28. Continue on the track to where it ends in a junction with another track beside a lake.

    In 1877, four large granite quarries on Carn Marth were recorded on the 1st Edition OS map. Two of these later merged to form the lake at the top of the hill. The other two are overgrown pits at the top of the hill on the opposite side of the track from the lake. The one now converted to create the amphitheatre opened a little later in the 1880s and was worked for around 100 years until the 1980s.

  29. At the junction by the lake, turn right and follow the track downhill. Keep following the track until it eventually ends on a lane.

    Carn Marth is 235 metres high and like Carn Brea is formed from an outcrop of granite which pushed up through the original rocks to form a hill. From the top, the hills of Bodmin Moor can be seen and a topograph (being restored at the time of writing) near the lake indicates the locations of surrounding landmarks. Carn Marth has therefore been used as a site for a beacon for many centuries, including as part of the Tudor early warning system where a chain of hilltop fire beacons was used to warn of an invasion. The remains of 3 barrows suggest that it has been important since prehistoric times and an urn with a Roman coin suggests this continued into the Dark Ages.

  30. Turn right onto the lane and follow it downhill to a crossroads.

    Granite is pretty hard stuff. It ranks at 7 out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. It's harder than normal steel but not quite as hard as hardened steel (which is 7-8). Cutting on granite worktops is therefore not a good idea as knife blades become blunt quickly.

  31. Cross over the crossroads to the road with the 30mph signs and follow this downhill to a T-junction.
  32. Turn right onto the road and follow this to a crossroads immediately after "Tek-Tyller" on the right.

    It is recorded in the Stannary Roll of 1305-06 that Johannes Margh of Trevarth sent thirty shipments of tin to Truro. The place name is thought to mean "March's farm" which had presumably been in the family since early mediaeval times.

    Early tin production in the area was carried out by washing tin ore from aluvial deposits in the Carnon Valley. Later, the lodes of tin were worked directly, mostly via surface pits in the mediaeval period.

  33. Turn left and follow the lane until it ends in a junction with a road.

    There are 2 sparrow species in the UK but only the house sparrow is common in Cornwall. Since the 1970s the UK house sparrow population has declined to less than half with an even greater loss in urban areas. Consequently the house sparrow is now red-listed as a species of high conservation concern. The exact causes for the decline are not known although a number of likely factors have been identified. In the countryside a reduction in aphid populations due to changes in farming practices is thought to be significant whereas in urban areas a loss of suitable nesting sites and a more intense level of predation by cats may be significant. Since 2008 the population seems to have stabilised but no-one is quite sure why.

  34. Carefully cross the road and turn right. Walk into the lay-by and cross the stone (coffin) stile to the left of the gateway. Follow the stony track to another gateway with similar granite posts where a track departs to the right marked with a Public Footpath sign.

    The stiles in Cornwall that consist of rectangular bars of granite resembling a cattle grid are known as "coffen" (coffin) stiles. These often occur on footpaths leading to churches such the Zennor Churchway. The mini cattle grids are fairly effective at containing livestock and were significantly easier for coffin-bearers to navigate than stiles crossing walls. They are more frequently found in West Cornwall but there are a few in East Cornwall too such as either side of Advent Church.

  35. Bear right onto the track and follow it to reach a gate and coffin stile into a field.

    The first record of Trevince is from 1319 and is quite different - as Trevresky. Other than being a farmstead, and probably dating from early mediaeval times, the origin of the name isn't known. The site is recorded as being a manor on OS maps from the 1880s but no earlier records have so far been found. The country house was rebuilt in the late 19th Century but some parts still remain from the 17th and 18th Centuries.

  36. Cross the coffin stile and follow along the left hedge of the field to reach a gateway on the far side.

    Wheat was formed by hybridisations between wild grasses which was then spread through domestication. The cultivation of wheat is thought to have begun nearly 12,000 years ago in southeast Turkey.

    Remains of wheat from 8000 years ago have been found in Britain which indicate trade with Europe. Until around 6500 BC, it was possible to walk between Britain and the rest of Europe via an area of low lying land known as Doggerland. As sea levels rose after the last Ice Age, the North Sea flooded this, making Britain an island.

    Because each of the hybridisations that formed wheat were rare events, and because there were multiple stages of hybridisation involved, domesticated bread wheat is all from a common ancestry and therefore there is very little genetic variety. This narrow gene pool makes the risk of a catastrophic disease quite high. Since the 20th Century, work has been underway to broaden the wheat gene pool to produce disease-resistant strains through a number of techniques including crossing wheat varieties from different parts of the world, hybridising with wild grasses, and more recently through direct genetic manipulation.

  37. Go through the gateway and keep left to cross a coffin stile and descend a couple of granite steps and join a path between 2 walls. Follow the path until it ends on a road.

    The trees that overhang the path include beech.

    The fruit of the beech tree is known as "mast" or, less cryptically, "beechnuts" and these are not produced until the tree is 40-60 years old. The small triangular nuts are encased in spiky husks which split and drop from the trees from late August to early October. The kernels of these are edible and are similar to hazelnuts. They were once used as a source of flour, which was ground after the tannins had been leached out by soaking them in water. If you find them too bitter, you might want to try this trick, although toasting them in a hot pan is also a good option.

  38. Turn left and follow the road back to the church.

    A glebe was an area of land used to support the parish priest (in addition to a residence in the form of a parsonage or rectory). Occasionally the glebe included an entire farm. It was typically donated by the lord of the manor or cobbled together from several donated pieces of land.

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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