Minions and Caradon Hill

A walk through the remains of the UK's most productive copper mines which employed thousands of people in Victorian times including brakemen who each scooted an individual loaded ore wagon down to Liskeard on the railway that forms much of the walk route.

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The walk starts near the Minions Heritage Centre and follows the trackbed of the original Liskeard and Caradon railway down the Gonamena Incline to reach West Caradon Mine. The route then crosses via Crow's Nest to the other side of the Seaton Valley and follows tramways through the extensive remains of the South Caradon Mine to reach East Caradon Mine. The return route is on the "new" trackbed of the railway passing the engine houses of Wheal Jenkin on the way back to Minions.

After very heavy rain, the railway trackbed can become a stream.

Reviews

Fabulous walk!

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5 miles/8 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Minions car park
  • Parking: Minions car park (by Heritage Centre) PL145LL
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots; waterproof boots in winter; wellies or equivalent after heavy rain

OS maps for this walk

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Highlights

  • Panoramic views across southeast Cornwall
  • Lots of mining heritage including engine houses, railways and viaducts
  • Proper eccentric rural village where free range sheep join customers in the pub beer garden and yellow-and-blue minions figures adorn road signs and houses

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Facing away from the main road, make your way towards the back-left corner of the car park to reach a wooden signpost pointing 3 ways. Take the track signposted for The Hurlers (to your left if you are facing away from the main road) and follow this to a T-junction.

    Minions is a small village on the south-east corner of Bodmin Moor. Near the car park, one of the engine houses of the South Pheonix mine has been converted into the a heritage centre which interprets the history of the surrounding landscape. The area surrounding Minions offers a wealth of archaeological interest from early Bronze Age to the Tin and Copper Mining which finished early in the last century. Most of the village is over 300m, and Minions claims to be the highest village in Cornwall, rivalling St Breward.

  2. Turn left at the junction and follow the track until it ends on the road almost opposite The Cheesewring Hotel.

    At this point you can turn right along the track to take an optional diversion to the Minions Heritage Centre.

    Minions Heritage Centre is located in the restored Houseman's Engine House of the South Phoenix mine. The building contains a permanent exhibition on the history, ecology, archaeology and mining heritage of the surrounding area.

  3. Cross the road to the gravel track direction opposite running alongside Ridgeway Cot. Follow the track until an area of grass leads ahead to a wooden pedestrian gate just before the track ends in a metal gate.

    The Cheesewring Hotel in Minions claims to be Cornwall's highest pub, at an altitude of 995ft. It opened as a coaching inn in 1863 and is now a hotel and restaurant serving a variety of local Cornish food and ales.

  4. Bear right off the track onto the grass and go through the pedestrian gate. Follow the railway trackbed to reach another pedestrian gate (just after you pass a cottage).

    The Liskeard and Caradon Railway was a mineral railway built to transport granite, copper and tin ore from around Minions to Looe Harbour. The journey from Moorswater to Looe was initially on the Liskeard and Looe Union Canal and later on the Liskeard and Looe Railway which was built alongside the canal.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the path ahead to emerge onto a track and follow this through a gateway to reach a pair of public footpath signs at a junction of paths.

    The railway opened in 1844 and was powered initially by gravity and horses. The full wagons ran downhill under gravity with brakes to control their speed. Each wagon was individually piloted by a brakesman. The empty wagons were then hauled uphill the next day by horses.

  6. Continue ahead towards the structure protruding into the gulley. Pass this and follow along the gulley to the bottom to reach a small path climbing up the right side just before the gulley ends.

    The wooden structure protruding into the gulley is more recent than the railway and was used for a rock crusher which was balanced on the wooden beams so a trailer could be driven underneath to capture the gravel. The chippings were used to construct nearby lanes and tracks.

  7. Bear right to follow the small path up the side of the gulley and emerge on a grassy track. Cross straight over this and follow the small path leading down into the gulley ahead. Follow along the railway trackbed until you reach a waymarked pedestrian gate.

    The sloping gulley was known as the Gonamena Incline after the nearby settlement of Gonamena which was first recorded in 1388. The name is based on the Cornish word for "moorland".

    The Gonamena Incline was gravity-powered. Wagons were attached to ropes and a heavy full wagon raised a lighter empty wagon. This was a bottleneck in the railway as only one wagon could travel at a time and there had to be both a full and empty wagon available.

    The grassy track crossing the gulley was constructed after the railway closed.

  8. Go through the gate and the one after it then follow the trackbed until you reach a fork in the path at a waymark.

    In 1862, a steam locomotive was purchased to carry out some of the work done by horses more quickly. By 1869, there were 3 locomotives.

  9. At the fork, take the right-hand stony path and follow this uphill to another waymark. Continue ahead between the mine tips to where the path merges onto a track descending from the tips on the right.

    Caradon Hill has a 371 metre summit and the name is thought to originate from the Cornish word car for fort. The slopes are dotted with the remains of engine houses and the area was once famous for its copper mines, which were discovered relatively late in Cornwall's mining history. In an account documented in the early 20th Century, the area was described:

    On Saturday nights after pay-day, the populous villages of Caradon Town, Pensilva, Minions and Crows Nest were crowded with men, and resembled in character the mining camps of Colorado and the Far West.
  10. Continue ahead onto the grassy track and follow this to the metal gate with a waymark post opposite.

    The waste tips and the ruins of an engine house up the track to the right are from West Caradon Mine.

    Other than the waste tips, very little remains above ground of West Caradon Mine which was the second largest in the area, producing over 85,000 tons of copper ore during its lifetime. Mining began in 1839 and by 1844 the mine was rapidly expanding with 500 employees by 1850. By the 1860s, production was declining as the large mineral reserves in the valley had been exhausted and mining operations moved onto smaller veins of ore further west. The mine closed in 1874 after a fall in copper prices. The western area of the mine was re-worked on a small scale in the 1880s as New West Caradon mine.

  11. When you reach the waymark, instead of taking the public footpath through the gate to the right, continue ahead on the permissive track. Follow this downhill to emerge on another track then turn right onto this to reach a metal gate.

    The transmitter station on Caradon Hill was built in 1961 to bring ITV in black-and-white to South West England for the first time. In 1969 it was chosen to become a main station in the new colour television network. It was also one of two sites used for the first commercial radio broadcasts in Cornwall in 1992. Digital switchover was completed in 2009 and antenna now broadcasts TV & radio coverage as far as Truro, Bude, Plymouth and Barnstaple. It has a 780 ft mast, the top of which could be regarded as the highest man-made point in Cornwall, standing 613 ft above the summit of Brown Willy.

  12. Go through the wooden pedestrian gate around the corner to the left from the main gate. Turn left onto the lane and follow it downhill to reach a fork.

    The commonest copper ore - charcopyrite - is often hard and brittle with a tendency to break into a very fine powder. Tin mines were operated by mechanically crushing all the rocks and then concentrating the granules of ore through a series of processes using water. However, with copper, this would have led to large amounts of fine ore particles being lost as waste so instead as much of the processing as possible was done by hand, leaving mechanical stamping for only the hardest of rocks.

  13. Keep left at the fork, signposted as a public bridleway and follow the lane downhill to the end where tracks fork either side of a private driveway.

    The remains of leats and ponds in the valley still trap rainwater and provide a habitat for dragonflies.

    Dragonflies are named after the way they hunt, as both the larvae and adults are carnivorous predators. Their two sets of wings beat out of phase, and the frequency, amplitude and the angles of each set of wings can be controlled. This allows dragonflies to hover in a completely stationary position for over a minute, perform extravagant aerobatic manoeuvres and even fly backwards.

  14. Take the left-hand track (marked with a blue waymark) and follow this downhill as it gradually shrinks into a path. Continue following it between the walls and down some stone steps to emerge on a gravel track.

    The right-hand of the three tracks was once a tramway from West Caradon Mine which connected with the railway at Darite.

  15. Bear left onto the track and follow this downhill until it meets a lane.

    Research suggest 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 by landowners looking for a rapid-growing tree for their estates and was found to be salt-tolerant - essential in Cornwall. It has since spread widely as the seeds are extremely fertile and able to grow just about anywhere. In fact, in some areas it is regarded as an invasive weed. The timber was traditionally used for milk pails as it does not impart any flavour or colour. It is still used today for kitchenware and is recognisable by the light colour and fine grain.

  16. Turn left onto the lane and follow it past the pub to a track on the left marked with a Caradon Trail waymark opposite a junction on the right.

    The first record of the settlement of Crow's Nest is from 1699 which is reflected in the name being English rather than Cornish. The Crows Nest Inn is a 17th Century building which became an alehouse when the Caradon Glasgow Mine was set up near Tokenbury Manor and the miners received some of their pay in beer. The quirky name of the mine arose because anything containing the word "Caradon" was deemed to be good to attract investors (given the huge success of the other Caradon mines), and the mine secretary came from Glasgow!

  17. Turn left onto the track and follow this between the houses and alongside the stream. Continue on the track beneath a huge stone arch to reach a gate.

    The stream is the upper reaches of the River Seaton and the railway bridge was built during the intial construction phase of the railway in the 1840s.

    The source of the River Seaton is in Minions near the Cheesewring Hotel and it connects with two tributary streams running through St Cleer. Due to the copper mining activity around Caradon Hill, the tributary streams contain dissolved copper salts where the groundwater drains from old mines or percolates through waste tips. The level of copper in the main river is not high enough to prevent fish living in it but it does restrict the invertebrate species that are able to live in the river and so the fish population is lower than surrounding rivers as there is less for them to eat. The river runs for just over 10 miles before reaching the sea at Seaton beach.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the track towards the chimney to reach a fork and continue ahead along the bottom of the mine tips to the chimney.

    A trial excavation via an adit (horizontal tunnel) on Caradon hill initially proved unpromising and so the South Caradon mining sett was bought and sold a number of times, sometimes for as little as a guinea. In 1833 it was acquired by a group of miners who failed to raise capital in London to develop it but nevertheless persevered for three years until they struck the main copper lode. Almost overnight their shares rose in value to £2000 (equivalent to a quarter of a million pounds in 2018) and over the subsequent decades they became very wealthy indeed. By the 1840s, there were nearly 4000 miners working in the district and South Caradon became the largest copper mine in the UK.

  19. Continue following the track ahead past the ruins of a building to another chimney where the track bends sharply to the right.

    The large ruined building on the right was a smithy and the mine office (count house) was on the left of the path. Further down the slope to the left were the dressing floors where much of the ore was processed by hand to minimise waste and a stamping engine was used to break the more stubborn pieces of rock.

  20. Follow the track around the bend to the right and continue until you reach a track departing to the right to an engine house.

    The group of buildings at the bend in the track was known as "The Yard" as they were arranged around an open yard. Photos of the site from the 19th century show that the buildings and even the chimney were originally rendered and whitewashed. The chimney provided heating for two Miner's Dries (changing rooms). Changing out of dirty, wet clothes before a long walk home was a significant factor in reducing deaths from lung disease. Other buildings around the yard included a tool shed, wash house and even a barber's shop. This significant investment in miners' welfare may have arisen because the owners of the mine had once been miners themselves.

  21. If you want to have a look at the engine house then return here afterwards and continue following the track to where a wide grassy path joins from the left.

    The engine house was for a pumping engine at Jope's shaft installed in the 1860s. In the 1870s, this was adapted to drive a "man engine" to allow miners to reach the increasingly deep levels of the mine.

    The small path on the left side of the main track leads along the edge of the mine tips to behind "The Yard" to a large pond known as "Donkey Pond" which was originally filled by leat from the river. There is a wheel pit below the pond so it was presumably used for the waterwheel.

  22. There are some more chimneys and mining remains along the path to the left if you want to have a look at these before continuing. Follow the track ahead past one small path to the left to where another large grassy path joins from the left.

    The engine houses along the path to the left were another part of South Caradon Mine known as "Old Sump" and was the first area of the mine worked with an engine in the 1830. There are remains of a pumping engine and a smaller engine house used for a winding engine used to raise ore from the mine.

  23. The path to the left leads to the remains of another engine house, if you want to have a look before continuing. Follow the main track ahead towards the large engine house ahead and continue following it uphill to reach a bend in the track beside the ruins of another building.

    The engine house to the left was for a pumping engine at Piece's shaft.

    The two engine houses ahead were also for pumping engines added in the 1860s and 1870s.

  24. Continue around the bend to the right and then downhill on the main track until, just after the grassy mounds on the right, a well-worn, straight gravel path forks off to the left towards the mine waste tips.
  25. At the fork, take the path on the left and follow this until a grassy path leads downhill to the track just before the tips.

    The tips here are from Kittow's shaft which marked the far end of the South Caradon workings. There was a pumping engine and winding engine (to raise ore from the mine) here and by 1884, this area had become the main focus of activity as ore in the western area had been exhausted. The man engine was removed from Jope's shaft, refurbished, and reinstalled here. This didn't prove to be successful and by the end of 1885, work underground ceased. There was a brief re-opening in 1889 when the copper price doubled but in less than a year the mine had closed for the final time.

  26. Bear right at the fork to reach a stony track and left onto this. Follow the track past the waste tips and along a long, straight stretch towards a gate. Continue until a grassy path departs through a gap in the gorse to the left a few metres before the gate.
  27. Bear left onto the grassy path and follow this to the large rock at the other end. Then continue a little further ahead to reach a well-worn track just before the road. Turn left and follow the track to reach the driveway to Wheal Tor.

    From 1860 work began on extending the railway along the south side of Caradon Hill and also to bypass the inclined plane at Gonamena. By 1861, the Crows Nest end of the railway had been extended as far as East Caradon mine but the Gonamena bypass was never finished.

    The track here once carried the railway to East Caradon Mine.

  28. Turn left onto the driveway to Wheal Tor and follow this to reach a pair of granite gateposts and continue a few paces further to where the track forks.

    In 1840 as the South Caradon Mine was booming, some prospecting was carried out further east but this didn't locate any lodes of ore. Further prospecting took place in the 1850s which eventually located the lodes but it wasn't until the 1860s that the mine was working profitably.

    The mine was connected underground to others including South Caradon mine, and although the mineral reserves of East Caradon were not exhausted, it was forced to close in 1885 due to the cost of pumping out the water from the interconnected network of mines. There were brief unsuccessful attempts in 1889 and 1907 to re-open the mine. Most of the above-ground structures including the engine houses have been largely demolished.

  29. Bear right at the fork and follow the track to the end of the wall where a path departs to the right along the wall. Bear right onto the path along the wall and follow this for a mile and three-quarters round the hill until you eventually pass an engine house on your right and reach a fork in the path just before an engine house on your left.

    In 1877, a railway around the Marke Valley side of Caradon Hill was opened, connecting the Cheesewring Quarry with the railway already at East Caradon Mine. The old railway on the other side of the hill involving the Gonamena Incline was closed immediately.

    The route here follows the railway trackbed of the Marke Valley section.

  30. Keep right at the fork to pass the engine house on your left and follow the path to where a steep path descends to the road.

    The engine houses either side of the track are from Wheal Jenkin.

    Wheal Jenkin was a tin mine which was initially worked using shallow shafts drained by an adit and was deepened in the 1830s using steam-powered pumping engines whilst "stamps" to crush the ore were powered by water wheels. The engine houses remain from a later period of working in the 1880s. The tall engine house was used for a pumping engine. The chimney collapsed when an old mine shaft (probably from the 1830s) opened up beneath it. The engine house on the other side of the track was used to power "stamps" to crush the tin ore and the area around this was for processing.

  31. Follow the path down to the road and turn left onto this. Carefully follow the road uphill to return to the car park and complete the circular walk.

    Minions lies on the edge of the designated AONB area of Bodmin Moor.

    There are 33 regions in England designated Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which were created in 1949 at the same time as the National Parks. In fact the AONB status is very similar to that of National Parks. There is a single Cornwall AONB which is itself subdivided into 12 sections. 11 of these are stretches of the coastline and the 12th is Bodmin Moor.

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