Slate quarry trail

The return route includes a lane and short section of the Trebarwith Valley road where traffic is likely at peak times.

A circular route around historic slate quarries which have now been reclaimed by nature to the ancient quarry at Delabole which was the largest man-made hole in Europe for many years and is still worked, returning via the restored engine house overlooking Trebarwith Valley.

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The route starts at Jeffrey's Pit in Trebarwith Valley and climbs through the woods and fields to Jenkins Quarry. It then follows a cattle-droving track into Delabole, passing the quarrymens' cottages along Pengelly, until it reaches Delabole Quarry. The route skirts around the edge of the quarry and then heads back down Bowithick Hill. It passes through the Bowithick Quarry slate tips to the Prince of Wales Quarry before completing the circle, returning along Sanding Road to Jeffrey's Pit.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 5.1 miles/8.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Jeffrey's Pit
  • Parking: Jeffrey's Pit PL340EU. Turn down the road to Trebarwith Strand from the B3263 at the bottom of Trewarmett Hill. The car park is about 100 metres down on your left.
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Pretty wooded valley at Jeffrey's Pit
  • Delabole slate quarry - once the biggest man-made pit in the world
  • Panoramic views over Trewarmett Downs, Trebarwith Valley and Port Isaac Bay
  • Wildflowers covering the slate tips in spring and early summer
  • Restored engine house at the Prince of Wales quarry
  • Variety of wildlife such as buzzards, kestrels, badgers and stoats

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Bettle and Chisel

Directions

  1. Walk up the left-hand side of the stream from the parking area, past the picnic bench, to reach the woods.

    Jeffrey's Pit, located at the top of the road to Trebarwith Strand, is an old slate quarry and was still working in the early 20th century, closing in 1928. Alf Burrell, who lived in Trewarmett and died in the 1970s, started work there as a boy, making tea using the water from the stream. The cutting sheds were on the opposite side of the road (now a house), and as you walk down the road to the beach, the slate tips are walled up on your right. The slate tips cover the stream, which re-emerges below them to continue its path down the valley.

  2. Follow the path into the woods, which follows the stream up the valley. Continue on the path up a short incline past an old flight of concrete steps to where path climbs in a long incline up a steep bank.

    Upstream of Jeffrey's Pit, at the top of Trebarwith Valley, the public footpath runs for a 15-20 minute walk alongside the stream through ancient woodland. Few people go up here, so it's a peaceful spot and a good place to see wildlife. In early spring, you're likely to see frogs breeding in the stream. In April and May, the woodland floor is carpeted in bluebells contrasted by brilliant celandine, primroses and delicate wood sorrel flowers - an indicator that this has been under woodland for a long time.

  3. When you reach the steep bank, climb up carefully as this can be slippery in wet weather. Follow the path from the top of the bank, past a walled quarry pit on your left, until the path crosses through the stream.

    Bluebells are extremely poisonous, containing a number of biologically-active compounds and were used (probably with varying success) in mediaeval plant medicine. The sap was used as a glue for book-binding as its toxicity repelled insects. It was also used to attach the fletchings onto arrows.

  4. Cross the stream to the opposite bank then turn left behind the wooden fence and immediately keep right at the fork, following the path uphill to a kissing gate into a field.

    We are so used to seeing sediment in rivers that we've come to accept it as normal but no river should be brown. Sediment is often a product of human activity including eroded river banks, runoff from ploughed farmland and even cattle poaching. It can smother riverbed gravels that are essential for fish spawning. It can also act as a carrier for other pollutants such as heavy metals and pesticides. As well as being toxic, the smell of these chemicals can prevent salmon from detecting their home spawning grounds. That may all sound a bit doom and gloom but the good news is that this damage can be reversed. Pilot schemes of washing and returning gravel to the rivers have had spectacularly promising results, with breeding salmon becoming re-established within just a few years. The Westcountry Rivers Trust are also working with farmers on improving drainage systems to steadily reduce the amount of new sediment and chemicals entering rivers.

  5. Go through the kissing gate and climb the steep field, following the left hedge to reach a pair of gates beside a concrete wall at the top of the field.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles.

    Blackberries are closely related to raspberries and technically neither is a berry but an aggregate of many individual tiny fruits, each containing a tiny stone like a miniature cherry.

  6. Go through the rightmost of the gates ahead, into the farmyard, and bear left to the gate next to the barn.

    Trenowth Farm is from the Cornish word noweth and means "new farm". The term is somewhat relative as it dates back to mediaeval times, being recorded as Trenewyth in 1327.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the lane away from the farm until you reach a sharp bend to the right with a metal farm gate on the left.
  8. Bear left off the lane and follow the grass to the gate into a field. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to another gate, half-way along the hedge.

    Studies have shown that crows are capable of self-discipline. If offered one piece of food now or two later, the crows will resist temptation and wait. However if the initial piece of food is a high value item such as sausage, they won't take the risk.

  9. Go through the gate and then cross the field to a gateway to the right of the telegraph pole in the middle of the field.
  10. Go through the gate and head straight across the field to a stone stile in the opposite corner.

    The slate tips on the right 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.

  11. Cross the stile onto a lane and cross the pair of stiles opposite. Once in the field, head towards the church on the horizon, to a stile in the middle of the left hedge.

    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. Elvan 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 "white elvan" is sometimes used for those which are chemically very similar to granite (but in the case of granite, slower cooling resulted in large crystals) i.e. formed of mildly acidic compounds.

    The term "greenstone" is used by quarrymen to describe igneous rocks that, unlike granite, are rich in (basic) iron and magnesium compounds and these often give it a blue-green colour. When greenstone is formed as a sill or dyke it is sometimes called "blue elvan". This is also fairly 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.

  12. Cross the stile to emerge onto a track. Turn right and continue along the area between the walls to eventually reach a stile.
  13. Cross a stile and follow the grassy track to a gate.

    Blackthorn bushes grow along the walls, particularly on the right.

    Blackthorn wood is very tough and hard-wearing as therefore was used to make tool handles, walking sticks and as a traditional Celtic weapon for clubbing people to death! It is still regarded as the ultimate wood for making walking sticks. Once cut and trimmed, the wood needs to be dried for at least a year (often several) which allows moisture to escape and the wood to shrink and harden.

  14. Cross the stile next to the gate onto a track by a farm. Follow the track past the houses on the left until you reach a metal gate on the left, opposite a footpath on the right, signposted to Treligga.

    The track ends on a road to Treligga Downs where the Poldark Inn is located.

    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.

  15. Turn left through the gate and follow the path alongside the builders yard to another gate.

    Celandine roots have numerous knobbly tubers and when these break off, a new plant can regrow from the tuber. Digging animals such as rabbits and squirrels can therefore help to spread celandines. In some parts of the world they have become an invasive problem where their dense mat of leaves chokes out native species which have not evolved to compete with them.

  16. Go through the gate and follow the lane down to the main road.
  17. Turn left towards the Bettle and Chisel, following the road until you reach a junction to the right (Pengelly).

    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. Turn right down Pengelly and follow this to the end, until you reach Delabole Quarry.

    Delabole Quarry is over a mile in circumference 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 with some interesting historical photos including the Duke of Windsor (then Prince of Wales), plummeting down the tram line into the quarry.

  19. Walk through the car park to the left of the visitor's centre (ahead), and follow the track to the quarry viewing platform.
  20. 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."

  21. 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."

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

    The group of wind turbines to the right is Delabole Wind Farm.

    The Delabole wind farm was the first commercial wind farm in the UK, built in 1991 partly due to local opposition to a proposed nuclear power station which would have been somewhat suboptimal for the tourism on which Cornwall depends. In the 20 years since the Delabole wind farm was first built, the technology improved significantly. In 2011, the 10 original turbines were replaced with just 4 new models which are significantly more powerful and efficient. The cabling for the turbines is all underground and there are no access roads which allows the land beneath the turbines to be farmed.

  23. Go through the gate and follow the wall on the left 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 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").

  24. Go through the gate and turn left. Keep following the path along the fence to reach a gate leading to the houses on the right.

    The track here is the old trackbed of the North Cornwall Railway.

    The North Cornwall Railway was a venture backed by the London and South Western Railway to compete with the Great Western Railway for services to Cornwall. The North Cornwall line ran from Halwill in Devon to Padstow via Launceston, Camelford and Wadebridge and was built for economy rather than speed, including climbs and curves to avoid costly construction work. The line was opened in sections at the end of the 19th century, reaching Padstow in 1899. There was an aspiration to connect Wadebridge to Truro, but this was never realised. Due to holidaymakers increasingly travelling by car in the 1960s, demand for passenger services dwindled and the line was closed as part of the cuts in 1966.

  25. Continue ahead along the fence to pass the gate and reach a flight of steps with a metal handrail on the right.

    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!

  26. 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.

    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 shock wave 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.

  27. 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.

  28. Turn left onto the track marked with a footpath sign, and follow it to a stile at the end.
  29. 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.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access team:

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  30. Cross the stile into the next field and cross the field diagonally to the stile in the opposite corner between the two gateways.

    Every part of the dandelion plant is edible and is high in Vitamin A and higher still in Vitamin K. The leaves can be eaten in salads, though their bitterness is not to everyone's taste. However, the bitterness can be reduced by blanching: drop the leaves into boiling salted water and remove after a minute and quench in ice-cold water to prevent the leaves from cooking.

  31. Cross the stile and turn right. Follow the track to where it ends at a gate onto a lane.

    The salt-laden breeze coming off the sea dries out leaf buds and inhibits growth so the plants end up growing most vigorously in the lee of the wind. In the direction facing the prevailing wind, the growth is therefore more compact and stunted whereas in the lee of the wind, the branches are much more straggly. The result is that the trees appear to point away from the prevailing wind. Where there are no obstacles interfering with the wind direction, the shape of the trees can be used as a compass. Prevailing winds come from the southwest, so in general, trees in Cornwall point northeast.

  32. Cross the stile on the left of the gate then turn left onto the lane and continue a short distance to a junction.
  33. Turn right and walk carefully along this lane (there are some blind corners) down a hairpin bend to a junction at the bottom of Bowithick Hill.

    The acidic soil in the Tintagel area was fertilised with lime-rich beach sand from nearby Trebarwith Strand, where the golden sand is largely composed of sea shells which are mostly calcium carbonate (chemically identical to chalk and limestone).

    The sand at Trebarwith Strand was also put to another use: to avoid several tonnes of slate in a wagon going down the steep road through Trebarwith Valley resulting in horse paté, the slate wagons would be loaded with sand from Trebarwith Strand and this would be scattered on the road on the way back up, to act as a braking system.

    The trade in sand and slate quarrying led to road improvements in the early 19th century and for one reason, or the other, or possibly both, the Trebarwith Strand to Condolden road is known as "Sanding Road".

  34. Turn right at the junction and walk a short distance along the road until you reach the entrance to the Prince of Wales quarry on your left (a double gate with a metal bar above).
  35. Turn left into the quarry and bear right, through a gate, to a junction in the path.
  36. Where the path forks, take the left path (more or less straight ahead) which climbs through the slate tips then levels out. Follow this until, just before the path ends, you reach a few slate steps on your right leading up onto a wall.

    The path ends in a platform which overlooks a waterfall, tumbling into the quarry pit. This is the stream that runs across Trewarmett Downs. When the quarry was being worked, the engine house pumped the water out of the pit, to prevent it flooding, and also powered slate-hauling equipment to lift the slate out of the pit.

    The Prince of Wales quarry is in Trebarwith Valley, overlooking Trewarmett. The quarry opened in 1871 but was only worked for just over 20 years, closing 1890s; the slate quarried here was blue slate from the Upper Devonian Penpethy Beds. A circular path now leads through the old slate tips, past the quarry pit (now a lake with a small waterfall) and up to the engine house which has good views of the valley and coastline.

  37. Take the steps and follow the path up the side of the slate tip to the top, where there is a good view over the quarry pit.

    Cornwall's iconic engine houses were built to house huge beam engines - a type of steam engine with a pivoting beam. This configuration was particularly suited to powering pumps to stop the quarry pits and mines from flooding as water trickled into them from above. Inside the engine house, steam from a boiler would push up a piston, causing the beam to tilt downwards, pushing the pump down into the shaft. The steam would then be shut off and cold water would be used to condense the steam within the piston back into water, creating a partial vacuum. Atmospheric pressure then pushed the piston back down into the vacuum, raising the beam and lifting water out of the shaft. The valves to apply the steam and cold water were mechanically automated, maintaining a steady rocking motion of the giant beam.

  38. At the top of the steps, turn left along the wall and follow the path down to the engine house door.

    The engine house in Trewarmett is the only one preserved in North Cornwall. It was built in 1870 and the beam engine, installed in 1871, was used to drive a wire ropeway to haul slate, as well as pumping water out the quarry pit (which is now a lake). You can safely wander around inside (there are grilles covering the pit which once contained the beam engine).

  39. Facing out from the engine house doorway, take the path to the left and descend a series of steps. When you reach the bottom, turn left to reach the gate through which you entered.
  40. Go through the gate and make your way down to the main road.
  41. Turn right onto the main road and walk past the quarries, towards Trewarmett, until you reach a junction signposted to Trebarwith Strand at the bottom of the hill.

    Trebarwith stream rises on Condolden moor and runs alongside the road (in underground culverts and roadside channels for much of the way) until its confluence with the stream from Jeffrey's Pit somewhere beneath the road to the beach. This percolates though the slate tips on the opposite side of the road and then runs as an open stream to Trebarwith Strand.

  42. Turn left down the road to Trebarwith Strand, and left again into Jeffrey's Pit, to complete the circular walk.

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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