Friday, February 6, 2009

Historic Walk from Geevor Tin Mine

A guided walk from Geevor Tin Mine, Pendeen, Cornwall took us through evidence of man's presence from the Mesolithic to the 21st century.
Our first port of call was the Slimes Plant, not usually open to visitors, where the processes involved in the reclamation of tin ore was explained. The picture, above, shows the prototype Slime Decks that were developed here in the 1970's to reclaim the finer ore particles from the slime (wet, crushed rock from the mine). We were also introduced to vanning tables and buddles.
From here we walked out of the mine site towards the village of Boscaswell, with areas renowned for their Neolithic flints (struck from beach pebbles - there being no local source) being pointed out on the way. In 2005/6 a sewer project cut through the area and a large area of charcoal was discovered and a stone-lined pit. The Beaker pottery from the area dated it to approximately 2,000 bc, making it the earliest Beaker culture settlement in Cornwall. At this period the climate was much milder and the sea would have been about half a mile further out.
At Boscawell we were shown the Fogou and told about the 'Holy Well'. The Fogou was originally associated with an Iron Age village that evidence points to being situated beneath the current village. There is a second fogou at a near-by farm in Pendeen that is apparently larger but more difficult to access. Despite much speculation the original purpose of Fogou's has never been satisfactorily explained.
Somewhat further east, and closer to the current cliff edge, we were shown the geophysical surveys of this field which show it to be full of responses that the archaeologists expect to be Iron Age round houses. It is hoped to get funding for excavations of the site in the near future so I will hopefully be able to see the results for my self.
From here we walked back along the cliffs, past a number of old mine workings, towards the Geevor/Levant complex. The landscape here appears to be one of desolation but there is beauty to be found among the ruins, not least on the cliffs where the stunning blues and greens evidence the leeching of copper minerals from the mine run-off waters. Amongst the ruins buildings are numerous examples of the effects of salt laden air on metal, I am very partial to a bit of rust and there are some superb pieces here.
One of the ruins that fascinates me is the old arsenic works, unfortunately the labyrinth has been covered for health and safety reasons and is now a gigantic spoil heap. The main chimney and calciner still remain. The arsenic was exported to Lancashire cotton mills as a mordant for yellow dyes and also used in the manufacture of green wallpapers. It is thought that the William Morris green wallpapers may have accidentally caused many poisonings as the arsenic was released by damp walls. It is as well to know that arsenic smells of garlic when poking about old mine workings but in the spring many of these have a carpet of wild garlic plants, making it difficult to tell which is the source of the smell.
Walking through the working we came to Levant zawn where the power of last winters storms had detached this vast section of cliff crashing down into the sea. The mine workings of Geevor and Levant both extended about half a mile out beneath the sea and there are many tales of the miners being able to hear the pebbles rolling in the surf as they worked beneath them.
Turning inland we visited the old Count House, where the mine manager lived and the investors held their meetings. The luxury that had once been is evidenced by the remains of beautiful floor tiles in several rooms. Above this was the 'Dry' where the miners changed for work. There were two concrete baths still in evidence but I doubt that the men who used them enjoyed the views to Pendeen Watch as much as we did.

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