Tin Stars

Firstly, of course, it just wouldn't be Cornwall without the constant skeletal presence of the old mines.

What always amazes me is some of the places that you find the damn things. You can understand why the average life expectancy of a Cornish tin miner was only 28. Never mind the appalling conditions in the mines, half of them must have broken their necks just trying to get to work!

My (very) limited understanding as to why so many mines seem to be located in places where angels fear to tread is as follows:-

Cornwall is made out of rocks (see The Original Eden Project next page). Mostly very hard rocks such as granite and the dreaded blue elvan. However, the ore-bearing rocks are usually softer and so erode more quickly. This is why Cornwall's coastline is so crinkly because the action of the sea has eroded the softer rocks but mad little impression on the tough stuff.

These very sharply cut inlets are called 'zawns' and in the olden days when mine surveying was mostly a 'seat of the pants' affair these zawns were interpreted as indicators of the presence of ore-bearing minerals. So, what happened is that the Cornish entrepreneurs built their mines and sank the shafts over these zawns. As if, being perched on the top of a cliff wasn't hazardous enough the mining tunnels actually went out to sea, sometimes a couple of miles, following the ore-bearing lode.

Hardly, a very comforting thought if you suffered from any or all of vertigo, claustrophobia or hydrophobia. No wonder so many of them chose to face probable drowning in rickety fishing boats instead!

If you want to get some actual proper info on these coastal mines I recommend a trip to either or both of the Levant Mine or Geevor, both of which are located between Pendeen and St. Just on the St. Ives to Land's End road.

Mines lie in wait for you at every turn ..... Old mines on the path from Zennor to Gurnard's Head 1
..... some more obviously than others. Old mines on the path from Zennor to Gurnard's Head 2
You can usually get up quite close to them but you don't want to get too close, particularly if you think that falling down a disused mineshaft is the sort of think that would put a crimp on the rest of your day! Old mines on the path from Zennor to Gurnard's Head 2
Ah, another obscure Cornish tradition, a house built on top of a mineshaft.

Most people reckon that St. Ives itself is built on the subterranean equivalent of an aero choccie bar!

Old mines on the path from Zennor to Gurnard's Head 4
Negotiate the cliff path, scramble down the mineshaft, walk a mile out under the sea and swing a pickaxe for 12 hours.

They must have been mad!

Old mines on the path from Zennor to Gurnard's Head 5

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