A few months ago when we were asked to come up with ideas for Frugi Activity Sticks, I suggested cycling a mineral tramway. The mineral tramways are found in Cornwall’s central mining district and make up over 37 miles of trails accessible to walkers, cyclists, and horse riders.
I’ve decided to cycle a full mineral trail (The Great Flat Lode), and also venture off into some of my favourite spots in Poldice Valley (around ⅔ of the way through the Coast to Coast trail).
The Great Flat Lode’s name is deceptive – it’s really not all that flat! However, compared to all of the other mining lode’s in Cornwall it was, hence the name. So, on a typical Cornish summer’s morning (that’s fog and mizzle), I headed over to Carnkie from Penryn to cycle the route and grab some shots.
This trail is great because it’s around 7-8 miles, and it’s a loop with a good climb towards the end of the ride. You’ll cycle through different villages / hamlets and nearly all of the trail is off-road. There are just 3 short road sections, 2 of which are on quiet back-roads.
Starting at Piece, I parked up, grabbed the bike and set off. After the first corner you’re immediately presented with the first mining site ‘South Wheal Frances’. Here you can read about each of the different buildings, and explore, and even walk over a mineshaft if you’re feeling brave enough.
Once you’re about half way round, you’ll come to the meet the railway tracks, a quick turn right and you’ll be pointed in the direction of Carn Brea. It was too misty to see the top so I carried on the trail inching closer to the dip into the next valley, and the impending steep climb which often feels like a struggle after already covering a few miles. Determined not to get off and push, I climbed to the top and continued to my last stop at ‘Wheal Basset Stamps’. It was here that the mined tin and copper would be ground down to a ‘sand-like’ consistency before the final processes of purification and smelting. Looking along the building, it almost looked like church ruins.
10 minutes or so later and I’m back at the car, drenched, but feeling happy that I’d made the most of an otherwise bad weather morning.
For the second mineral trail, I cycled areas around the Bissoe Trail.
The Bissoe trail (the closest mineral tramway to me) is nearly all flat (depending on where you start from) and takes you along the old mining railway used to transport copper and tin ore to Devoran.
This trail has various starting points. The shortest being from the bike hire at Bissoe, and the longest being at Portreath (on the opposite Cornish coast). The ride from the bike hire at Bissoe to Devoran isn’t too long and is ideal if cycling with younger children, but you can easily extend the ride by starting at Scorrier, or, if you’re up for the full challenge, you can cycle across Cornwall on the Coast to Coast trail starting at Portreath and finishing at Devoran, but keep in mind that you’ll have to cycle back too!
I started between Scorrier and Chacewater, pedalling over to Unity Wood where there are plenty of capped and fenced off mineshafts. Indeed there are plenty of cautionary signs throughout the wood to remind what is beneath you.
From Unity, it’s a short downhill ride to the trail which makes up part of the ‘Wheal Busy Loop’, but I skipped that this time and made my way straight over to Poldice.
There are 2 valleys in Poldice, the first (and closest to the Bissoe Trail) houses the remains of the old Arsenic works. Here Arsenic was mined and processed to be shipped for various uses such as glassmaking, and as a pesticide.
The second valley is home to Wheal Maid. This mine drew small amounts of copper, tin, and arsenic, but was mainly used for tailing pools where mining waste was dumped. It is not advised to cycle in the tailing pools, however environmental agencies have deemed it safe to cycle along the paths which run beside them. Wheal Maid has also been used for cross country mountain bike competitions which you can read about on the British Cycling website.
Further up the valley, you can find more evidence of the Wheal Maid mine, and a number of mountain bike trails which have been built by locals over many years. This is a mountain biker’s playground. Expect jumps and drops of various sizes, steep chutes, loose rocky terrain, and a fantastic view of the entire valley and beyond from the very top. This might be an area to take older children if they’re competent mountain bikers and have protection; a helmet, gloves, and kneepads are advised.
If you carry on the regular path, you’ll soon end up at Twelveheads, and then it’s a short cycle over to the Bissoe bike hire and cafe (in case you’re in need of a drink, or some cake) before riding over to Devoran. On your way you’ll pass under a large viaduct railway bridge which carries the Falmouth branchline. Did you know that the main London – Penzance line was originally supposed to terminate at Falmouth (where Packet Ships would travel to Europe, Africa, and the Americas), but instead stopped at Truro. By the time the line was extended, the Packet Ships had been relocated from Falmouth.
If you’ve taken a packed lunch with you, you can choose between stopping at Devoran, or cycle another 15-20 minutes down to Point where there are several benches where you can stop and enjoy your lunch looking down Restronguet Creek.
And that’s about it all for these 2 mineral trails! If you’re looking some a fun and outdoor activity with just the cost of bike hire (unless you have your own), then check out the Mineral Tramways. A quick Google search will provide you with the Cornwall Council website with maps showing all of them.
I hope you enjoyed reading and that you’re already thinking about seeing more of Cornwall’s mining past from a bike!
Keep an eye out next month for our next ideas stick blog 🙂