Walking with the Wild Things: Exploring Cornwall’s beautiful Luxulyan Valley

By Jamie Maddison | 20 July 2012
a photo of  man framed against bright green foliage in the mouth of a tunnel
The Romantic wanderer: Jamie Maddsion in the Luxulyan Valley.© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
The leat runs fast and clear, its depths easily visible through the soft-brown tingeing of the waters hastening by. Balanced upon my perch midway along a twisted and moss-laden log over this rushing watercourse, the awesome stillness of a primeval woodland lies before me.

This wilderness is Luxulyan Valley; one of Cornwall’s most beautiful yet unnoticed mining landscapes within the UNESCO Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.

a photo of a woodland stream next to a path
© Ainsley Cocks
It’s a setting many wouldn’t even recognise as relating to the industrial world of large-scale mineral extraction, and a place where heading off from the main trail leads to Cornwall’s very own jungle wilderness.

Wobbling across the river - over the fallen log - and up the steep and bramble-laden embankment on the other side, brings me to an ivy-coated clearing of remarkable tranquillity.

Back below me, the burble of the several straight-sided leats fills an otherwise calm and humid air. These watercourses were originally constructed to power the many water wheels and water pressure engines at Fowey Consols Mine, across the valley at Penpillick Hill, and to supply yet more water for steam engines and ore processing.

The power of the leat waters was also to help make Fowey Consols the fourth most productive copper mine in Cornwall and Devon in the nineteenth century.

Moving deeper away from the remnants of an industry past, I clamber over fallen trees and around impenetrable patches of undergrowth, until I finally pick up what, to my untrained eye, appears to be a deer trail. Silence pervades, apart from the snapping of the occasional twig underfoot and a constant rustle of frisky, squabbling birds from among the nearby trees.

Progressing around the steep sides of this basin, a deep rumbling sound emanates from the valley floor: the vibrations fill the air, as a concealed train passes along the single-track line below.

a photo of a telegraph poles amidst a lush green landscape
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
In times past, the primary sound of transport emanating here would have been from the clippity-clop of horse-drawn tramways used to provide a link to the mines of the hinterland and give access to the granite quarries at nearby Colcerrow and Carbeans.

Strange rocks emerge from the undergrowth. Green monoliths, they seem like sleeping trolls; sprigs of emerging flowers sprouting from their backs. Quickly, a bird of prey swoops in front of me, too fast even for my readied camera. Yet following the path of its flight leads my eyes to peer through a previously unseen opening in the omnipresent foliage and onto the most impressive feature of the valley.

The Treffry Viaduct, built between 1839-42 and the first of its type in Cornwall, is an imposing granite structure that carries both a leat and tramway route high above the valley floor.

The structure towers higher than the walls of a temple, strong in its majestic manmade beauty - a perfect accompaniment to luscious natural canopy that lies on either side.

At length I come down from the hills, across the main path, up the opposing hillside, and back into the undergrowth aiming for home. For over three hours I’d only seen one person and that was here crossing the main path.

Undeniably, the Luxulyan Valley is a place of quiet serenity; a luscious slice of untamed wilderness to get lost in. BUt it’s also an area filled with the rich history of its own mining past and another place to get away from Cornwall’s well-worn tourist trail.

For here, in this little valley, is a hidden world. Half history, half nature, the woodland is one of the last places hereabouts where you can truly walk with the wild things.

For further information about the Luxulyan Valley and the World Heritage Site, go to www.facebook.com/cornishmining or www.cornishmining.org.uk

More photos:

a photo of trees with dense green foliage
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photo taken beneath slatted pieces of wood looking out onto dappled green foliage
© Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photo of a rusted shotgun cartridge
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photo of a plant taken against a saturated green background
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photograph of a country trackway bowered by trees
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photograph of an animal print in the earth
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photo of a bird in a tree
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photo of toadstools
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photo of a lush green wooded landscape
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photo of green wet foliage
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
a photo of a derelict building amidst dense green foliage
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
Cornish Mining World Heritage Logo
Jamie Maddison is the Culture24/Cornish Mining World Heritage 2012 bursary journalist, filing stories about Cornwall's UNSECO World Heritage Site mining landscape. Contact him at jamie@culture24.org.uk. Read his blog at www.jamiemaddison.com

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