Kennall Vale Walk
Kennall Vale is a hidden valley, lying in the countryside between Redruth and Falmouth. Evidence of Cornwall's mining heritage is everywhere, but it looks as though it's all sinking into the moss under the weight of its own history.
It would be easy to drive past the Kennall Vale Wildlife Reserves for years and never know it was there.
You turn off the main A393 between Redruth and Falmouth at Ponsanooth, past the village shop. You then run through the narrow streets and, as you climb up a hill out of the village, there's a small sign and a gateway in a stone wall on the right.
Old milling machinery
Park up in the narrow layby and then set off up the broad path. An interpretation board will give you more info about the 20 acre site, managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
The first part of the walk is not very promising, but when you reach the top of the slope an extraordinary world opens up to you.
They used to make gunpowder here for the Cornish mines - Kennal Vale gunpowder factory started production about 1812 and was immediately successful.
A close up of old milling equipment
By 1860 it was employing about 50 men. When more sophisticated explosives came onto the market in the 1880s, the factory declined and closed in the first decade of last century.
But it wasn't always this peaceful. Newspaper reports from May 1838 tell of an appalling accident at the works. "Five mills blew up in succession, and part of a roof was found a mile from the premises. The reports were most terrific and created the greatest alarm over an extensive tract of country," runs the text.
One man was very seriously injured and later died, leaving a widow and nine or ten children.
An old millstone in the River Kennall
The leats that would carry water to the mills are in remarkably good shape, as are the massive granite mill buildings.
You can still see some of the huge iron cogs that were once turned by wheels dipped in the River Kennall. Sharp eyes can spot a broken mill stone in the river bed.
The River itself foams and rushes down the valley between mossy boulders and over an abandoned weir, creating a humid atmosphere, perfect for the ferns and mosses that carpet the floor.
The old quarry at Kennall Vale
Above your head, the beech trees form a mosaic canopy, so the wood floor is remarkably clear of the brambles and rhododendrons that dominate so many Cornish sites.
This is a great place for wildlife - dippers, pipistrelle bats and ramsons - a member of the wild onion family are all found here and the birdsong is almost deafening. At the top of the valley there's a tranquil quarry where much of the granite used to build the mills was hewn.
The expression "a walk through history" is an overused one but at Kennall Vale that's a good way to put it.
last updated: 15/05/2008 at 16:59