The Great Flat Lode

The Great Flat Lode walk is a trail created by Cornwall Council which circles Carn Brea hill and takes you through the heart of Cornwall’s former mining district.

Several websites attempt brief descriptions of the walk – part of the network of Mining Trails – but few really do it real justice; a point we return to below. Cornwall Trails point out that the lode in question was discovered in the 1860s and was effectively worked out by 1920. The ever-reliable iWalkCornwall adds more historical information as is its wont and has a version of the trail which takes a (very sensible) diversion to the top of Carn Brea to admire the Bassett memorial, the remains of the Neolithic hillfort and the miniature castle (now a restaurant).

The first point of note is that it was the lode which was flat – well actually 10-20 degrees – rather than the trail. We have cycled the route and had to dismount at various points. We ended up referring to it as the Great Fat Lode to reflect its importance to mining; that is when we were not discussing the peculiar British grammatical construction that mean it could never be the ‘Flat Great Lode’.

This time we were walking it on a grey January day. It was easy, going.

We parked near Seleggan smelting works (NT) and set off in a clockwise direction, following the contours along an old mineral tramway or railway past Wheal Buller and above the valley containing Carnkie.

The horizon was dotted with chimneys and the walls of decayed and roofless mining buildings. To one side lay the hill that would follow us all day: the massif of Carn Brea with its monument and castle. To our left was the tall Carnkie aerial. It was obvious that this is the main horse-owning area of Cornwall for almost every field had a horse or two trying to look as though they were enjoying the fresh wind.

The trail is generally well-signposted and we did not need a map. As the route is not marked in the OS Explorer series, the map is little use anyway.  Occasionally the waymarkers had become overgrown or obliterated and one sign was lying on the ground so that we had to do a jigsaw puzzle to work out which way it ‘should’ have been pointing (we got the answer wrong).

There was much of interest along the trail but we passed building after building with no idea what we were looking at, nor the name of the particular structure.

An example showed how poorly explained it all was. One of the few interpretative panels we came across was a decaying stainless steel sign which attempted to tell the story of the facility. Sadly the copy, which was difficult to read because of the damage, became hopelessly lost in the detail of some 6 inch reciprocating engine which had done some wonderful thing. we gave up. What we really wanted to know were the answers to simple questions like ‘What is this building called? When was it built? What was it for?  Was it used for copper, tin, arsenic or other? How successful was it? How long did it last?’ The copy had been written by enthusiastic experts and was pretty impenetrable.

The route takes you some way westwards, leaving Carn Brae and Carnkie transmitter far behind, turning right at the Grenville Mines near Troon which is not a beautiful addition to the landscape. From here the trail passes the King Edward Mine Museum and heads down the Red River valley towards the railway line.

This area, around Brea Addit, Carn Arthen and Higher Brea were some of the saddest areas of the walk. Three things combined to create an air of dereliction: rubbish, uncared for fencing and caravans/shacks/broken down vehicles.

The rubbish was the most noticeable feature. One field was covered in what appeared to be broken tiles and paving slabs; there were tyres and fridges beside the road; rusty corrugated iron and broken fences; whole compounds full of dead boats and vehicles and, in the fields, great mounds of single-use plastic and dilapidated sheds and field barns.

It was hard not to feel sorry for sad-looking horses who were sharing their muddy patches with plastic and detritus. We just hoped that they did not try and eat any of the refuse.

The most depressing sight was of caravans and tumble-down shacks with smoking chimneys suggesting that people were actually living within: in winter. We even saw a tent which looked in current use. Barking German shepherds abounded. This was far from being emotionally comfortable.

The trail skirted the mainline railway near Penhallick and settled down into a steady and well-metalled track along the foot of Carn Brea, sharing the route with National Cycleway No 3. It is at this point that iWalkCornwall sensibly takes to the heights of Carn Brea although not strictly on the trail. We will divert up hill in future.

On the eastern side of Carn Brea, the trail descends by a couple of zigzags through Church Coombe – old St Euny church is very visible down the valley –  before picking up the tramway again and returning us to our starting point once again.

The books say that it is 6.5 miles although our gps recorded an easy 9.1 miles in three hours.

We recommend this walk for a good walk. There are no welcoming pubs or cafes on the route other than King Edward Mine in summer but it is a good open air tramp which is friendly to dogs  and makes one think about the mining heritage of Cornwall which was still thriving just over 120 year ago.

We just wish some investment had gone into maintaining the ideals that had obviously been around when the trail was created. A small proportion of the money that was spent on the neighbouring Heartlands development would have produced an interpreted trail of which Cornwall and the World Heritage Site could be proud.