A Step to the Side – Tamar Trails

Fallen Branch

Sunday August 6th, 2017

A day off-piste, so to speak, when I, wife and two dogs sloped off to visit the Tamar Trails. Not Dartmoor, obviously, and unknown to us until recently we discovered it is a little-known gem nestling in the Tamar Valley.  A few weeks earlier, when granddaughter from the Midlands came to stay, we decided she might like Morwellham Quay. She did indeed, as it happens, and a bonus is that a very nice member of MQ staff told us about Tamar Trails, sited on the vast and now disused mining sites only a mile or two from the lovely town of Tavistock.

The area has been turned into an exceptional recreation are for horse-riders, walkers, cyclists and for other pursuits. Of course, it is unrecognisable from the time, well over a century ago when it was among the largest copper (and later, arsenic) mines in Europe. It is now densely covered in trees and shrubs with its massive spoil heaps of rubble and rock mostly hidden from immediate view.

Its history is fascinating and arguably the interpretation boards at points around the site simply scratch the surface rather than mining its full potential (sorry, pun intended). Some very lucky investors bought £1 shares in the mining area after it was acquired from the Duke of Bedford by a mining engineer presumably convinced there was valuable ore to be discovered there. Within months, a long and quite wide high-quality copper lode was exposed close to the surface and immediately the investors saw their stakes rocket in value. The mines and associated works expanded rapidly providing employment for many hundreds of local people.

By the early 1900s, the copper was gone and the subsequent massive arsenic works (arsenic is often found along with copper, apparently) which had succeeded it ceased operating when the international market price of arsenic crashed.

Today, the surface buildings have all gone, save for the odd low wall, ruin or railway bridge. Through trees, which have grown to cover much of the area, spoil heaps can still be seen, evidence of the huge mass of material cut from beneath our feet by men and boys and transported to the surface. The many trails around the area are generally well-signposted and marked and meander through some interesting areas with the occasional unobtrusive information or interpretation board.

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