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8 September 2014

Cornwall's Hidden Walks - Part One

Kennal Vale Nature Reserve

Only ten minutes by car from The Valley is a beautiful and atmospheric nature reserve, managed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust , which covers the former site of the Kennal Vale Gunpowder works which was founded in 1812 and shut its doors in 1914. The Gunpowder works were sited here to take advantage of the natural attributes of this steep sided wooded valley which sees the Kennal River tumble from the high watershed around Stithians towards the village of Ponsanooth. The steep gradient of this valley enabled the Cornish engineers to site a number of gunpowder mills along the river’s course powered by water channelled through a complex system of leats. The naturally damp atmosphere in the valley allowed not only a wonderful variety of ferns, mosses and flowering plants to flourish but also helped to minimise the risk of explosions in the mills, although five mills were destroyed by a series of explosions in 1838 which made national news at the time. In its heyday the Kennal Vale works supplied mining grade gunpowder to both the UK and abroad and was an important local employer. The invention of more sophisticated and stable commercial explosives in the latter part of the 19th Century however signalled the demise of the company and it finally ceased operating just before the start of the First World War.

Since the closure of the works nature gradually reclaimed the valley and cloaked the remains of the massive granite mills in lush vegetation under a canopy of beech, ash and sycamore. Since 1999 the area has been under the management of Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the ruins have been made safe and connected by paths and bridges that crisscross the Kennal River as it rushes and tumbles between huge, moss covered granite boulders, and the broken remains of the giant grinding stones.

The walk through Kennal Vale is one of discovery with each turn offering something to intrigue and delight. Children love running in and out of the abandoned mill buildings and leap frogging across the waters of the narrow leats. Water is everywhere in the valley, whether rushing down the river’s main channel, gliding across the wide abandoned weir, or cascading into the void in a series of waterfalls marking the spot where long-since vanished wooden water wheels powered the huge grinding stones.  The circular route around the reserve only takes about twenty minutes to complete, but usually walkers linger far longer in the valley, stopping to take in the amazing sites and absorbing the mysterious atmosphere where dappled sunlight meets water and ruins, reminiscent of a lost Mayan jungle city.

Popular with local dog walkers and photography students Kennal Vale remains, nonetheless, a largely unknown gem to the outside world offering those who take the trouble to discover its location an amazing walking experience in complete contrast to more familiar coastal routes.

Directions: From the main Redruth to Falmouth road (A393) turn off at the post office in the village of Ponsanooth and follow the road for a few hundred yards heading uphill. You will see a long stone wall on the right hand side of the road, where it is possible to park alongside. Access to the reserve is via a footpath and gate to the right of this wall.

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