Cornwall is littered with old mines but Botallack mine, on the northern coast, has to be one of the most famous. The sheer setting of the Cornish cliffs and the dramatic remnants of these once-vital mines makes for an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
Botallack mine, near the inland village of Botallack and not too far from St Just or even Penzance, was a submarine mine with tunnels that extended up to half-a-mile under the sea. It is believed to have produced around 20,000 tonnes of copper during its lifetime, as well as 14,500 tonnes of tin and 1,500 tonnes of arsenic. Some experts believe mining on the site could go back to the Bronze Age or the Roman era, however we know via records that it was certainly in regular use from the 16th century onwards. The first steam engine was put to work on the site around the turn of the 19th century.
Tourism boomed at Botallack in the 1860s when a new diagonal shaft was dug and the Prince and Princess of Wales visited to descend it and toast the work. It was big news in the region and actually created a boom in tourism as the operators started charging visitors to look around the mines themselves. In 1883, the mines began to close due to the falling price of copper and tin alongside the high cost of keeping the engines going. In 1895, the entire mine at Botallack was closed and it’s been shut ever since, a relic of Cornwall’s industrial past.
Visitors to Botallack can’t go into the mines like they can at nearby Levant and Geevor, two other tin and copper sites also owned by the National Trust on the seven-mile-long Tin Coast. But they can walk around them and take in both the history and scenery. There are so many engine houses and mining ruins dotted around the coastline here, including the famous Crowns engine houses – one of which once pumped water out of a 2,500m-deep mine shaft under the sea – that are perched low down on a rocky cliff edge and create one of Cornwall’s most dramatic sights. Since 2006, the mines here have been part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site and the South West Coast path also passes along the cliff, so this really is a hiking haven for history buffs.
Park up in the National Trust car park at Botallack and visit the Count House, which was once a mine office, for details on the mining history of the area. Also soak in some of the spots that were filmed as part of the BBC’s celebrated ‘Poldark’ series. This is a spectacular day out in one of the most historically rich areas of Cornwall and, unlike these mines in the late 19th century, it won’t cost you a shilling.