I was told by all the brochures that a lovely spot to go just out of Penzance was a village called Mousehole. So I decided to catch the bus there, rather than a train to St. Ives, an unfortunate decision because, though Mousehole was cute, I’d just spent three days in Port Isaac, so a fishing village wasn’t new to me. I ended up running out of time to see St. Ives, which I’m now devastated about.
It was early afternoon by the time I found a bus to St. Just, to mark off one of the major items from my bucket list: Poldark’s tin mines. The iconic photo I remembered from the first series was the Crowns Mine at Botallack. In a way, it represented Cornwall for me, at least the version I got from Poldark and Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, Jamaica Inn.
The bus driver wasn’t too happy about letting me off in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, fields and a few farm houses, though there was a pub conveniently placed opposite the bus stop.
‘I can go there,’ I said, ‘if I can’t find what I’m looking for.’ He drove away looking worried. I don’t know how long he’d lived in the area but it was strange he didn’t know about the mines.
After asking directions at the pub, I headed along a wide track to the coast in the dense fog that had dropped out of nowhere, a little way out of Penzance. I wandered around the site for ages, trying to work out what was what, before realising the building I could just see through the haze was the original Count House, now an information centre. I picked up a map, which helped a bit but not much, what with my map dyslexia.
Eventually, I just ambled along the coastal track and suddenly there it was, what I came for.
I wasn’t too happy about walking along a track above a raging ocean but I was determined to get my photos.
The mine, and its equally famous engine houses, derive their name from a group of rocks called the ‘Three Crowns’. The lower of the two engine houses was built in 1835, to pump water from the mine. The higher engine house was built in 1862, to provide winding power for the diagonal shaft, 1200 feet in length,which ran out under the sea.
Workmen sometimes retreated in terror at the crashing of the waves and boulders just a few feet above their heads. Horrifying thought.
It’s a very interesting place. There are several mines along this part of the coast and various remains of the workings. If I’d had a car, I would have explored all the way along but I was worried about missing the bus back.
I called into the Count House on the way back to find something to eat. It was built in 1861-2, as the residence and offices for the Captain and staff of Botallack mine. Count houses were the scene of lavish dinners when shareholders gathered to examine the mine accounts. Mine workers also came here monthly to be paid.
The young woman looking after the place explained to me how the current production of Poldark was often filmed there. ‘The last time they were here,’ she said, her eyes wide, ‘Aidan Turner smiled at me.’ ‘Really?’ I said. ‘I’m so jealous.’ And I wasn’t joking – obviously.
Back at the bus stop I was thrilled to find, from studying the sign, that a bus was due in five minutes. Meanwhile, an hour later, I and a nice couple from Texas were still waiting in the fog, becoming wetter and colder as the minutes ticked by, but not daring to go into the warmth of the pub in case the bus went flying by without us.
One came, eventually. A couple of miles out of Penzance the fog suddenly disappeared and it was sunny again. It was a muddle of a day but I got what I wanted. I was happy.