Upstream of medieval New Bridge, lingering mist enhances the chill of the valley bottom, hundreds of feet below the summit of Hingston Down. After weeks of rainy weather, turbulent water swirls through the gorge-like course beneath Blanchdown Wood, where – on a rare bright morning – sun lightens the topmost branches.
Here in Clitters Wood, dripping trees overhang flattened ferns beside the squelchy riverside track of puddles, rotting oak and chestnut leaves. On the steep wooded hillside, which is riddled underground with old mine adits and shafts, lurid moss shrouds the tree trunks, branches, fallen limbs, saplings, sprawling roots and stoned hedgebanks. Among the trees, stretches of bare land consist of “burrows”, or spoil heaps of waste from ore processing, stained red with hematite and known as “redlands”.
Just visible in the dim winter light, greened granite blocks, disused quarries and a ruined engine house merge with the mossy trees. In the 19th century, river water was pumped from here, uphill to the mine’s mill, engine boilers and associated works, which were clustered around Skinner’s engine shaft, where miners worked down to 267 fathoms as they excavated mineral lodes. Copper ore was then transported on tramways to wharves at the head of navigation below Gunnislake.
Out of the dismal wood, a minor road passes a derelict mine stack at Wheal Bramble, and tracks to isolated homesteads. Steep sunken lanes between ferny banks gush with runoff, some channelled in deep drains set beneath gratings, and all heading for the swollen Tamar.
The midday sun becomes visible, peeping through silhouetted trees on the shady hill above the little village of Chilsworthy, with its pub and one-time chapel now converted into a dwelling. Towering above the skyline, on the other side of the abandoned railway branch from Kelly Bray, a particularly tall stack marks the site of Greenhill arsenic works – no longer venting poisonous fumes. The way back to Dimson is open to the sky, with extensive views eastwards across the deep shaded valley of the Tamar, towards the sunlit uplands of Dartmoor.
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