From the moment the Kiwi and I first moved to Cornwall, we wanted to see and do as much as the weekends would allow. One such weekend, motivated by our stomachs and an unashamed love of all things Poldark , we headed out to make the drive from the mines at Botallack to the restaurants of St Ives for a road trip of mining and dining. From abs to flabs.
Despite having taken many other road trips since, the beauty of the scenery along this stretch of the B3306 still makes it one of my most favourite drives, a view, we have since discovered, that is shared by others and various publications who have heralded it as one of the top drives in Cornwall.
The first time we made the trip the Kiwi was ‘without licence’ and so it was I who had to navigate the, somewhat narrow at times, twists and turns of this delightfully English B-road. To translate, I mean cue several arguments over my driving ability whilst trying to force a ’54 plate KA along roads clearly never intended for cars. This time however, the Kiwi now being ‘avec licence’, we decided to make the trip with myself as the passenger so that I could enjoy the views without the adrenaline rush and the imminent threat of relationship meltdown.
St Just is a small town located around 8 miles from Penzance. Although not a large feature on the Cornish map today, in the history of Cornish copper and tin mining St Just was at the very centre of one of the most important mining districts in Cornwall. The local mines gradually closed between the 19th and 20th century with the last mine – Geevor Tin Mine – closing down as late as 1990. Now it is a slow paced, pretty industrial town with an open square, a large green and a couple of nice pubs. For me to comment any further on the town would be unfair as, like most, we have been guilty of only really ever using the town as a thoroughfare to other places. It is the most Westerly town on British mainland and is closely located to Cape Cornwall and Land’s End. Most of the town’s traffic, I suspect, handles the visitors to either of those destinations. We’ll come back one day (the presence of a fish and chip shop confirms it) but on this occasion, we hit the open/actually rather narrow road (B3306) heading for our first stop, Botallack.
Once you get to Botallack, take the next two lefts until you find yourself heading down an extremely rough track towards the mines themselves. At this point, normally a low scale argument will take place covering the themes of you’re going too fast/the tyres can’t handle this/don’t you tell me how to drive. I feel if I make you aware of the drive’s argument hot points now – at least you can be prepared for your own foray into the B3306 battleground. Luckily, the view of the mines is often distracting and a fully functional couple might be able to find the car park with barely an insulting remark thrown. How lovely for them.
As soon as you park up it will be almost impossible for you to ignore the stark contrast between the industrial and the natural, with the visible remnants of the mining industry dominating the immediate area.
As soon as you head over the peak of the hillbrow however, the combination of the man made Botallack Crown mines and the rough, dark, wave carved cliff edges, combine to be a thing of beauty and you will inevitably find yourself struggling to imagine the hardship and brutality this beautiful little area would have bore witness to. Now that’s a bit deep so to add some fluff, I’ll also let you know that this is the BBC filming location for both Ross Poldark’s Wheal Leisure and Francis Poldark’s Grambler mines, both shown below. Now, to save from repeating myself, if you wish to read more on the mines at Botallack (not purely Poldark related, I’ve chucked in some fun history related facts too) then you can do so in our Guide to the Botallack Mine.
Leaving Botallac and joining on to the B3306 again it’s not long before you are reminded of how much the mining industry dominated this area of the coast. A 5 min drive on from Botallack will bring you to another mine – Levant mine – containing the oldest surviving beam engine in Cornwall. Restored by the ‘Greasy Gang’ and maintained by the National Trust this thing still runs! Got kids with you? – Great, they allow you to go underground to what was essentially the miner’s changing room before they descended the 600m down on the man engine to the lowest shafts under the sea bed. What’s a man engine I hear you ask? Oh, just a series of platforms that moved up and down alongside each other that the men had to navigate to get in and out of the mine like some kind of Cornish Nintendo level. Marzy instead of Mario perhaps. Wikipedia have a great little moving illustration of how it all worked. Look dangerous? Well the Levant mine’s man engine only killed 31 men in one day in 1919 and the mine shaft to which it descended only went out over a mile in to the sea..
Now, if the threat of leaving the kids in that small, dark, cramped space doesn’t give you at least enough material to get them to brush the sand off of their feet before they get in the car then I am at a loss of what else to suggest. The Cornish air (and fudge addictions) have toughened these ones.
More information on the mine (besides how to terrorise small children) can be found at the National Trust page for Levant Mine including entry prices, nearby walks and an account of the life of a Cornish mine worker. (It makes a great read when you think you’re having a rough day at the office). And, although I am loathe to admit it, for a brief overview and some pretty outstanding mining facts, the Daily Mail’s article on Cornwall’s quest for tin makes for a pretty good read. It has some great images for the mines visited on this drive including an amazing mineshaft map of the area, showing just how far out to sea these shafts really went. And not one mention of immigrants. Or benefit cheats. Or benefit cheating immigrants.
Geevor Tin Mine
After leaving Levant, it’s a short drive to Geevor Tin Mine, a mine only closed in the 1990’s, now a museum providing a wealth of knowledge on the area’s rich mining history and offering another opportunity to go underground. Sadly when we arrived it was closed (closed on Saturdays) but the Geevor Tin Mine website will give you a (much better) idea of what you can do in your visit to the mine.
Now, once you’ve departed these mining experiences with a sense of relief that you live in the time that you do, with the job that you have, the rest of the drive to St Ives compliments the euphoria nicely. The rest of the drive will take you over moorland and farmland with downward sloping views to the ocean. (Tip: LH side of the car is the best to be on). On a sunny day, the patterns of the cloud’s shadows moving across the land is breathtaking and places like Carn Galver on the roadside and the idyllic village of Zennor provide plenty of spaces to stop en route. This is where the importance of the ‘road trip playlist’ comes in to play so make sure you’ve won that battle if you’re anything like me and would prefer to listen to….well anything other than what the Kiwi listens to whilst touring the English countryside.
Now, if you’ve navigated the abrupt meeting of the First, open top, double decker bus successfully, (always on the narrowest corner with a convoy of hardened passengers insistent on braving the elements on top – “we WILL sit on the upper deck!”) then you will eventually arrive at St Ives with a beautiful drive down into the town itself.
St Ives reminds me of a less Rick Stein’y Padstow with the main focus of the town also being a beautiful promenade around the harbour. And the threat of the seagull is strong in St Ives also. The town is mostly surrounded by water remarkably beautiful for a working harbour and, unlike Padstow, you will find people sunning themselves and bathing on the little mini beach within the breakwater. Numerous restaurants and and shops are dotted throughout the backstreets and waterfront providing food fit for a Cornish, cholesterol riddled King. Go forth, discover and abandon hope all ye who calorie count.
Now really St Ives deserves an entry of it’s own so I will endeavour to give you a more indepth Kiwi In Kernow guide/collection of rambling thoughts on the town later. For now, we hope you have arrived unscathed, in awe and with all relationships in tact.
(And no sand on the car floor…).
Live, laugh and eat fish and chups.
Survived the drive? Think we missed anything? Any recommendations for other drives? Or playlist tracks?! – We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment, Contact Us or tag us in your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook posts.
- We last took the drive in July, pre-school summer holidays and found the traffic almost non-existent. Hurrah.
- Google maps estimates that the drive will take you 32 minutes but allow a couple of hours to do justice to the sites enroute if you decide to stop – even more if you want to take full advantage of the mining museums.
- There’s a petrol station at Trewellard.
- To avoid crowds, we advise that you visit the sites early in the day before the tours arrive…