This is a short piece I wrote for a student newspaper’s ‘travel’ section
Walking through these abandoned gunpowder works is like exploring the remains of a long-gone civilization, but in fact the Kennall Company only shut up shop 100 years ago. It may not be quite as flashy as a rainforest erupting with Mayan ziggurats, but the derelict mills combine with the broadleaf woodland (complete with blue tits and honeysuckle) to charm you with its quintessentially English post-apocalyptic vibe.
The wildlife trust, who manage the reserve, call it a ‘semi-natural woodland’. Some trees have been cut down to prevent them destroying the picturesque dereliction, or to keep the well-maintained paths clear, and the blue tits are well-housed in numbered bird boxes, but let’s not get too pedantic. In a few weeks time the woods will be drowning in bluebells, but for now the wood anemones have it to themselves.
Granite for the booming 20th century trade in war memorials was quarried here, leaving a dark lake underneath a sheer cliff. I can’t see how deep the water is. Despite the premium quality granite steps leading down into the water, I bet you’re not meant to swim here.
A windowsill in one of the buildings is stacked with messages left scratched onto old slate roof tiles. Most are just names and dates (Dizey & Freya 23/02/11), but some are more imaginative, a few are downright artistic. Of course, I leave my own message among the pictures and blessings.
The path curls up one side of the river, across a narrow footbridge, and down the other side. I sat on a bench dedicated to Jimmy Mavor (1956-1983), eating my picnic to the sound of birds, water, and the occasional aircraft. On this side of the river, a line of identical wheel-less mills are interwoven with leats and races. You can’t help imagining what it would have been like when the gunpowder works were active. This was a big industry, manufacturing gunpowder for all the mines and quarries in Cornwall and beyond. And it all ran off this rather modest river.
The river flows on regardless of the lack of waterwheels, expending its energy instead slowly carving a new meander through the valley. It’s hard not to wonder, when faced with this natural recolonisation, how long it will be until our current heavy industries are left to the woods. Perhaps I will leave a bench dedicated to ‘Tim Halpin, who loved this place’ at the Longbridge Rover Plant, or Sizewell B.
Kennall Vale’s a great place to come and while away the time on a sunny day with a book, or even some revision. If you’re happy to follow a map it’s within walking distance of Tremough campus, or catch the No. 41 bus to Ponsanooth and follow Park Road up the hill, past Kennall Vale Road, and the entrance is about 100m up on your right.