Minions, Bodmin Moor

The bleak eastern end of Bodmin Moor offers unrelieved remoteness. It can be frightening if a mist comes down and you don’t know the moor well, particularly if you believe in the existence of the escaped panther, known as the Beast of Bodmin.. As a child I once found a large patch of the carnivorous plant, Venus fly-trap  but I’ve never been able to find it again.

Liskeard is not a moorland town but if you come by train its station lies closer to the moor than any other. Once prosperous when the Caradon copper mines were working, it still has distinction. Now a quiet market town set in steep clefts of the hill it is dominated by a large 13th century church and a Victorian Italianate Guildhall with a tower sailing above the slate- roofed houses. Looking southwards out across the Looe valley and over the railway viaduct are fine Georgian and Regency stucco houses with gardens full of hydrangeas.

Engine_house_at_MinionsLeave the cosiness of Liskeard and head towards the moors through deep-cut lanes lined with hazel and ilex, past slate houses sheltered by laurel hedges. A radio mast in the distance on Caradon Hill strikes up miles into the sky through the low cloud. Windblown beeches lean over the road towards St Cleer.

Towards Minions the weather worn, stone strewn moor stretches away before you. When I last came at the back end of February the rain was slashing sideways as I reached this, the highest village in Cornwall, a thousand feet up. It is now nothing more than a scattering of white pebble-dashed cottages with a pub. a village store and a tea shop.

In the last century the village was full to the brim with miners. There were gin houses, brothels and straggling shanty towns around the moor’s edges. A large Methodist chapel still stands in St Cleer which was built in an effort to ‘save’ the souls of and sober up the dissolute miners. John Wesley made over 30 visits to Bodmin Moor and as a result chapels sprang up in many moorland villages. Just below the main church of St Clarus is the holy well of the Celtic saint St Cleer, with a cross and granite chapel over the half-filled well.

The glory days of mining had been in the nineteenth century when copper was discovered on Caradon Hill. Now there are only the ghosts of ruined engine-houses and wired-off mineshafts around which sheep pick their ways. All around there are the remnants of earlier civilisations – Iron Age forts. Neolithic stone circles, barrows,, Celtic crosses and medieval chapels. I know no other place in England with quite so much on its doorstep.

If you follow the granite sleepers of the old mineral railway it will lead you near to the amazing Cheesewrings,  a natural formation of blue granite rocks on the summit of Stowe Hill. They are like gigantic hamburgers as big as limousines, balancing on top of each other and defying gravity. From among them  you can see all Cornwall and Devon across the Tamar valley and on a clear day you can see beyond Dartmoor to Exmoor – the Channel on one side, the Atlantic on the other.

Below is a neglected hard blue granite quarry whose deep pool is inky blue in the sun and icy to swim in. A barrow which was dug up by a group of miners in the late 1830s (probably on the search for gold which came in small quantities in the mines and rivers ) found a skeleton, beads, pottery and a beautiful gold cup exactly like the ones found in tombs at Mycenae. It was presented to William IV who used it as a shaving mug until it was rescued from his bathroom. It is now in the British Museum.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Nilfanion

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