The Portreath Tramroad forged a route from the north Cornish coast deep into copper and tin mining territory. Work began in Portreath in 1809 and the six-mile track to Crofthandy was in use by 1819, connecting Portreath harbour with the mines at North Downs and Poldice. Until then, most minerals had been transported over unmade roads by trains of horses with panniers. This tramroad was designed purely to transport materials to and from the mines, via horsedrawn trams or wagons.
Smelting copper, as opposed to tin, required much more coal and it was more economical to send the copper to the nearest coalfields. From Portreath these were in south Wales. By the 1840s, Portreath was well used by the ‘Welsh Fleet’ taking copper ore to Wales and bringing engine coal back.
The second line of the walk, the Redruth and Chasewater Railway, was the creation of John Taylor, controller of the Consolidated Mines. His business was so large that it warranted the building of a railway, which opened in 1824 and carried 50,000 tonnes of ore in its first year. But it was a victim of a global slump in copper prices and ground to a halt in 1918.
1. Cornish engine houses
Start the walk at the dramatic entrance to Portreath harbour (signposted for the Coast to Coast Trail). It heads inland between shops and past the Portreath Arms Pub before following Sunnyvale Road east out of Portreath. The remains of Cornwall’s first railway are subtle to say the least. But if you look carefully, you will find original granite sets that the tramroad used to run on, rather like early railway sleepers.
As you continue on the path, look to your right and you should be able to spot the outskirts of Redruth, once the area’s main mining town. The thimble of a monument, just beyond and to your right, was built with donations from the public to honour mine owner Baron Basset, who helped build defences around Plymouth and campaigned against slavery.
Soon, you see your first glimpse of some mine engine houses. Engine houses are very much a symbol of this part of Cornwall and the remains of over 200 are still left intact today. Head across the A30 and through Scorrier, past the Fox and Hounds Pub, and along the B3298.
2. Through ancient forest
The standard Coast to Coast Trail continues, but take a brief and slightly more scenic diversion by following a left-hand path into Unity Wood, an ancient forest recorded in the Doomsday book. The wood doesn’t last for long before a change of scene. The collection of mining cottages at Todpool is a quiet place today, but was once a village that sat on the edge of the vast and varied operations of the Poldice Valley, which you enter as you head east. It looks a bit like a lunar surface.
After a mile or so down the valley, the walk’s second railway line appears, as the Redruth and Chasewater line coming from Redruth merges with the path. You are now back on the track bed. The Redruth and Chasewater Railway achieved something that the Portreath Tramroad never did – it swapped horse-drawn carriages for steam engines.
3. Head to the estuary
The flat area, which now dominates the walk, was the bed of a reservoir called Bissa Pool but as you can see there’s no longer a pool there. The last part of the walk follows the Carnon River towards the coastline at Devoran, crossing under a viaduct carrying the still active railway line from Plymouth to Falmouth. The viaduct replaces an earlier one that you can still see and which was built by Brunel.
Continue along the river as it widens and opens up and the coast comes into view. Devoran used to be a major port, a busy interchange between steam locomotives and the boats in the estuary’s deep waters.
The end of the walk, much like the beginning, is along a simple tramroad. Head towards the quayside. In 1900, this was where the railway ended, a quayside known simply as The Point, a classic Cornish beauty spot but the end to a very industrial walk.
Portreath is on the B3300.
Find out more
Moor House, Bridge Moor, Portreath TR16 4QA
B&B in a Victorian cottage.
The Old Quay Inn
St John’s Terrace,
Devoran TR3 6ND
Friendly pub, recently renovated, with good food.