Standing on the headland, above the waves that tumble on to the rocks at Chapel Porth, affords you, in my opinion, one of the finest views of the Cornish coast. Towering cliffs. Roaring seas. Salt air. And as if to emphasis the drama and power of it all the engine houses of Wheal Coates stand dwarfed by the scenery.
Wheal Coates is made up of three engine houses. The most famous of which perches close to the cliff edge within reach of the Atlantic swell. Towanroath Engine House has to be one of Cornwall’s most iconic mining relics. It’s dramatic setting was once of course a practical one. It held the beam engine that was used to pump water out of the deeper levels of this mine. The tunnels here ran out a great distance beneath the sea.
Towanroath engine house was originally built in the late 19th century and then partly renovated in the 20th century by the National Trust. On the north side of what remains of the building a large metal grid covers a shaft which drops some 600ft (180m) through the solid rock.
I love standing on this grid, looking down into the blackness. In rough weather you can hear the waves roaring into the hole below. Every time I visit I also drop a stone down into the depths. I watch it vanish into the dark and count the seconds until I hear the deep thud as it hits the bottom.
One thousand, two thousand, three thousand. To mark the seconds. I usually get to six.
Wheal Coates was a tin and copper mine. It opened first in 1802, although there is evidence of mining activity on these cliffs from much earlier. By 1872 it had grown to have the three engine houses that remain today, in various states of repair. The mine once operated to a depth of 90 fathoms and at it’s zenith employed upwards of 70 people.
Records show that the mine produced 335 tons of copper ore in 1836 and 700 tons of tin in 1861.
On the clifftop above the Towanroath engine house are the remains of the Whim Engine House. Beside this stand the ruins of the stamping engine. The whim engine helped raise ore from the depths of the Towanroath mine to the surface and also powered the crushing stamp.
On the clifftop too are the ruins of the Calciner building. Erected in 1910 it was here that the ore was roasted to get rid of impurities such as arsenic.
Sadly there are stories that the mine workings at Wheal Coates are haunted. The ghosts of miners who died while working here are said to linger at the ruins. But I have never felt the least bit uncomfortable here. Except perhaps when the waves are crashing so high up the cliff you get the spray in your face. Or when the wind is fierce enough to make you feel you might be blow away!
Wheal Coates mine closed in 1889. There was a rather unsuccessful attempt made to reopen it in 1911 but it eventually closed for ever in 1914.