Saturday 9th September….a walk along the West Looe river

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It has been raining rather a lot recently so we took advantage of a short break in the weather to drive to some woods just South of Duloe (about 5 minutes away). Here we did a walk at a high level through the woods and dropping down to Herodsfoot (the doubly Thankful village I have written about before). A pleasant walk with the sound of the West Looe river accompanying us, although we couldn’t see it. Herodsfoot is a pretty little village completely enclosed by hills. ….in fact set at the meeting of four valleys whose streams join the West Looe river. It was a real hive of industry in its time, and a lead and silver mine functioned here for centuries. The population of the village was a mere 116 when the Church was opened in 1850, but ten years later had quadrupled and reached a peak in 1871 with 499 people being recorded in the census. It never ceases to amaze me how busy these tiny Cornish localities were.

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Researching the village’s history I came across the site MyCornwall which has some fantastic articles and a quite detailed analysis of Herodsfoot’s industrial heritage….do click the link and have a read. It’s humbling to see how far some people walked to work, and the conditions they worked in, plus tragic to read about the deaths. These weren’t only in the mines as a large gunpowder factory was established here and only closed in the 1960’s. Its sister factory is now Trago Mills the very large shopping centre with a quite unique culture.

Mineral-Bournonite-label.c-630x632.jpgOne interesting by-product of the mining is revealed in MyCornwall….’Lead and silver weren’t the only treasures found at Herodsfoot.  During the 1850s and 1860s the village was visited by Richard Talling, the esteemed mineralogist born at nearby Lostwithiel in 1820.  Talling began his living as an apprentice shoemaker but developed a passion for minerals, and for much of his life ran an emporium in Lostwithiel where he sold his samples.  He travelled widely in search of new specimens but discovered two unique minerals locally, exposed by Herodsfoot’s probing mines: bournonite, a sulphide of lead, copper and antimony; and tetrahedrite, a sulphide of copper, iron and antimony which also sometimes contains silver.

It seems that in his enthusiasm the collector made a nuisance of himself at Herodsfoot, for eventually the mine manager banned him from acquiring any more samples.  He rather neatly got round his exclusion by buying shares in the mine, which allowed him to come and go as he pleased.  Talling’s Herodsfoot discoveries were his most famous achievement and samples of the two minerals were acquired by the Royal Cornwall Museum.  Today too the Natural History Museum’s Vault, a gallery containing nature’s rarest and most valuable minerals, features a huge bournonite specimen bought from Richard Talling in 1868.  No other sample of its size or quality has ever been found…….’

John Betjeman, in his “Shell Guide to Cornwall” described Herodsfoot as “An inland Polperro in a deeply wooded valley. Slate cottages with uneven roofs, the Looe river very small…”.

20170909_125417.jpgOur way back was now at a low level accompanying the river – partly on one of Cornwall’s many roads without traffic, partly on a track through the woods. I managed for once to take a photo of a butterfly ( a red admiral) without it flying off on my approach. Mind you these are known as a people-friendly breed as they land on people quite often…..20170909_130014.jpg

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We finally reached the small hamlet of churchbridge with its late medieval bridge over the river. Two houses near here appear to have been corn mills and we passed a derelict hut by what seemed to be a leat and I assume this may have been a shelter for someone operating the leat…

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