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Avoiding the sea fog

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  • Location: Camborne
  • Location: Camborne

    To avoid the sea fog on Monday I popped inland a few miles to visit the Kennall Vale Nature Reserve. Which is on the site of the 19th century gunpowder factory of which many archaeological remains still exist. So now you have combination of important heritage and nature. Magic. The short river Kennall, just over 5 miles, which flows through the reserve was of massive importance because it supplied the energy to drive up to 39 water wheels for various industrial operations including of course the gunpowder factory.

    A brief history of the river

    By the beginning of the nineteenth century the valley of the Kennall was firmly established as one of the principal industrial areas in Cornwall. From its headwaters in Wendron parish, the river provided power for corn mills, paper mills, mining, and foundries. The potential of the valley did not escape the promoters of Cornwall's first gunpowder factory in Cosawes Wood in 1809, and it was entirely natural that the Fox family should choose to site their own explosives enterprise in Kennall Vale its elf. By 1824 Hitchens and Drew were able to publish this enthusiastic account of the valley's

    "On the south borders of this manor is a fine
    stream of water called Kennall River. It rises in
    the parish of Wendron, and in running on to
    Kennall turns a number of grist mills, and a
    hammer mill. At Kennall it works an extensive
    paper manufactory. Farther on in Kennall Wood it
    turns six water wheels, some very large, and works
    an hydraulic machine for manufacturing gunpowder.
    To work this machinery the river falls 84 feet
    perpendicularly, and is constantly turning runners
    upwards of 22 tons weight on gunpowder. The river
    afterwards passes on to Ponsanooth, where it turns
    a number of grist mills, three fulling mills,
    spinning jennies, carding machines, and works a
    large paper manufactory. At Wheal Magdelen Mine
    it works a large water engine and mill; and at
    Perr an Wharf, where it falls into the tide, it
    turns two grist mills, a machine for lifting
    water, a saw mill, a large hammer mill, a boring
    mill, and some turning lathes. This river from
    its source to its union with the sea runs about
    five miles and a half, in which short distance it
    turns thirty-nine water wheels all in active and
    full employ. It may be doubted, if within the
    same short distance another such stream can be
    found in England".
    'History of Cornwall', Hitchens & Drew, 1824,






    A few nature notes on Kennall Vale

    Numerous tree species are present: ash, sycamore, sweet chestnut and beech, the last of which is dominant. Many of these trees were deliberately planted to act as a barrier to prevent excessive damage from shock waves and flying debris to the nearby village in the event of an explosion. Amongst the trees there is an under-storey of holly, hazel, rhododendron and laurel. Ferns of many types are abundant here: hard, lady, common male, golden male, broad buckler and hay-scented buckler ferns adorn the woodland floor and earthy banks, the moist, sheltered conditions very much suiting them. Some of the ferns - golden male, lady and broad buckler - form large shuttlecock-like arrangements with their fronds. Others - hartstongue, western polypody and black spleenwort - also grow out from the basic mortar found between the stones of the now derelict buildings. The western polypody, like the ivy, is also found as an epiphyte growing up, over and along the boles and boughs of some of the trees . Jn places the relatively rare Tunbridge filmy fern can be found growing on permanently wet, more-or-less vertical faces.
    The very damp conditions are also responsible for the presence of a wide variety of snails, including the garlic, strawberry and great ramshorn snails, which are easily found. The gatlic snail is readily recognised by the characteristic odour that is evolved when it is handled. Another gastropod mollusc, the river limpet, found on the undersides of stones in the river, testifies to the purity and oxygenation of the river water. The river itself and its banks have large boulders which are covered by an array of damp-loving moss and liverwort species. These boulders act as rest places for dippers and grey wagtails which can be seen flying up and down the river course all year round. During the summer months spotted flycatchers, blackcaps and chiffchaffs take up residence in the woods, whilst in the winter nuthatches, treecreepers and goldcrest wrens are often seen.

    All of this at this time of year means an abundance of green and you get a flavour of this as you enter the reserve along the south side of the valley


    Water power on the Kennall River


    And a now flooded quarry that was worked later than the gunpowder factory



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