These days it’s tourism that makes Cornwall’s economy tick, but in the 19th century mining was where fortunes were made in this county. So much of the landscape has been shaped by the mining industry that’s it’s difficult to go anywhere in Cornwall without seeing its effects, particularly in the westernmost edge of the county, West Penwith. The coast here is littered with old engine houses, or ‘wheal houses’, but they don’t give much away about the mines themselves.
Geevor Tin Mine at Pendeen, not far from Land’s End, lets you quite literally look below the surface of Cornish tin mining history. There’s something about leaving the daylight and heading underground into a dark, scary mine that is equal parts fear and exhilaration – and kids love it.
The underground tour at Geevor provides insight into how hard and dangerous life was for the miners and it’s probably the highlight of the venue, but there’s so much more here. There are over twenty mine buildings to poke around, including changing and first aid rooms that have been left in a kind of suspended animation and look just as they were when the last of the miners finished their final shifts. The Hard Rock Museum has all the history in interactive exhibitions and hands-on puzzles and challenges for kids (they can even try mineral panning for heavy metals) and the Peninsula of Minerals Gallery features some of the strangest rocks you’ll ever see.
Outside is a harsh but beautiful landscape dotted with huge old mining artefacts and the imposing Victory shaft, which plunges down for 480 metres. The views out over the Atlantic are spectacular; grab a guide and take the ‘Wildlife on the Edge’ walk when you need a little fresh air and sunshine after the underground tour.
If you combine a Geevor visit with a trip to St Ives during the summer you can travel on the number 300 bus (open top) for some great views of the coast and countryside – and you’ll even get a discount at the mine for your environmentally sound choice of transport.
Geevor Tin Mine
Pendeen, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 7EW, Tel. 01736 788662