Gunpowder Wood

Easily missed, indeed missed by me for 28 years, the remains of Kennall Vale Gunpowder Works sit hidden in an overgrown, emerald wilderness.

Kennall Vale Gunpowder Works ran in the mid 19th century, providing gunpowder for the mining industry. Now, looked after by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, it resembles an ancient city, lost in an overgrown jungle like the great Machu Picchu. Walking through the gates at the bottom of the reserve, it’s impossible to imagine what lies ahead.

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Huge boulders, ivy covered ruins and even a well preserved toilet block scatter the woodland. The river that once powered these works still runs with some ferocity through its middle. Everywhere you look there are signs of a once booming industry. We snaked our way up through the trees, climbing boulders as we went, until we reached a flooded quarry.

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The reserve is not your typical reserve in any way. It almost feels that the preservation of history takes precedent over the preservation of wildlife, as it is open to dog walkers. In fact, aside from one wagtail, a speckled wood butterfly and a handful of bluetits, I didn’t see many signs of animal life.

Having said that, I’m sure to a botanist the reserve is fascinating, with all manner of wild plant species growing in, on and around the old ruins. The river itself of course is also very much alive and wild.

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We made our way down winding paths, exploring as much of the reserve as we could. It seemed to go on forever with endless routes, each with their own nugget of mining history. The water provided our soundtrack and drew us in.

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They built the Gunpowder works here to minimise the casualties in the event of an explosion. It is difficult to imagine this forest as anything apart from a peaceful watery wilderness, but two hundred years ago, it would have been quite different.

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