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Kennall Vale Nature Reserve

A picturesque woodland with rich undergrowth and open glades. It contains a water-filled quarry and the wooded slopes are punctuated by the remains of granite gunpowder mills.

In order to carry out vital safety tree works we will be closing the Reserve on Thursday 13th December between 8.30am and 5pm and Friday 14th December between 8.30am and 12noon. Thank you for your cooperation. For further information please contact Callum Deveney on 07970281879

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Location of Kennall Vale nature reserve

Habitat type : Woodland in a steep-sided river valley with water-filled quarry
Size of reserve : 8 hectares / 20 acres
OS map number : 104
Grid reference : SW 753 375
Best time to visit : Winter

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Dipper, photo by JB and S BottomleyTurn off the A393 at the post office in Ponsanooth and follow this road for a few hundred yards. Access to the reserve is via a footpath on the right as you ascend the hill. Look for the reserve sign on the wall to the left of the access.

Very limited parking in lanes near the site, so please be careful not to obstruct access routes. Tracks and paths run throughout the reserve; these can be muddy and in some places the surface can be wet and very slippery.

Characteristic wildlife of this reserve
The dipper is a land bird, with the appearance of a huge wren. It swims and dives because most of its food, such as insect larvae, freshwater snails and small fish, is found in the water. The dipper can stay underwater for about 30 seconds. Its nest is large and dome-shaped and can usually be found over running water. The dipper's beak is short and straight and its plumage is generally brown, although it sports a dashing white throat and a partial white breast.

Unlike the three-cornered leek, the common and widespread alien, ramsons are rather unusual in West Cornwall. The smell of the plant lets us know that it is an onion, but the flowers, grouped like a cluster of white stars on top of a rather tall stem surrounded by two or three deep-green broad leaves, make this a most attractive woodland plant.

Other information
Kennall Vale Gunpowder Works was established in the early 19th Century and produced high quality gunpowder for the mining industry. Its remains, scattered throughout the reserve, include several mills and buildings and a complex system of leats; the Works became a Scheduled Monument in 1999.

Kennall Vale gunpowder works, photo by Stuart Hutchings

Park up in the narrow layby and then set off up the broad path. An interpretation board will give you more info about the 20 acre site, managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. The first part of the walk is not very promising, but when you reach the top of the slope an extraordinary world opens up to you.

They used to make gunpowder here for the Cornish mines, and Kennall Vale gunpowder factory started production about 1812 and was immediately successful. By 1860 it was employing about 50 men. When more sophisticated explosives came onto the market in the 1880s, the factory declined and closed in the first decade of last century.

But it wasn't always this peaceful. Newspaper reports from May 1838 tell of an appalling accident at the works. "Five mills blew up in succession, and part of a roof was found a mile from the premises. The reports were most terrific and created the greatest alarm over an extensive tract of country," runs the text. One man was very seriously injured and later died, leaving a widow and nine or ten children.

The leats that would carry water to the mills are in remarkably good shape, as are the massive granite mill buildings. You can still see some of the huge iron cogs that were once turned by wheels dipped in the River Kennall. Sharp eyes can spot a broken mill stone in the river bed.

The River itself foams and rushes down the valley between mossy boulders and over an abandoned weir, creating a humid atmosphere, perfect for the ferns and mosses that carpet the floor. Above your head, the beech trees form a mosaic canopy, so the wood floor is remarkably clear of the brambles and rhododendrons that dominate so many Cornish sites.

This is a great place wildlife, such as the pipistrelle bat, and the birdsong is almost deafening. At the top of the valley there's a tranquil quarry where much of the granite used to build the mills was hewn.

The expression "a walk through history" is an overused one but at Kennall Vale that's a good way to put it.

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