Nestled between Falmouth and Redruth is Kennall Vale Nature Reserve, a lush green utopia where mother earth has staked her claim on Cornwall’s history.
Walking around Kennall Vale you’d be forgiven for thinking you had entered some kind of post-apocalyptic, utopian world. Birds call in the trees, leaves crunch underfoot and the rushing of water fills your ears. The sights, colours and sounds are those of pure beauty. Shapes of disused buildings loom through the bracken echoing the history of the valley, a nod to the once thriving gunpowder and quarry businesses that survived here almost a century ago.
The Kennall Vale Gunpowder Company supplied explosives to mines and quarries throughout Cornwall and the rest of England, and even exported it around the world, making it the most successful gunpowder factory of its kind in Cornwall. The works were eventually closed in 1910, and a quarry opened in its place excavating high quality granite.
Now flooded, the quarry is the first thing you encounter as you enter the reserve. The sheer granite face reflects in the surface of the water, while a range of vivid green plants cling to the rock. To the right, the valley opens and the magic of Kennall Vale is revealed. Footpaths make their way through the trees, snake around buildings, and meander alongside the river. Ivy, moss and ferns thrive on the damp atmosphere, and the canopy of trees casts a warm glow on the reserve, even on a cool, damp January afternoon.
Amongst the ruined buildings are reminders of what once went on here. The odd millstone can still be seen poking through the undergrowth, rusted iron cogs that were once powered by waterwheels have become home to moss, and leats which once bought water to the mills now take on the role as feature waterfalls.
Due to its rich history and diverse wildlife Kennall Vale has been named as a place of both archeological and wildlife importance. The Cornwall Wildlife Trust, who manage the reserve, work to maintain the buildings, preserving this important part of Cornwall’s past, and encourage animals to thrive here. Bird boxes pepper the trees, and the area has become home to a variety of birds and bats.
The site may be small, covering just 20 acres of land, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm, character and history. It can be a little tricky to find, but persevere, what you’ll discover is definitely worth the hunt.