Hidden in the lush valley of Ponsanooth is the little known gem of Kennall Vale Nature Reserve. Once the site of a thriving 19th Century gunpowder works, today nature has reclaimed the valley and it’s a magical dingley dell of rushing streams, water falls, ferns, beech trees and ruined buildings covered in layers of undergrowth.
Not many people know about this spot. It’s tucked away good and proper – there’s not really any parking, the pathway into the reserve runs right across the front of someone’s property and it’s not a huge site.
The first major thing as you enter is the water filled quarry to the left, then the land falls away to the right and a network of pathways run down to a granite bolder strewn stream, which is perfect for a black dog paddle.
Across the stream are the remains of the waterwheels that would have powered the gunpowder production, which in turn was used in the thriving Cornish mining industry of the time. The buildings have now fallen into disrepair but the result is enchanting and evocative of the sort of post apocalyptic landscapes dreamed up by JG Ballard in his novel Drowned World. Pathways lead you through the old works, with leats staggered up the hillside that feed water gushing down into the now deserted mill houses.
The flora and fauna here is a contrast to the familiar images of Cornwall, of either sand soaked beaches or barren windswept moor land. Here it’s lush and intricate, with delicate ferns, woodland anemones, bluebells and a huge canopy of beech trees that filter the light giving it a soft green glow.
To find it: turn 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 Cott Hill. Look for the reserve sign on the wall.
It’s a Cornwall Wildlife Reserve – find out more here www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk