Gunnislake, or Lynngonna in Cornish, the first village in Cornwall, with its unparalleled natural setting, is a little known gem. Its cottages and its chapels, its ruins and its gaunt chimneys bear witness to a mining heritage unsurpassed in the world. The beauty of the Tamar Valley is one of Cornwall’s greatest but most secret treasures.
Our history is rich. The gorge of the River Tamar at Gunnislake is not just any river valley. It is the rift between two land masses. Many thousands of years ago the rocks of the Devon bank were thrust upwards by immense movements within the Earth’s crust and rose over the river in towering pinnacles and rocky crags. The immense igneous activity of this period of pre-history laid down the ore-bearing strata, silent for thousands of years, which would one day make the valley the focal point of a new industrial age.
Before the sinking of the great mines of the 18th and 19th centuries, the sheltered corridor of the valley was a vale of plenty. The Abbots of Tavistock built the great weir at Weir Head in medieval times, and salmon fought the tides and currents to swim upstream to spawn. The Abbots also built the bridge, Newbridge, at the bottom of the village in the 16th century. When the rich lodes of copper, tin and arsenic were uncovered, Gunnislake became a new frontier, a mining boom town. Rows of one-down, two-up cottages sprang up along the quiet lanes. Single-storey extensions were added to house fronts to create new shops; chapels and churches were built and all clung to the steep slopes of the valley, overlooking the River Tamar.
The mines and the workings are abandoned now. When the mines went, men went too, and throughout the world, wherever there have been mines, you come across names of Gunnislake families. Nature has recolonised the sites of industrial dereliction. The valley continues, oblivious of its ghosts. Kingfisher, buzzards, the occasional peregrine falcon and otters can all be spotted along the riverside walks. The Tamar Valley Discover Trail meanders through Gunnislake and the nearby Tamar Trails take you all over the mining heritage area. It’s no surprise that the village is in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and that there’s a very active local history archive, Calstock Parish Archive.