"This is Devon's copper kingdom," declared Barry Gamble, surveying the heavily-wooded Tamar Valley which once echoed to a thousand picks, shovels and mallets.
"Between 1845 and 1870, this small area of the country accounted for a fifth of Britain's copper production."
Barry, who has immersed himself in the history of the valley since he began working there in the 1970s, probably knows more about its geology and industrial archaeology than anyone else. Architect of the bid which secured the Cornwall and West Devon mining landscapes World Heritage Site status in 2006, he now advises countries from Japan to Norway, Taiwan to South Africa on issues of heritage interpretation and conservation.
A man of many talents, he was on hand for the official launch of the final phase of the Tamar Trails project, which links sites of historical importance from Devon Great Consols mine to Morwellham Quay. A new centre, to be built at the trail's halfway mark, will include a classroom for local schools, interpretation boards and a cafe. The centre, at Gulworthy near Tavistock, is expected to be open by Easter 2013.
"We are standing on the site of Bedford United Mine, which was opened in 1840 by Josiah Hugo Hitchins," said Barry. "This is by no means the first groundbreaking ceremony to have been held hereabouts. As early as 1710 men were driving adits into the river cliffs below us for mines named Marquis and Tavistock. Groundbreaking ceremonies were part of the mining culture across Cornwall and Devon and were intended to mark the optimism felt by the owners and workers of what riches the enterprise might yield."
He praised the work of the WHS and AONB, as well as Tamar Valley Mining Heritage Project and West Devon Borough Council in making the Tamar Trails project such a success.
"It has brought the area into public ownership, creating free, open access for everyone from mountain bikers to wheelchair users," he said. "Local people have been very supportive, embracing the area as their own and taking on the care of the sites.
"The new centre offers another great opportunity to explore Devon's copper kingdom. It is ideally placed, being half way between Devon Great Consols and Morwellham Quay. It will help to further open up the many gems of mining heritage on the Devon side of the World Heritage Site area that are yet to be exposed."
The centre will be the hub for walkers, cyclists and horse riders to explore 25km of trails which follow old mineral tramways and railways.
West Devon mayor Robin Musgrave, who cut the first symbolic turf for the new centre, said: "The turf cutting ceremony marks the start of an exciting development to enhance what is already available at Gulworthy Sawmills and the Tamar Trails. The redeveloped centre will help to attract more people to this truly captivating area, where you can take a journey back in time to West Devon's mining past or enjoy some of the most precious wildlife habitats in the country."
The £200,000 project is a joint initiative by West Devon Borough Council and Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was funded by West Devon Borough Council, Heritage Lottery, Devon County Council and the Discover the Extraordinary Rural Development Programme, which promotes key attractions across the Cornwall and West Devon Mining World Heritage Site.
Tim Selman, who as manager of the Tamar Valley AONB helped to plan the centre, said: "We are delighted that work has now begun. It will bring huge benefits to the local community and visitors in terms of access and use. And it will be at the hub of a calendar of activities in the area for everyone, from those interested in conservation and heritage to families with young children.
"We've managed to put a considerable amount of money into the landscape and we hope the valley can take advantage of this and capitalise on new opportunities. We hope the investment brings substantial benefits to local communities."