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Welcome to the very top of the world, where the view goes on for miles

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 22, 2012

  • Top: Minions from Caradon and above, approaching the Cheesewring Quarry, whose rock was used to build Westminster Bridge, Tower Bridge and the Thames Embankment

  • Clockwise from above left: Minions from Caradon; the quarry below the Cheesewring; views form the Minions area towards Dartmoor; Minions

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Occasionally these hikes like to climb to the roof of the world and in the Westcountry the roofs don't get higher than the ones in Minions, which is Cornwall's highest village.

Even if you've never been to the area, I'll bet you've seen it. Or at least, spied its mighty television mast perched on top of neighbouring Caradon Hill. This great bastion of modern-day communications seems to mix incongruously with everything else in this south-easterly corner of Bodmin Moor, where the relics of ancient folk are scattered far and wide.

Anyway, we're here for those views – and, if we get a little history thrown in, well, so much the better. In fact, you cannot walk an inch on these lonely plains without bumping into the past. If it's not the prehistoric stone circles, then it's the clutter left by tin-streamers, copper miners and quarrymen who knocked seven bells out of the moors.

Few places in the region are as torn up and generally mucked about with as this once productive corner. Apparently there were entire shanty-towns up here with names like Darite, Pensilva (once Bodminland), Upton Cross, Common Moor and Crow's Nest. Minions, I am informed, was originally called Cheesewring Railway. The area was the Cornish equivalent to a gold rush, though it is impossible to believe it now.

On a sunny afternoon these days the best you get is a mere handful of walkers, along with a gaggle of folk visiting The Hurlers – and that's the first thing we'll see, having parked in the car park adjacent to the ancient stones. It's not often you can view three stone circles in a row and I believe archaeologists remain baffled by the seemingly excessive erecting of stones.

Local legend can be more precise when it comes to theory. The story goes that God was so angry when the men of Minions dared to ignore his Sabbath by playing the heathenish and violent game of hurling – he turned them to stone. Another legend claims it's nigh on impossible to count the Hurlers, but should you do so correctly, some terrible misfortune is likely befall you.

I've never been good at counting, but my father paced here and there trying to glean some clue as to why anyone should want to erect such a thing as three stone circles in a row. He's that sort of chap. When I was a kid, hunting for long lost traces of ancient man was regarded as some sort of family treat.

Before he could compute the sundry stones we hauled him away and we made for the big engine house that can be seen a couple hundred yards to the east. This has been converted into an interpretation centre where you can learn all about the area – and about its extensive mines.

The main thrust of mining around here occurred when prospectors located a major copper lode in the Seaton Valley on the slopes of Caradon Hill. Within a year or two mines were springing up (if that's the phrase to describe such digging) all around the area. To the north, the old Clanacombe and Stowes mines were reopened as Phoenix United – and substantial resources of copper and tin were found there too.

Development was fraught with difficulties. There were few roads and it was a long way to the coast. The answer was a railway, but it took ten years to bring in the line that linked the mines to the port of Looe.

Thousands of miners were drawn by the promise of riches from all over Cornwall – hence those shanty-towns, which had a reputation for lawlessness. There are few historical records of these places, but accounts show that over 650,000 tons of copper ore was mined within the district in less than three decades.

The boom was short-lived as foreign mines opened up and copper prices slumped. The smaller businesses quickly went bust, and even the biggest mine – the South Caradon – survived only until the 1880s.

Then the moor was returned to sheep and ponies, ring ouzels and larks. And to hikers who can enjoy seeing traces of all this industry as they walk north-east of the interpretation centre to find the disused railway that leads around the hill to the Cheesewring Quarry. Rock from this impressive place found its way into the fabric of Westminster Bridge, Tower Bridge and the Thames Embankment.

The quarry gets its name because of the great stack of rocks perched high and precariously above the workings. As I've written about the wobbly stack before – and as we're not going up there on this route – I'll mention it no more, but proceed north along a small path through the clatter of rocks.

This eventually curves around to the west leaving us high on a promontory overlooking the pretty village of Henwood and the hamlet of Sharptor. Above the latter is the pile of rocks that shares the hamlet's name and, looking beyond this north-west, you can see right into the heart of Bodmin Moor. And a wild old place it is. Apart from Wardbrook Farm, you cannot see a single human settlement – or anything else manmade for that matter.

Looking east though, you are treated to the most tremendous views of the Tamar Valley. From the north Cornish coast your eye swings around to the northern spur of Dartmoor – and then follows the western flank of that great moor ever south until you can see the distant outskirts of Plymouth.

And there, below is Kit Hill. It's not often you get to look down on this massive protuberance, but there it is – Cornwall's answer to Mount Fuji (you can see it from a million vantage points all over the Westcountry), with Callington clinging to its sides.

Now we walk around the northern slope of our promontory, between yet more rock clatter, and find ourselves descending onto a high plain. There's no path, so we must pick our way among the rocks, but at the same time not be tempted to descend too far to the north as there is an evil looking bog called Witheybrook Marsh.

To the west, on a low hill, there's a big quarry and we head for this – more-or-less – I'd suggest ascending Craddock Moor a little to the south. In this way you cross the low ridge and are treated by yet more stupendous views.

This time it's Cornwall good and proper. You can see all the way down to the Dodman peninsula in the south – and to the wind-farm above Newquay in the north. You would be able to peer all the way to Penwith, if it wasn't for the Cornish Alps.

Anyway, we marched down over Craddock Moor to Tregarrick Tor so that we could take a break and enjoy the sparkling vista of Siblyback Lake. And then we had a choice: to drop down to the waterside and make our way around to Cryna Farm where a public footpath would take us back to the Minions road via Great Gimble. Or to turn tail to re-cross the moor to The Hurlers.

We took the latter option because, in such fine weather, we were in the mood to stay on top of the world – and we were rewarded by extensive views of the English Channel coast from Dodman to Rame Head. I could see why the ancient ones wanted to rejoice up here, but for the life of me could not figure out why they should need three stone circles. But who's counting? Not me.

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