Exploring the old Tamar Valley mining trails through the Tamar Trails Centre is a unique way to experience the Cornwall & West Devon Mining World Heritage Site landscape. The World Heritage Site status, as bestowed in 2006, was in recognition of the outstanding contribution that metal mining in Cornwall and west Devon made to the development of our modern world. The World Heritage Site itself is made up of 10 Areas, the Tamar Valley being the most easterly of these.
Up at the Tamar Trail’s Centre HQ in Gulworthy, just on the Devon / Cornwall border there is 25km of woodland trails to bike, walk, ride, tramp through. In addition, for those not too sensitive about heights you can experience the Tree Surfing and Autumn is a perfect time to do this, given the vistas that stretch ahead of you with the colourful leaves abandoning their trees.
I was offered the opportunity to surf through the trees, although my ungainly, clumsy, slow progress really was nothing like the elegance of surfing or indeed the elegance and ease by which my guide Sandy seemingly floated through the canopy.
There are 3 separate courses to complete through the trees. After a safety-brief , easy explanation and hands-on demo of how to use the safety equipment you are taken to your first ladder and from here on in, the climbing, balancing and descending begins…
The first course is physically the easiest but for those of us unused to such an activity, it is by far the hardest mentally. Stepping off a platform onto wobbling planks and beams, using ropes and wires to guide yourself across to the next platform is really quite a mental challenge. I gripped so hard my hands were calloused, and the ridiculous thing is that you are, at all times supported by your harness which is there, ready to thwart your fall should you misplace a foot or hand. In normal circumstances you would be with friends and family who would eagerly egg you on either by competing with you, ridiculing you or a more softly, softly approach – but I was Billy-no-mates so was fortunate enough to be accompanied by the guide, Sandy.
On this particular occasion, it happened to be a scorchingly, hot day and clambering around in the cool, rustling tree-tops was an experience never to forget. The full extent of the views however was slightly obscured by the abundance of green leaf but the advantage of this is that the ground doesn’t seem so far away… Sandy told me a beautiful time is in Autumn when the leaves are falling and you can see Devon Great Consols (the biggest copper mine in Cornwall & Devon and for a time, in Europe) and the Tamar Valley all around.
I’m personally not too afraid of heights but my natural instinct prohibits me from stepping off into what feels like thin air. Sandy was amazing though and without patronizing me, he firmly cajoled me to take the various plunges. And when I say ‘plunges’, I mean ‘plunges’! The most severe being when I arrived on one platform, looked across and couldn’t find the route or indeed the destination. Saying to Sandy that I didn’t know what to do, he replied by saying, ‘Go to the next platform’. ‘I can’t see it’ I replied. ‘Look down’ he replied. I can’t print my next reply.
It took a minute to think about it and the sense of achievement when I did it was great, and also the fact that it really wasn’t that bad, and I wanted to do it again but this time throw myself off!
By the end of the 2nd course I was flying through the air to grab hold of cargo nets, zip-wiring to platforms, nearly as sure-footed as a mountain goat on swaying timbers and ropes. Bring on course number 3! It was exhilarating fun and an experience I can’t recommend more highly.
A cool, refreshing drink in the café afterwards was much needed and thoroughly deserved – even if I do say so myself!
Just a few of words of advice: remove all jewellery and wear thick soled trainers – my pumps were inadequate. Ladies, wear trousers! If you don’t like the 1st course, you do not need to complete the other two – but go on, they end up being far more fun! Children need to be over eight years.
The Tamar trails Activity centre is open for 1/2 term and this will be your last chance to Tree Surf until next year. The trails however are open all year round and perfect for biking and hiking.
Go on, you’ll love it and you’ll wonder why you haven’t been there before