Set high upon the slopes of Penpillick Hill with vistas across St Austell Bay in Cornwall is a hidden, hands-on educational gem, Meadow Barns, lovingly created by landowner, Caroline Stephenson.
Caroline’s family have farmed here for generations and the geography and history of the area flows deep in her veins.
I have always been fascinated by the Luxulyan valley, with its majestic 100 foot high granite viaduct, crisscrossing high channeled streams or leats and the ruins of industrial buildings and machinery which all have a story to tell.
It is difficult to imagine it in its heyday in the 1800’s when Cornwall’s mineral rich geology was in part fuelling the industrial revolution.
High on the ‘get rich quick’ list for mining entrepreneurs was copper and Joseph Treffry’s nearby Fowey Consols mine had plenty. Most of the engineering feats in the Valley were designed by him to keep that mine delivering copper and later on quarrying granite and China clay.
Everywhere you will see remains of horse-drawn mineral tram roads where carts loaded with stone, China clay, copper ore, lime and coal mining materials once ran. Water was an essential commodity in all early Cornish mining sites for driving water wheels which would then power various machines.
Today the area is a rural idyll and its many tracks and trails make it very popular for walking. However, there is very little explanation or interpretation of its history and being an inquisitive soul I got very excited when I discovered Meadow Barns and its very knowledgeable owner, hoping that I may find answers to my long list of questions…
I booked a day for myself, my youngest grandchildren (7 & 9) and their mum, not quite knowing what to expect as the forecast was heavy rain all day. We were the only visitors and Caroline had planned accordingly which made us feel like honoured guests. We were introduced to a wall sized map and set about spotting clues for the worksheet. We were helped to ‘read’ rocks and ores, from the Ice Age to times of tin, right through to lithium for today & tomorrow.
There is a 3D plan of the valley and intricate handmade water-powered devices to demonstrate how everything worked. We hunted for bits of copper and tin in sand just as early miners did and heard in poetry and prose what life would have been like for whole families working in the mines – whilst warming up and drying out with a very welcome bowl of soup by a roaring log fire…..
After lunch the rain eased off so we set off for a self-guided walk around the valley with maps and descriptions and had an interesting couple of hours armed with our newfound knowledge which helped unravel some of the previous mysteries.
Caroline is a fount of knowledge on sustainable buildings and green technologies too, as her houses and buildings demonstrate.
You can stay overnight or camp there, picnics are welcome – you choose and can tailor your day accordingly as visitors range from 5-90. There really is something for everyone if you are keen to learn about a very important part of Cornwall’s rich and fascinating history right here on our doorstep.
Find out more here: themeadowbarns.co.uk
This interactive map of Luxulyan Valley is also a fascinating resource:
Enjoy a break in Cornwall
If you would like to enjoy a break in Cornwall, there are lots of things to do throughout the year. We’ve got a range of cottages which sleep 4-12 people and we’ve won many awards for our family-friendly accommodation – find out more and check availability.