Kennall Vale and the Old, Derelict Gunpowder Mill

It’s a day out with a difference for me – a woodland walk around enchanting Kennall Vale, one of Cornwall’s Nature Reserves.

As I get older, I find I want to learn more about Cornish heritage and history, particularly the stories attached to different places which continue to shape our culture, understanding and identity. That’s where Kennall Vale comes in.

Kennall Vale makes for an ideal woodland walk and is suitable for dogs and children. It contains a water filled granite quarry (not suitable for swimming) and some fascinating old buildings that once made up a Gunpowder Mill. 

Ivy climbing up a wall

Kennall Vale Nature Reserve

Visiting Kennall Vale on a cold, wet December morning turned out to be quite a treat.

The technicolour on offer at this nature reserve was most welcome. Rich, seaweed green moss hugged the tree barks and walls, along with creeping ivy and other woodland vegetation. The vibrant orange and russet leaves stood out in front of the understated backdrop offered by the tall imposing trees and grey light.

It really was nature at its best.

A branch with gold and brown leaves
Textures on tree barks in winter
A single gold leaf hanging from a tree

With much foliage already fallen from the trees, I soaked up the sensory experience afforded by this seasonal shift. Aside from the abundance of autumnal colour on offer there was plenty of satisfying squelching happening with every footstep. The loud, thunderous pounding of the River Kennall, making its way to Restronguet Creek, bided for my attention. I knew there was a river here but I didn’t expect it to be so tumultuous!

The woodland walk at Kennall Vale
Water flowing over oss covered rocks

The Old Gunpowder Mill

I didn’t have to walk for long before I came to the derelict structures that were once Kennall Vale’s Gunpowder Mill. Mostly sitting in pairs, some buildings are in greater ruin than others. That said, even though you can’t go inside for a nose around, you can walk around them and it’s definitely worth doing so.

the abandoned gunpowder works at Kennall Vale
A derelict gunpowder mill at Kennall Vale
An old bit of wall with moss

With a license being granted in 1811 to manufacture explosives for the mining and quarry industries, the gunpowder works at Kennall Vale were one of the first of its kind in Cornwall. Another gunpowder mill was built in nearby Cosawes Wood, in 1809. However, it is these works at Kennall Vale that are regarded as the best preserved in the south west.

Part of a ruin looking out onto a forest

Gunpowder production and business was good for many decades, peaking in 1875. After this, things started to decline as advancements in blasting technology came into fruition. Sadly, the Cornish mining industry started to collapse too. The gunpowder mill closed its doors in 1910, after almost 100 years in operation. 

Ivy and flora hanging on a wall
A pair of buildings in ruin next to a river
the doorway of a ruined building with moss and foliage

Kennall Vale: Haunted, or not?

Diving deeper into the history of the gunpowder works, as you’d expect, it didn’t avoid its fair share of tragedy. Being a gunpowder mill, working here was risky. It’s no surprise to learn that over the years, 6 people died here, as a result of several explosions. The most commonly mentioned is the death of William Dunstan.

In more recent years, people have reported strange things happening at Kennall Vale. These have included people seeing inconsistencies, like strange shadows and faded people, in their photos and video footage. Walkers have also reported hearing faint explosive sound, other loud noises and people shouting as if in pain.

But please don’t be afraid if you visit Kennall Vale. I went alone and even though I’m usually mindful when walking remotely, I felt very safe. I certainly didn’t get an inkling of any ghosts lurking, or other strange going ons.

The derelict gunpowder mill is good to explore and there’s a designated path leading around the back of the main buildings. The ruins look quite mystical and fairytale-like thanks to the growing moss and other flora snaking their way along the remnants, claiming it as their home.

Part of the gunpowder works at Kennall Vale
a river flowing over moss covered rocks at Kennall Vale

There’s something quite magical about woodland and forests, and Kennall Vale definitely has that feel. Perhaps it’s because it’s on the edge of Ponsanooth, a village that serves as a thoroughfare from Falmouth to the north coast. It feels like it should be somewhere else; maybe in the middle of nowhere. Kennall Vale’s tucked away and private, and is definitely peaceful. In fact, I came away believing I’d found something special, wanting to find more of Cornwall’s woodland and nature spots to walk, explore, and hopefully run. 

Getting to Kennall Vale

Cornwall Wildlife Trust maintain Kennall Vale Nature Reserve. To get there, please park in the village of Ponsanooth and walk up Cot Hill. If you’re using sat nav, the postcode TR3 7HY takes you to a nearby residential area. The entrance to Kennall Vale is up the hill on the right, past Kennall House. 

Author: plbedford

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