Newest Review: ... health and safety would mean that the tour would be a little too watered down, and maybe not that exciting. But it was explained that once ... more
Cornish tin mine, brilliantly atmospheric tour
Poldark Mine (Helston)
Member Name: julwhite
Poldark Mine (Helston)
Advantages: Brilliantly atmospheric tour
Disadvantages: Some irrelevant attractions added to the site, needs more staff
The attraction was opened in the 1970s, not as a mine, but as a site for the owner's steam engines and related exhibits. Only when developing an area for these did they break into the old tin mine workings, and substantial work began in opening this part of the site up to the public.
Firstly, I would say that this is one of the strangest tourist attractions that I've been to. Initial impressions were terrible, the location is under-staffed with no-one at the main desk, the staff that were there looked a little confused at what was going on, and visitors seemed unsure of where to go and what to do. Some people left thinking that sections of the site were closed, and they seemed somewhat disappointed.
But great things lie within. The mine tour is 9.50 pounds for an hour long tour of the mine, and I wondered whether it would be worth it given my first impressions. But, as I had traveled some distance, I thought that I should give it a try. The process was a little confused again, the guide was struggling with trying to do everything around the site, turning the volume up on televisions, showing visitors where to go, showing them where to buy tickets, and the tour was a little delayed.
The tour starts by selecting a safety hat and listening to an introduction by the guide, which lasted around ten minutes. He showed the weight of granite and tin, and explained the difference in weights, and how much had to be mined to get the tin that they wanted. He explained that the area had been mined for hundreds of years, and passed round some mineral examples to give examples of what he was talking about.
At this point, I would explain that the guide was superb. He was knowledgeable, interested and keen. He presented the tour in a way which was succinct, but also full of detail, and he managed to get across just how difficult it was for those who worked in these mines. He appeared genuine and keen about his tour, and he did well, very well given the clear staffing issues the site had.
I had worried that health and safety would mean that the tour would be a little too watered down, and maybe not that exciting. But it was explained that once a site is registered as a mine, then it stays as such, and it is still registered as a mine today, and subject to mining law. The start was a sedate walk down into the mine, via a newly built passage-way, as before the miners would have climbed down vertical ladders.
And then the tour proper started. The tour was not as I had expected, it was better, much better. The tour went down steps, with water coming down, and the guide explained that usually visitors would be soaked through. There were a lot of steps, it felt like a mine, accessible but still a challenge. Some of the children struggled a little, but most looked like they were really enjoying it. Sections had been left quite low, and just those short sections gave an indication of the working conditions that tin miners had.
As there was a bit of a gap between those in front of me and those behind, I paused when walking down some of the metal steps, which were covered in water, and really felt for those people that had worked here. You could look up and down and see the sections where tin had been taken out, all in near vertical sections due to how the rock was formed. Those with vertigo would have struggled to work here, although they may have had very little choice.
But all of this is why I'm going to rate this place with full "marks". It got the atmosphere absolutely right, I can't say that I know how a tin miner felt working down the mine in the dark and wet for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, but the tour gave me the best indication possible of what it would be like. It gave pause for thought, especially amongst the children, as the guide reminded them that 8 year olds used to work down the mines, with the same hours as the adults working there.
No women worked down the mines, it was bad luck, but they worked at the mine head, with touch and difficult work. The men down the mines would have to walk for two or three miles each morning to get to work, down 150 feet using wet and slippery ladders, work 12 hours, then climb the ladders back up, and walk home. Day after day, for all their working lives. The average life expectancy we were told was 30 to 35 years old.
I left the tour feeling really satisfied with the experience, and very pleased that I had gone on it. The only downside was that some children were left out of control by their parents and were running around, it made it difficult to hear the guide in places, but that wasn't the location's fault. The guide tried to speak to them to engage them, but they didn't speak English, and the language barrier of being translated via their parents didn't seem to work, but the guide tried his best.
It was also interesting to know that the mine has the lowest post box in the UK, and you can post letters there and get them post marked with the Poldark Mine. The same room is also where weddings are held, a strange location, but definitely something a bit different! The location also hosts ghost tours if you fancy touring the mine for different purposes.
There is a museum, which is free to access, at the entrance to the mine tour, and this is comprehensive and useful. It's probably best to go on the mine tour before visiting this, as there is a lot of background knowledge explained on the tour, which makes the museum seem more relevant. The exhibits are interesting and some videos are playing to help give an understanding of the site.
The attraction does let itself down a little with some irrelevant attractions, such as gold mining and some rather expensive funfair games, which most irritate parents who see pounds being spent on them. They don't seem relevant to the site, they don't seem good value, and I personally would get rid of them. The mine tour is what this place does well, the rest isn't needed.
The site is expensive for a family, and the set-up means that you can buy a family ticket for the mine, which is an experience which should be had, but feel ripped off because of the other costs you will face with the rest of the unnecessary attractions, designed to make money from kids. I'd personally rather they just charged an entrance fee of the 9.50 pounds, including the mine tour, and made the other exhibits free. Given the number of people I saw walking away, paying nothing, I suspect they'd make more from doing it this way.
There are also the usual features at the site, a shop which is well stocked, although again under-staffed as the one staff member was busy trying to explain the site to visitors and sell tickets for the tours. There are toilets, an audio-visual hall, a cafe and some other buildings to have a wander around. You can see the old water wheel, some old steam engine parts and other various bits and pieces, although none of these are very substantial. There are also some picnic tables if you want to save some money by bringing in your own food instead of using the on-site cafe, and there is a good sized car park. The site isn't very well sign-posted, so check the route before leaving home, don't expect to rely on brown tourist attraction road signs to get you there.
Having checked the web-site of the site, at www.poldark-mine.co.uk, it says that they charge 2.50 pounds just for site entry. They didn't when I was there, and the guide said they don't. It's not clear, but I'd not recommend going if you're not going on the tour, until they sort the site itself out. The mine tour is 9.50 pounds for adults, 9 pounds for seniors, 6 pounds for children, but family tickets are available. I'm impressed that they do family tickets for 2 adults plus 1 child, a minor thought which many bigger sites fail to make the effort to do.
I'd advise contacting the site before you go if you're unclear on anything, as the web-site isn't really tallying with the experiences we had, and we did go on what could be a considered a busy school holiday. The site was relatively busy when we were there, but don't make too many arrangements without checking with them first, I'm not sure the web-site can be relied upon.
As to why I'm rating the location so highly, when there are so many problems, I'm rating the experience of the mine itself, which is their major attraction, and I'm prepared to ignore what I see as failings which relate to what to what appear to be other badly planned out attractions. Those with families might not be so forgiving as these other attractions may cost them money, but for me, I'm reviewing my experience of the site, but bear that in mind if you're trying to make the day cost effective.
Overall, the site looks run down, and seems to be run in a rather chaotic manner. But I'd personally suggest that you shouldn't let this put you off, because the mine tour is brilliantly atmospheric, it's interesting and really reminds you what Cornwall tin miners went through. That should be the point of this place, they do it well, and I hope they make the most of it. Highly recommended.
Summary: Highly recommended