Country diary: a visit to the little haven of Pleasure Piece

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Afternoon sun dapples rabbit-burrowed earth beside the steep sunken lane leading to the stream that used to power Barret’s corn mill and other mills, down towards the Tamar at Cotehele. Northwards is old mining country, rising to the summit of Hingston Down, with its ancient tumuli, disused mine workings and brickworks. On lower slopes, overlooked by Kit Hill, an arsenic stack protrudes from woodland around Wheal Brothers, dating from the 1870s when, in conjunction with the adjacent Silver Valley Mine, 14 tons of arsenic were sold, as well as some silver, tin and lead ores. Within the shade of cattle-trodden hazel coppice, earlier remains include a large waterwheel pit cut into rock and a masonry tunnel for flat rods that pumped water from underground workings. Out from the gloom, off Wheal Fortune Lane towards Harrowbarrow, clumps of trees in sunlit hayfields surround more mine shafts.

Uphill and past the hamlet of Rising Sun, beside the A390, the little haven of Pleasure Piece is a remnant of the western heath and scrub that extended across this airy upland. The secluded patch of ground is now a summery enclosure of pink, purple and yellow, with bell heather, ling and gorse flowers; rowans are laden in scarlet berries and stunted brambles creep across the banks. Gifted to Calstock parish more than 120 years ago, it is now registered as a village green. Before the first world war, similar open land was valued for summer picnics and excursions. After the former East Cornwall Mineral Railway (curving around the northern flanks of this downland) was linked to Devon via the Calstock viaduct, special trains advertised reduced rates to tourists, works parties, Band of Hope groups and Sunday schools. And near the short-lived Seven Stones Halt, a local businessman set up swing boats and facilities for boiling tea kettles.

This hot afternoon, just two other people are here – visitors from a holiday park picking blackberries for a pie. The heat haze partly obscures distant vistas of Dartmoor and the Tamar/Tavy estuary, but we have a bird’s eye view south towards familiar landmarks – Viverdon Down, Sentry Hill wood, the curving hedges of medieval fields near Metherell, the wooded cleft of Cleave and St Dominic church tower, now side-lit by the westering sun.

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