NEW YEARS DAY 2004 - A SHORT WALK
AROUND SMALLHANGER WASTE AND HEMERDON BALL AND MINE
WITH SOME INTERESTING POST WALK RESEARCH
START POINT : roadside parking near Hemerdon Ball GR: SX 576586

I'd always wanted to take my time looking around Smallhanger Waste to see why it is the subject of so much debate regarding extending the mining operations beyond Headen Down. I'd walked by it quite often but never bothered to look further. New Years' Day 2004 seemed a good day to have an easy walk (of about 4 miles) around the area and whilst there to look a little more at Hemerdon Ball and the old tungsten mine which operated there up until the late 40's

I usually start any walk in that area from Sparkwell and make my way up to the local high point. This time I decided to drive up as far as I could to Hemerdon Ball and parked at the end of the road just before the communications mast at the top.

Am I getting lazy.... perhaps ... but it was new years' day.

An outline of the route which we took on this 4 mile walk of exploration is shown above. As usual it is only a rough guide and to see the route rather more clearly it should be used in conjunction with a 1:25000 map such as the OS leisure map no 28 of Dartmoor.

After an easy drive up the narrow road from Langage Industrial Estate we found a nice pull in just before the mast at the top and Joy and I were soon setting off along a bridleway, known of old to be rather muddy in places.

A few metres along from the pull in we passed first an old stone plinth set into the side of the lane which informed everyone that this point is situated exactly 680 feet above mean sea level, so we knew the dizzy height we were walking at.

I couldn't help wondering why there was a need to tell people why this point was at this specific height. Just off to the right visible for miles around is the communications mast just beside the right of way leading up from Sparkwell, which would have been my route had I started at my normal point.

We continued on our way heading north east along the bridlepath, full of huge pools and lots of mud.

No, as I soon found out, there had been zero improvement in the drainage of this bridleway over the years, if anything it seemed to be worse.

I made a mental note made to take an alternative footpath through fields if bringing any walkers up here, rather than use this mudbath of a path as the more direct route onto Headen Down. ( or perhaps to take them through it in mid winter might be more entertaining).

I perserved this time though, needs to be tested now and again and after about 0.5 km of mud and water avoidance we emerged out at the end of Headen Down with Smallhanger waste off to our left.

I wanted to see the old clay mine workings on the waste and the many pools which proliferated in the area, the home now, I understand, of rare species of dragonfly and damselfly.

I continued north east for a couple of hundred metres or so with the high banks enclosing the huge Headen Clay works pit more or less ahead.

I could see the first 'lake' just off to my left so I swung left and followed a path down to the edge of this beautiful pool, quickly reclaimed by nature and it is interesting to reflect on how it was once an old clay mine working.

Those days the pits were relatively small, now with the heavy machinery to support activities the clay pits are a very different size.

I wonder how nature will reclaim these pits once they are finished with, as one day, for sure, they will be.

Just beyond the first pond I saw a much larger lake ahead with two Cormorants in residence.

Again a scene of tranquility and I soon found out the reason for the birds contententment, the lakes were used by Plymouth Command Angling Club as fishing lakes and were obviously well stocked with nice plump trout to keep both the cormorants and the anglers happy!!

An old track had been infilled to provide access for the anglers to make their way up from Drakelands Corner to the fishing lakes and this permissive access path provided an easy way to get down from Smallhanger Waste, without too much pain.

The Darmoor Preservation Association is activately campainging to keep this area of Smallhanger Waste and of course the much bigger Crownhill Down area free of further mining activities.

There is much talk of Imerys exercising their right to use the area for spoil tipping as well as for an expansion of Headen Quarry.

Even though I didn't see any evidence of the rare species which have inhabited the area it will be a great shame to see what nature has so beautifully reclaimed over the last 100 years despoiled once again.

Continuing with the walk, it was an easy path along the track down to Drakelands Corner and more fishing lakes in the valley.

Having reached the country road which leads up to Drakelands Corner, we turned left and walked along it for a few hundred metres until we came to the right of way which takes us up to Hemerdon and through the old mine in the area.

Making our way upto Hemerdon Mine was fairly easy, if uphill, just follow the clearly signposted right of way. Soon we were approaching the old disused mine which once was active as a Tungsten Mine up to the end of the Second World War in the mid 1940's.

I had walked through the area a few times before and was surprised at the number of buildings still standing in the area.

It must have been a big tungsten mine in it's day but usually once mines are worked out, the buildings are demolished.

Not so in this case and I resolved to do a little internet research when I got home to see what I could find out about the mine.

See what I found out at the end of this write up, it explains a lot!!

We stopped by one of the large buildings to grab a bite to eat and then continued our walk up through the mines towards the top.

Normally I'd have followed the right of way back through the mine and then across a field back to the mast but I'd never visited the very top of Hemerdon Ball and I'd noticed on the map that there was a right of way leading up to it and the trig point at the top, albeit from the opposite direction.

I'd also noticed from maps of the area that there were some easy paths which looped around the surface mines at the top, so I decided to throw in a loop around and to try to find the Hemerdon Ball Trig Point which would surely be clearly visible from a distance, or so I thought.

 

Continuing along the path there was plenty of evidence of mining activities, including what looked like settlement pits off to our right, still in a good state of preservation. After 60 years of no mining I'd have thought these would have long since decayed.

I was also quite surprised to see some old machinery laying around which should have rusted away a long time ago. This reinforced my view of need to study this mine further to see what had really happened to it.

 

We'd reached the top and the views were quite magnificent but no obvious sign of the trig point.

There is a small circular wood at the top, with paths leading into it, so I wandered in and to my surprise there was the Trig Point.

It wasn't standing by itself in the open and visible from a distance but nestling amonst the trees, invisible to all save those close to it.

This plantation had obviously been planted after the Trig Point had outlived its purpose. However I had achieved my aim of locating it.

 

Leaving the wood again, I continued on my perambulation of the top of Hemerdon Ball surface workings. The views were superb and well worth the effort of the visit.

Following the track around anticlockwise I soon came upon the right of way sign leading away from the top of the hill across open fields and across to the Mast and the car.

It had been a very worthwhile recce of part of two walks I'll be leading in 2004 and it gave me the chance of more exploration than I'd be able to do with a larger group.

All I had to do now was to drive the few miles back to Plymouth and surf the net to find out more about the mine.

POST WALK INTERNET RESEARCH

An Internet search using google searching on Hemerdon + Mine threw up some very interesting results. Here are just a few of the findings:
* It certainly was a tungsten mine.

* Interesting to read how tungsten is formed within the granite and the waste that comes with mining for it.

* Mining dropped off in the early 20s but with the outbreak of the second world war and an increased need for Tungsten saw increased operations through to about 1944 when the need declined and mining stopped.

* In the mid 60's there were some further test boreholes when it was found to be a huge potential source of tungsten.

* Mining rights were obtained but the world price of tungsten made it uneconomic to work the mine at that time.

* Further work in the seventies and in the early 80s to test the deposits revealed just how huge they were.

* A company further established the mining rights and these are still active to this very day.

* It was confirmed that Hemerdon Ball has sufficient tungsten deposits to meet the demand of the UK for Tungsten for many, many years.

* It is anticipated that the mine will re-open at some point and that there will be a large amount of spoil to be 'dumped' in the vicinity and that the most likely area for the spoil heaps will be nearby Crownhill Down which of course also includes Smallhanger Waste.

Perhaps then it isn't only the Clay company of Imerys who want to keep the rights to Crownhill Down. Clay pits are relatively common but 'tungsten mining' might be a very different proposition for the government and environmentalists might well find economics and employment prospects winning out despite the tremendous impact on the local landscape and infrastructure.

It certainly has made me think a bit!!!! If you'd like to find out more about Hemerdon Mine then do as I did and do some research on the net. Good luck.