Thor's Cave from Wetton

This is  a short and not too strenuous walk with lots to interest for the whole family. Of special interest are the limestone caves dotted around the route. 

Download the GPS Trail for Thor's Cave from Wetton from my EveryTrail account
(click on the waypoints to see the photographs taken at that location)
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From the starting point of the walk at Wetton Car Park keep following the road right. At the end of the road turn left and very soon after turn left again down a farm track signposted 'concessionary path to Thor's Cave'. Keep following this path over two stiles. At the second stile descend right to Thor's Cave OR take a short diversion by ascending Left to the top of Thor's Cave Crag for magnificent views of the Manifold Valley.

view from the summit of Thor's Cave Crag
Don't stop exploring once you reach the summit of Thor's Cave Crag - just a few yards to the west are two smaller caves: Seven Ways Cave and Elderbush Cave, (see Google Earth view below). Have a look around them before descending to explore the main feature - Thor's Cave. I discovered these later when looking back towards Thor's Cave from Ossoms Hill. Too late then for me to explore - don't make the same mistake!
Click for larger view (image taken from Google Earth)
After exploring the summit descend to the main entrance to Thor's Cave. The gently rising floor of the cavern is gained after an initial three to four foot scramble up slippery bedrock, polished by the feet of 1000's of past visitors - be careful (small children seem to have no problem but heavier adults, such as myself, do)!
Thor's Nostrils
Once inside take your time to explore and imagine..... I couldn't help but liken the vast interior initially to the belly of a whale, with its enormous rib cage supporting the cavern roof. Then on venturing deeper, the rock structure began to take on the form of huge nostrils, reinforced, in my mind, by one of the local stories about the cave:

To the Editor of the Staffordshire Advertiser.

"Sir,—The extraordinary explosions that issue from a cleft in a rock near Wetton (an account of which lately appeared in the 'Reliquary') are a circumstance extremely puzzling; so much so that a satisfactory solution appears almost hopeless. The attempt by your correspondent that appeared lately in your valuable paper is certainly very ingenious, and to many may appear a satisfactory one. But residing, as I do, in the immediate vicinity, I am well acquainted with the district and with circumstances that set aside the mere possibility of the reports being caused by pent-up atmospheric air upon the accession of a flood filling the subterranean course.

During the present hot and dry summer a river(except to Darfur bridge, a little below Wetton mill) has had no existence,
- reference to the Manifold river disappearing, in summer, at Wettonmill Swallet to reappear near Ilam Hall -
yet loud explosions were heard by several persons on the 25th of June, and as well attested as any of the previous ones. Besides, no flood, however great and sudden, could produce an explosion or expulsion of air from the fissure in the rock, which is sixty or seventy yards or more above the bed of the river. The subterranean course throughout is directly beneath the upper or surface one, and, owing to the dislocations of the strati, numerous communications exist betwixt them. Not many of these holes or clefts can be seen on walking along the dry bed, owing to their being covered by blocks of limestone, bouldered grit, stones, and pebbles.

Whilst we were clearing out Thor's Cave, which overlooks the bed of the river, a heavy thunderstorm, in the distance, suddenly filled the subterranean passage with water, which also flowed down the previously dry bed at the surface, when I witnessed a novel and pretty sight—numerous small jets of water forced up by pent-up air, which indicated the progress of infilling in the underground channel.

Noiselessly the puny fountains continued to advance, and the water from below to rise and mingle with the stream above. It is evident, when the communications are so free and frequent, that other causes than pent-up air originate the loud reports that issue from the fissure in the rock. With respect to the flames said to be seen after the reports, we have the united testimony of three men, two of whom were certainly highly terrified at the time, but they still positively adhere to their first relation.

The third person was a cool spectator, who went purposely to a neighbouring eminence, and as near as he durst venture, to witness the occurrence.

It has been suggested that large cavities, connected by strait and intricate passages, may exist, where falls of rock take place occasionally, and that chert'y (flint) fragments, by producing sparks, would ignite hydrogen gas. However scientific individuals may differ in their attempt to explain the cause, the fact that explosions do occur is too notorious to be ignored, although nothing similar in nature has been recorded.—Yours, &c,

"Wetton, Aug. 10th, 1870."

Of course Thor was the ancient god responsible for thunder and lightning so despite the many learned theories on how the cave got it's name, I prefer the more fanciful idea that it earned its name because of the rumblings & explosions of the nearby subterranean Manifold River.

Deeper into Thor's 'sinus cavity'
On leaving the cave take time to consider the prospect out through the main entrance and towards the steep sided valley between Sugarloaf and Wetton Hill, (seen here on the horizon and through which the walk eventually takes us). Surely this is one of the highlights of this walk.

Looking out towards Sugarloaf and Wetton Hill
Make sure you exit via the main entrance and NOT through the higher West Window (small children might be tempted). The risks are obvious when, after descending all the way down to the Manifold Bridge, you take a look back!

The main cave entrance and the West Window (which is Thor's Fissure cave) - taken from the Manifold footbridge
From the footbrige take the right hand path and cross over the Manifold track (a tarmac cycle path) to a fence stile with a National Trust signpost for Ladyside Wood. Keep to the track through woods and fields until, just before a stile beside a stone trough you meet an old signpost to Wettonmill that takes you up and around the flank of Ossoms Hill. The old signpost has seen better days and the track up the hill is vague and takes you accross some boggy ground - nothing serious but if you prefer you can continue on the track over the stile into Grindon Village from where it's an easy matter to pick up the path to Wettonmill again.

View from Ossoms Hill
From the flanks of Ossoms Hill take a look back to Thor's Cave Crag, and if like me you failed to explore, take a look at what you missed - the two caves to the west, Seven Ways cave and Elderbush cave.

Thor's Fissure cave entrance and Seven Ways and Elderbush Caves seen from Ossoms Hill
The path continues through fields full of sheep until it finally descends to Hoo Brook and into the valley known as Waterslacks. Waterslacks leads down back to the Manifold Valley and to Wettonmill.

Towering over the small National Trust cafe at Wettonmill is a giant Gruyere Cheese-like limestone cavern called Nan Tor.

Nan Tor
From the inside its clear to see the ceiling of this once large cave has collapsed leaving only the bushes that cling to the roof edge, to provide shelter from the elements.

Inside Nan Tor
The path continues from Nan To onto Access Land and into the nameless steep sided valley between Sugarloaf and Wetton Hill until reaching the Manor House. From here pass through a gate and almost immediately pass through a signposted sqeeze stile through the wall on the right and continue up the hill towards Wetton and our starting point. 

This latter part of the walk is a veritable 'Texas' of sheep and this is where my photography stopped. Not because the landscape was uninteresting but because I ran across sheep that had been attacked and mortally injured by, I assume, a dog running free off it's lead. It was upsetting to see the sheep in agony with their chests ripped open.  I admit I wondered if I should put the sheep out of their misery - I'm not squeemish and could have easily performed that small act of mercy - but I'm ashamed to admit I was concerned with the legal issues so I searched for farmworkers on the hills and in Wetton but everywhere was deserted. A sad end to a marvellous walk.    

A Proud Heritage - Cape Cornwall to Wheal Edward Mine (Botallack)

Botallack Crowns Mine Engine Houses
The lower of the two engine houses was built in 1835 to pump water from the mine.

The higher engine house was built in 1862 to provide winding power for the Boscawen Diagonal Shaft, which ran out under the sea. Men were carried up and down the shaft in a gig, a purpose-built, wheeled box, which was also used to raise ore. In 1863 there was a terrible accident, caused by the gig-chain breaking, and eight miners and a boy were killed.

Location: From the National Trust Car Park at Cape Cornwall I headed off North on the SW Coast Path towards Botallack - see GPS track on EveryTrail at the bottom of this post.

The walk provides wonderful views of Cape Cornwall, houses and cottages clinging to the side of the cliffs surrounding Porth Ledden, and the remains of a once proud mining heritage scattered all along the route.

Inspiration: The previous day I'd taken a guided tour of the nearby Levant Mine which gave me a marvellous insight into a typical day in the life of the miners who worked the mines in this area. With this in mind I had a much clearer vision of how I wanted my pictures to turn out.

These miners would start the day walking as much as 3 miles to work, in all weather, 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Then almost an hour travelling down to the working level of the mine, before starting his 8 hour shift; working in temps of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The 8 hour shift didn't include breaks for lunch or even blasting, when all work had to stop until the air cleared. After up to 10 hours underground he began his hour long trip back to the surface - only then to face another 3 mile walk home (often in dire weather).

These guys had a hard life and they were tough. So I didn't want to create a 'sunny' holiday snap of an idyllic cliff side ruin. These mines were the first in the world to dig over a mile out under the sea. So I had to show a sea pounding and all the time threatening to break through and flood the mines. I had to show the dark hard volcanic rock these miners had to work with manual tools for 8 hours a day. I wanted to show how these mines were not only leading edge - striking out under the sea - but also 'on the edge'.

They were risky and very dangerous enterprises that contributed greatly to our Heritage and we should be very proud.

Technique: After a couple of trial shots it was clear that I'd need a polarising filter. This had the effect of reducing the glare and saturating the colours in the sea and rocks. It also reduced the speed I could shoot at which I didn't want. I didn't want a fuzzy fairy tale quality to the sea - I wanted to show its hard pounding action (the increased saturation did give the sea an added power). So I increased the ISO to 200.

I would perhaps have done better to increase it to ISO 400 as I was still only shooting at 1/80sec which might have been too slow given that I was shooting a distant object (I didn't want to introduce motion blur), but I guessed the VR would probably compensate. (I still have an almost irrational fear of introducing noise - even to an already 'noisy' picture). I regret the decision now as the image is slightly on the fuzzy side - but acceptable I hope.

Finally I wanted to keep the detail in the sea so I exposed for the highlights in the waves.

Camera Work: RAW(12bit), ISO 200, Focal Length 135mm, Exposure: 1/80sec at F9, UV & Polarizing Filter

Post Processing: In Nikon Capture NX2

Unprocessed RAW image
Changed to Picture Control > Landscape then increased Sharpness to +8, reduced Brightness to -1, and increased saturation to +1. This gave me a more vivid image.

Adjusted Exposure Compensation to -2ev (the D80 almost always over exposes - I could have used that fact to increase the shooting speed (mental note taken for next time). This gave me a perfectly exposed sea but the rest of the image was in deep shadow.

Adjusted Shadow protection to 76% to open up the shadow detail in the rocks (this had virtually no effect on the sea)

That concluded the RAW processing but I still had some adjustments to make:

1. the leading edge of the lower engine was on the slant so I rotated the image through -1.73 degrees,

2. I felt the need to perform a small crop to make the bottom right rock more prominent and remove the unattractive rock face to the left of the lower engine.

3. The engine houses were still a little lost in the shadows so I created a selection layer over the land and introduced a 25% D Lighting shadow adjustment then using the same selection layer

4. I used a shallow S curve adjustment to increase the contrast between the dark rocks and the Engine Houses

5. Finally I added Black and White control points to open up the darkest shadow in the rocks and close down the brightest highlights in the sea.

The final processed image captures exactly what I'd imagined while perched on that cliff edge. My only regret is not having shot at a higher speed - just 1/125sec would have done the job - to preserve that overall sharpness.

Cape Cornwall to Wheal Edward Mine at EveryTrail You can see the photos I took, their precise location and view the route, here on the map below (just move your mouse over the red waypoints - click for a larger view) or view on GoogleEarth by following the link.


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