The impressive bulk of Kit Hill dominates and defines the middle reaches of the Tamar Valley. Today it appears to be little more than a patch of natural moorland, barely affected by the passing millennia. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Alan Neal has studied the social, economic and energetic history of the Kit Hill area for many years. His vast accumulated knowledge of this niche subject was evident in his presentation.
The first interaction between the place and its inhabitants disappears over the horizon of recorded time, but what we do know is that as long as there have been people in this neck of the woods, there have been people scratching a living and digging away at Kit Hill.
Some of the earliest evidence for the activities of our distant ancestors in the countryside between Callington and Kelly Bray is the earthworks they left behind in the form of tumuli. There is at least one Long Barrow and a number of Round and/or Bell Barrows on the slopes of the hill. Whilst archaeologists have held fast to the belief that such structures are burial sites, pure and simple, the jury is still out in dowsing circles as to whether they also marked, attracted or concentrated earth energies of various sorts. Alan’s dowsing plans of some of the tumuli show crossing earth and water energy, sometimes with multiple nodes - and in some cases ley lines can be detected crossing them too.
One further remnant of our prehistoric past is a solitary Menhir. Uniquely in this area, it has been saved from the ravages of the farmers and tinners quests for workable stone, partly by its inaccessibility, half hidden amongst a copse of stunted hawthorn trees - and partly by the penchant for adders to frequent this particular spot (a sacred stone protected by serpents?). However, it is also a ‘natural’ monument, still connected to the granite bedrock of the hill – and this may have imbued it with some magical significance that even the down-to-earth diggers might not have wished to put to the test. It dowses as being a classical standing stone, and even if it may have been worked by man to some extent, it is an original feature of the landscape.
Bronze age field systems can also been seen on the lower slopes.
The eroded volcanic dome of Kit Hill has proved to be a magnet for the mining of metals, wolfram, arsenic and other useful minerals since these earliest times. At first this was undertaken by the simple practice of digging holes, and latterly by the more complex technique of streaming the ‘shode’ or stone containing mineral ore. But as the bounty on or near the surface became exhausted, more elaborate and explosive methods of boring into the heart of the hill were devised. It is not recorded if early miners used dowsing, but if they had done so, perhaps they would have needed fewer of the prodigious scatter of test pits that still pock-mark the surface of the moor. From the air, it would appear that the whole area has suffered from a protracted outbreak of terrestrial acne.
While the early attempts at mineral extraction must have been sufficiently successful to enable those engaged in the activity to make a living of sorts, later, grander efforts rarely seem to have produced much of a return. Mining limped on, albeit hampered by the fluctuations of commodity prices, right up to the 1950s. What remains is a remarkable, if deeply confusing, plethora of mounds and shafts, drainage channels and trackways, quarries and waste tips – with just a few recognisable bits of infrastructure, in the shape of chimneys and platforms, left to mark thousands of years of endeavour and not a few deaths-in-service.
If everything counts in large amounts, then minerals apart, Kit Hill has one thing in serious abundance - wind. The dramatically exposed summit once hosted a massive windmill, large enough to power the equipment needed to pump the ever-present groundwater out of the mines. However, being eco-friendly didn’t save this particular icon of industry from its destiny and one particularly stormy night it was brought crashing to the ground complete with its unfortunate operative. We dowsed the original footprint of the windmill on our last visit. The site it used to occupy is now the home of the last major feature to remain on the hilltop – the strangely ornate chimney. In the days before planning control, this was a rare intervention by a landowner seeking to ensure that such a publicly visible feature as a mine ventilation shaft should at least exhibit some form of architectural decorum. We shall gloss over the fact that this rococo finial is now adorned by a rash of microwave dishes.
Another obvious feature at the top of the hill is the pentagonal ‘fort’, once believed to have been built during the Civil War, but which now transpires to have been a gentleman’s folly. This is interesting in that during our last visit, when we believed it to have been a 16th century structure, we found no evidence of its use as a defensive redoubt, and certainly it had never been attacked. We dowsed its use as a vantage point, manned by a small and nervous garrison of look-outs. No doubt they were up there, surveying the magnificent panorama that takes in the surrounding countryside and the distant coast for scores of miles around - even if the fort itself came later!
Kit Hill has had its brush with more serious military history, however. In the 9th century a combined force of Cornish and Danes sought to stem the advance of the Wessex Saxons - and chose to stand their ground at Hingston Down on the lower slopes of the hill. Defeat in that battle effectively ended Cornish independence. A few years ago, the TDs visited the site to search for the remanences of that fateful day.
Many thanks indeed to Alan Neal for taking time out from his busy schedule of dowsing tuition and healing sick houses to enhance our historical perspective. The TDs hope to be out ‘dowsing around Kit Hill’ as a group again soon, looking for, amongst other things, the remains of the railway that briefly served the area.
For the third time this winter season, about 50 people turned out to hear a talk presented by the TDs at North Hill Village Hall, which presumably means that either the weather has been particularly poor or we must be doing something right. The efforts of all those who helped organise the event - and to provide refreshments for the large and appreciative attendance - are much appreciated.