There is very little in life that is truly predictable - and maybe that’s a good thing. However, one activity that you can rely on to be stimulating, at the very least, is any event run by the Inspiration of the Tamar Dowsers, Alan Neal.
This trek up the lesser-known northern slopes of our local peak was no exception. Even the persistent drizzle and the soft going underfoot could not prevent a mixed group of experienced dowsers, novice improvers and ‘members of the public’ from enjoying the occasion.
The afternoon got off to a good start with Alan demonstrating the art of divining with rods to those new to the subject. It’s a while since I have heard anyone yelp with excitement at their first twitch of the tools - and it was a timely reminder that dowsing isn’t just wandering about in the rain acknowledging the presence of a ley line or a water spiral - it’s a regular breakthrough to another view of reality, a glimpse through a portal to another dimension. Even after plying the trade for a couple of decades, it’s still damned exciting. Bring it on.
We got into gear by tracing some of the long-dismantled railway tracks and inclines that once ushered away the various types of ore gained from the numerous mines and pits that still pock-mark this hillside.
As we made our way up the slope, we were encouraged to sense and follow some of the many mineral lodes that still lie beneath the soil - tin, casserite, copper, arsenic. It is quite likely that despite the apparently random splatter of test pits and bore holes that still litter the area, many decades after they were dug, there was much targeted prospecting in evidence - and quite likely this was greatly assisted by the much maligned dowser.
As we ambled up the hill, we examined various water features, energy lines and leys. Being the highest natural peak for miles around, and on a clear day having a spectacular 360° panorama, there is a plethora of ley lines reaching out to other high points on the horizon and taking in a swathe of sacred sites as they sweep through the landscape.
As we reached the highest point of our journey, we were asked as a group to examine a feature, which had caused some difference of opinion between industrial archaeologists. A sunken gulley winds its way around the contours; its original function and context long forgotten. At Alan’s behest, we dowsed it individually and kept our findings to ourselves until everyone had had a chance to ask the question – was it a worn out track or the remanance of a leat (a man-made water channel)? The consensus was unanimous - it was a track. For those new to the field, this was an important piece of practical confidence building.
From time to time we were asked to look for a number of subterranean features – water courses, tunnels and adits (lateral passages dug into the side of the hill by miners). At one point, we were asked to dowse for a couple of substantial tunnels that had once been used by the Atomic Energy Authority - not that anything radioactive happened here, other than the natural release of radon gas from the rocks. These tunnels were in fact the sensing sites for detecting and measuring the shock waves of explosions out at sea. We found the caverns, as requested, and measured their breadth and depth.
Kit Hill is something of an Aladdin’s Cave of industrial archaeology, but today it is also an important site for nature conservation. A small part of it has been fenced off from the worst of the predations of the local wildlife. It gives an idea of what the area might have looked like before the industrial era laid waste to much of the it. We took the opportunity to examine how different types of native tree - holly, rowan, oak - are attracted to, or avoid, the confluence of natural energy and water lines.
At the summit of our walk we examined the outflow of water from one of the larger mineshafts. We found that there had been both a managed extraction of excess water by means of a substantial iron pipe, but also a stream that had found its way through the massive spoil tip and now released its water lower down the slope.
Given the close association of the practice of dowsing with the arcane art of water divining, it was instructive to realise that here, hundreds of feet above the valley floor and with no land above it to collect the water, a steady stream was being pumped out of the hillside by pressure from below.
People often wonder how hilltop castles and monasteries could survive so far above the nearest rivers and assume there must have been an endless caravan of mules or slaves trudging up the hill with buckets. Yet, this was a clear demonstration of how man can inhabit the highest of places, by finding a hidden water source - with just a little help from the unsung dowser.
The last part of our walk took us back down the impressive northern incline, which once transported the valuable ore from the elevated mine workings to the waiting trains below. The sheer scale of the undertaking, and the obvious input of man and horsepower required to establish this feature, speaks volumes about the value of the minerals that once lay below Kit Hill.
Many thanks to Alan Neal for sharing his experience and expertise with us once again – and also to Chrissie Le Marchant, the Kit Hill Warden, for giving us the benefit of her own local knowledge and scholarship.
The weather may not have been that wonderful, but the dowsing was first rate. You don’t find much for £2 in the western world today, so this outing must have been the best bargain in Britain!