Lying about half-way between the centre of Newcastle and the mouth of the River Tyne, Wallsend is an easy and worthwhile metro ride out of the city.
As soon as you get off the train you know that you’re somewhere a bit different because the station goes by its Roman name of Segedunum, but the English name of Wallsend is perhaps just as appropriate because Segedunum was the fort at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall.
The wall was built during the 120s AD and was originally planned to end at Pons Aelius (Newcastle), the lowest bridging point of the River Tyne. It was then decided to extend it out here, where the river then became the natural frontier between the Roman world and the Barbarians to the north. The fort was probably built around 127 AD.
I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that Stonehenge is one of those places that sits high on many people’s list of life’s big disappointments, but with the right mental attitude and a bit of forward planning it can still be somewhere that you’ll be glad to say you’ve seen.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site lies about nine miles north of Salisbury and can be reached by the useful ‘Stonehenge Tour Bus’ which does a circuit between the city, Old Sarum, and Stonehenge.
The first obvious detraction from this iconic site is its proximity to the main A303 trunk road which has been constantly debated about ever since I can remember.
Not so long ago the A360 road to Devizes and the inadequate visitor centre were also bones of contention, but were both rectified by the closure of the road and the re-positioning of a new modern visitor centre 1½ miles away.
Anyone who enjoys ancient history will enjoy coming to Minions. If you’ve come here by car, and most people do, then the Hurlers car park gives easy access to the well-known ‘Hurlers’ stone circle.
The Hurlers are a circle of standing stones dating back about 3,000 years to the Bronze Age. In actual fact there are three circles and a couple of ‘Pipers’. One of the circles isn’t that easy to identify, but even so, the experts tell us that they are all in alignment, which instead of providing us with answers about what they were used for, poses even more questions – but that’s ancient history for you.
Even if we don’t know why the Hurlers are here, then there’s an explanation as to how they got their name.
Not to be confused with the Irish game of hurling, Cornish hurling is a game which is a bit more like rugby, only with a small silver ball. Cornish legend tells us that the game was being played here one Sunday when the players, and a couple of Pipers who were supplying the music, were turned to stone in punishment for not observing the Sabbath.
As I mentioned in my article about Minions, the village was built for the industrial activities that occurred here during the 19th century – namely copper mining and quarrying, both of which were transported down to the port of Looe via the Liskeard and Caradon Railway.
Both of these activities can be seen on a walk from the village to Stowe’s Hill along the old railway track, but my preferred route is a circular one which also includes some ancient archaeology too.
I’m not going to describe a detailed walk here, but instead I just want to discuss the landscape which provided the reason for all this ancient and industrial activity, and even if you have no interest in any of these things, I’m confident that you will enjoy the stark beauty of this corner of Bodmin Moor.
Walking from Minions in the opposite direction to Caradon Hill is Stowe’s Hill. It’s quite unmistakeable because it’s topped with granite tors, much like those of Dartmoor. These tors are the most obvious signs of granite weathering which has been taking place for tens of thousands of years.
I suspect that some people may wonder if there’s any connection between the 2015 film of the same name and this small village on the south-eastern edge of Bodmin Moor, but as far as I’m aware it’s just purely co-coincidental. Mind you, those pesky little yellow creatures have existed since the beginning of time, and strangely enough the village has many ancient features on its doorstep, so who knows?
I don’t suppose it’s any co-incidence though that the area boasts so many ancient features, as at 300 metres, Minions is the highest village in Cornwall.
Rising above the village even further is Caradon Hill which is topped by a transmitting station with a 237 metre high mast, so the village isn’t difficult to find.
The hill also gives its name to the Caradon Mining District which is part of the Cornish World Heritage site.
During the 19th century around 650,000 tons of copper were mined in the area, and there is plenty of evidence in the form of engine houses that still dot the landscape. One of them is used as the Minions Heritage Centre where you can find out more about the landscape in general as well as the locality’s industrial heritage.