Interview With Cornwall Underground Adventures
We recently caught up with Matt from Cornwall Underground Adventures he is certainly a man that likes to keep active and is not put off by a challenge or two as we find out. He embraces adventure and wants others to share in the thrills and delights of Cornwalls mines, their rich history and the difficulties and dangers the miners faced in their daily working lives.
His passion and enthusasim certainly shines through. Their underground adventures are totally different to the typical mining tours you will see advertised here in Cornwall. Read on to find out more about this unusual and exhilarating activity and to see if you are up to the challenge.
Hi Matt, can you start by telling us a little about yourself, who is Matt and how did you get started in adventuring?
"So, I am only one half of Cornwall Underground Adventures. I run the business with my friend and business partner Ben. I grew up in Sennen Cove, so my first love was the sea, and I spent my youth surfing, as well as exploring the coastline when the surf was flat. These days we call it coasteering! My adventuring took an unusual trajectory, to be honest. I spent my twenties in London pursuing life as a musician. As this was winding up, I took up climbing at an indoor wall and started acquiring a taste for adventure. I’ve done some random things like walk nearly 900 miles from John O Groats to Land’s End, kayaked solo down remote rivers in Asia, travelled the frozen wastes of Far East Russia, as well as climbed a couple of the seven summits. Once I settled back in Cornwall, I just sought out adventure in the environment round me. I seriously got into climbing, and I set up Kernow Coasteering, now in its 8th year. Because they were there, I started getting into exploring Cornwall’s mines, too, and that’s how the first seeds were planted for what eventually became Cornwall Underground Adventures."
What three items can you not live without?
"My wetsuit, my climbing shoes and my caving helmet/head-torch (sorry, I guess that’s four!)."
Who do you admire the most?
"Well, if we’re talking about mines, then it’d be the ‘Old Men.' That’s how the miners refer to the miners of old; the generations who came before them. What they managed to achieve is genuinely staggering, and it’s necessary to go underground to get any kind of idea what it was they did. The work they did underground, and how they did it was truly bonkers! It still boggles my mind every time I go underground. And it was also done entirely by candlelight. It was a very hard, dangerous life, and I think they’d be completely baffled by people such as us having the time or inclination to go down there just for fun!"
Could you live without technology?
"No, I’m no Ed Stafford. I like my creature comforts as much as the next person. And it’s only with the technology available today that we can safely explore the underground world that the miners left behind."
What would be your ultimate/dream adventure?
"There’s still some epic mine exploration to be done in Cornwall. Places where no explorers have managed to get since the mines were abandoned, which in most cases was about a hundred years ago, or more. It’s not the done thing to say where we explore, to protect access, but there’s a potential through-trip that links two valleys that we’ve spent some epic sessions on. In 9 hours underground at a time, with about 10 abseils, and 10 rope climbs, each way, we’ve still only scratched the surface of it!"
Do you have any fears? Or are there certain things you won’t try?
"Although I’m pretty comfortable with heights, I have no desire to do bungee jumping whatsoever. I did a bridge swing once, which was fun, but once was enough!'
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
"Most of the time, when we’re with our guests on our activities, it doesn’t feel like we’re working. We’re just sharing what we love with other people who also have an interest in it. It really does feel like a privilege to be able to do that. Of course, there is a lot of administration in running a business, and we’ve lost count of the hundreds of hours we’ve spent in the mines equipping them for our trips."
If you had to pick another place to live in the country, other than Cornwall, where would it be?
"Probably North Wales. It’s got everything an outdoor enthusiast could ask for. A huge quantity of some of the best rock climbing in the UK, lots of coasts for surfing and coasteering. And, of course, it has almost as many mines as Cornwall. So, there’d be plenty up there to keep me busy for a very long time!"
What made you guys decide on Cornwall Underground as a business concept? How did you get the idea?
"I had already gotten used to life running an outdoor business with Kernow Coasteering. I guess I got the idea from a company called Go Below, who were the originators of guided mine exploration in North Wales. With the number of mines in Cornwall, I thought there must be a way of taking a similar concept and making it work down here. In practice, it’s taken years to figure out how to actually do it. Partnering with Ben was the catalyst that made it finally come together. But we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far."
How would you describe Cornwall Underground to me?
"So what we offer is like an adrenalin-filled caving experience, but rather than in a cave, we’re in a mine. As well as the adventurous nature of what we do, it’s an authentic first-hand look at the world created by the Cornish miners and a chance to see how they lived and worked. So as well as the adventurous side of it, it’s also very educational, as we explain all about it as we go."
"What we offer is unique in the south of England, I think you have to go to the Peak District of North Wales to experience something similar. And with Cornwall arguably having the richest mining heritage in the UK, it seems only right that people can experience this for themselves"
"We’re keen to make it clear that what we offer is entirely different from any of the show mines that are on offer in the area. We offer authentic exploration, using caving techniques, and there are no fixed lights or frills installed in the mine."
How did you obtain the skills and background needed to run this unique business?
"As mentioned above, I already had years of experience running Kernow Coasteering. So as well as the know-how to run a business, I was already very well practised in group management in the outdoors, as well as the holder of various outdoor qualifications and licenses. It was a steep learning curve finding out how to apply this to Cornwall Underground Adventures though, as there was no one else in the region doing it that we could learn from. So along the way we have met many inspiring and experienced individuals from all over the UK from whom we gained knowledge. And, of course, there are specific qualifications to lead people underground that we have had to work hard to obtain."
Do participants have to have a certain level of fitness, or can most people take part?
"Well, if you can make the walk to the mine entrance you should be OK! Our entry-level trip, the Underground Explorer is open to pretty much anyone. Our more challenging Underground Adventurer requires a slightly higher level of fitness. However, more important is a willingness to tackle the constant at-height obstacles that the trip throws at you."
Are participants required to have any previous experience or are participants talked through the process?
"Absolutely no previous experience is required. Our guests are given a thorough safety briefing for all sections of the trip, and we the instructors are there to provide any help that may be needed, for every step of the way.""
What advice would you give to anyone nervous about taking part in an underground adventure, and how would you put them at ease?
"I think a lot of people immediately imagine the grimmest, tiniest pot-hole type environment possible, where you have to forcibly squeeze yourself through tiny holes, or even duck under sumps full of water. I’m glad to say that there’s none of that involved. Mines were made so that men could move around and work in them, after all. So, whilst there are a few limited sections where you have to crawl or stoop, on the whole, there’s plenty of room, so it’s not too claustrophobic. If anyone is unsure if an underground adventure is for them, we’d recommend our Underground Explorer trip first of all. On that trip, we are never too far from daylight, and none of the sections or obstacles are mandatory."
What impact has the recent pandemic had on your business, what changes have you had to make?
"Like everyone, the pandemic has had a terrible effect on Cornwall Underground Adventures. As a new business, we were really looking forward to building on the great start we had last year. We had to shut down for several months, and are only now just re-opening. We’ve had to re-adjust what we do so we can continue our activities in line with the government’s guidelines on social distancing, etc. It’s been a challenge, but we’ve figured it out, and we’re looking forward to getting back to it!"
Finally, what advice would you give someone who is fed up with the 9-5 and wants to have a career in the outdoors?
"It seems more and more people are giving up more conventional careers for a career in the outdoors. It is, therefore, a highly competitive sector, and you’re joining an industry that is already full of highly qualified and experienced outdoor professionals. Like anything with hard work, and realistic expectations (you’re not going to have a full work diary overnight), it can be done. But the bottom line is, almost everyone who works in the outdoor industry does what they do because they love doing it, not to make money."
We have been convinced and look forward to dipping our toes into an Underground Adventure, perhaps starting off with the Underground Explorer Trip and progressing from there!
Cornwall Underground Adventures
Telephone: Matt:07734 343 954 Ben: 07596 174 479
Matt also runs Kernow Coasteering, if you are after a different challenge and fun day out. For more information please visit: