The Tamar Valley is a really good location to stay and explore the many Poldark film locations which are spread far and wide across Cornwall. There is an extensive range of very good hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and self catering cottages in the Tamar Valley with easy access to the main routes through Cornwall, making a day's exploring of the many filming sites very easy. There are also local guided tour businesses based in the Tamar Valley specialising in Poldark tours who are available for those who do not want to drive themselves.
Winston Graham carried out extensive research and had a great understanding of life in Cornwall in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Poldark books and the BBC Poldark television series demonstrate this very well.
Life in Ross Poldark's Cornwall revolved around five industries, all of which are portrayed by Winston Graham. These are mining, fishing, agriculture, smuggling and wrecking and the history of Cornwall is littered with tales and scenes of these industries.
The main industry was mining for tin, copper, arsenic and other minerals and this forms a major part of the Poldark story. In series 1 of the BBC series, Ross re-opens his mine Wheal Leisure (in reality this is Wheal Owles near Botallack on the north coast whilst the Crown Engine Houses at Botallack were portrayed as Francis Poldark's Wheal Grambler). With business associates Poldark opens a tin smelter, Tressiders Rolling Mill (in reality the Levant Mine) in opposition to George Warleggan. The mining industry stretched from the Tamar Valley in the east to as far as Cape Cornwall in the far west and employed nearly half the population with boys and girls starting work at the age of eight. Many mining ruins dating back to Poldark's time can be found in the Tamar Valley and many of the great historic houses in the valley such as Cotehele and Mount Edgcumbe were built out of the profits from mining. Tavistock was largely reconstructed and modernised by the 7th Duke of Bedford in the mid 1800s out of the profits made from the Devon Great Consols Mine, once the largest copper mine in the world, together with the Tavistock Canal and Morwellham Quay which is well worth a visit. Launceston, once the capital of Cornwall, also features in Poldark as Launceston Castle was where Ross's friend Jim Painter was jailed and from where he was rescued by Ross and Doc Enys.
Fishing, mainly for pilchards, involved the main coastal fishing villages from Plymouth Sound right around the south coast and along the north coast as far as Boscastle. Shoals of pilchards were very large and were caught using the seine method with many boats holding a large net and creating a circle which was then closed to capture the fish. This bought wealth to many fishing villages and was an essential part of the food chain. In series 1 of Poldark there is a scene where the starving inhabitants were saved by the arrival of a shoal of pilchards. The scene was actually filmed in the small cove of Porthgwara near Porthcurno which also has been used as a film location. The scale of the fishing was so large that one fishing village actually caught 12 millionpilchards in one year in the mid 1800s. The fishing villages such as Kingsand and Cawsand at the mouth of the River Tamar would have been heavily involved in this trade. The River Tamar itself has always been famous for salmon and trout fishing which exists to this day and there are a number of very good fishing hotels such as The Arundell Arms in Lifton for those who love the sport.
Agriculture was never a large industry in Cornwall because of the poor quality of the thin layer of soil overlaying the extensive areas of granite. However every patch of available cultivatable land was used to produce crops. Again, in series 1 of the BBC's Poldark, this has been shown with Ross Poldark's famous scene where he is scything the corn with his shirt off! The Tamar Valley is one area where agriculture formed a major part of the local economy because of its micro climate and warm sheltered location. It still produces high quality soft fruit such as strawberries as well as many daffodils and other plants. Beautiful cultivated gardens can also be found in the Tamar Valley such as The Garden House near Crapstone, Cotehele House near St Dominick, Buckland Abbey at Buckland Monachorum, Saltram near Plymouth, Antony House near Torpoint and Coombe Trenchard at Lewtrenchard.
Smuggling affected the whole of the British Isles but Cornwall's location, isolation and geography of hidden coves made it a hotbed of activity. Every fishing village was involved in bring in illegal goods which were then transported inland for storage and distribution and many of Cornwall's inhabitants, both rich and poor were involved in the trade somewhere. There is reference to it in Poldark's series 1 where Ross Poldark rescues the officers from the wrecked ship and takes them to his home for safety. He offers them a glass of brandy and the ship's captain makes the comment that he assumes that tax has been paid on this, knowing full well that it probably has not. The fishing villagers of Kingsand and Cawsand at the mouth of the River Tamar were extensively involved in smuggling.
Wrecking would obviously have been a temptation to coastal inhabitants, involving lighting lamps and sending false signals to ships to attract them on to the rocky coast. However most wrecks were accidental where ships were driven onto the rocks by storms. The populace regarded it as their right to recover as much of the goods as they could and sometimes this involved killing the washed up crew and passengers of vessels. In Poldark series 1 there is a dramatic shipwreck where George Warleggan's ship runs aground in a gale and Ross Poldark alerts the locals of the matter only to be accused of committing murder by Warleggan. The shipwreck scene was filmed at Church Cove in the Lizard.