by GB from Devizes
Devizes, United Kingdom
October 15, 2004
Although it has no beaches or coastline as such, it is only a mile or two inland with several beautiful and not-too-crowded beaches within a few minutes drive. It is the administrative centre of the Restormel Borough Council and is centrally placed to explore all of the Duchy.
St. Austell grew wealthy in the 18th and 19th centuries from the vast deposits of Kaolin (china clay) that were to be found all around the area. Townships such as Foxhole, Nanpean, and St. Stephen developed alongside these quarries, and at at one time, before health and safety legislation dictated necessary action, the whole area would be coated in a white, "snowy" deposit as a result of the extraction and refining processes.
China clay is still much in demand for a whole range of industries as diverse as medicine to pottery-making, and each day, many hundreds of tons of clay will be transported from the area up to the pottery towns in Staffordshire, such as Burslem and Stoke-on-Trent.
The visitor to the area will no doubt see the huge spoil heaps that litter the landscape, these being the leftovers from the various processes of refining and known locally as The White Pyramids.
Around St. Austell are several lovely small harbours, such as Charlestown (see my first Cornish journal), Fowey, Par and Mevagissey, all tourist traps in high summer and well worth exploring.
St. Austell now is an expanding town with its own retail superstores and multiplex cinemas (much of the recent influx bought about by the decline of the clay trade in the smaller, less profitable pits in it's rural hinterland).
As you move further down into the county, clay gives way to the long since abandoned engine houses that once provided the lifts down to the tin and copper mines that provided Cornwall's fortunes from an earlier time.