We spent our last day in Cornwall exploring some countryside to the east – about the last area that we have yet to visit. We spent the whole day within 25 kilometres of our hotel but it felt as if we were a lot further away.
We started by driving to the town of St Austell. This is the largest town in this eastern area of Cornwall with a population of about 35,000 people. The area north of the town is is famous for mining a different mineral – kaolin, or China Clay which is produced when granite rots down to form a clay.
The clay industry here really only came into its own during the mid 19th to early 20th century – at a time when the falling prices of tin and other metals forced many other mines to close down or also convert to clay mining. The success and high profitability of the clay industry attracted many families whose breadwinner had been put out of work by the depression in the local metal mining industry, and increased the population of the town considerably. Kaolin is used in the manufacture of many products – paper, paint, porcelain, toothpaste and cosmetics, just t name a few.
We stopped at the Wheal Martyn museum site where the history of clay mining by hydraulic means is displayed. (We have come across the word ‘wheal’ many times over the last week and in Cornish it means ‘a place of work’).
A little way out of St Austell is the tiny seaport of Charleston. Some of the Poldark videos have been filmed here. It has a quaint harbour and I can just imagine sailing ships coming in to fill up with minerals in the old days. It has a lot of atmosphere. We spent quite a while walking around the port and taking it all in.
Further around the coast is the town of Mevagissey. Like many towns in England, the streets are too narrow for cars, so there is a car park at the edge of the town. We had no regrets in paying our £3 parking fee and then walking 200 yards into the town. It has a little harbour and lots of old buildings. We found the Ship Inn as good place for lunch. I don’t know how old this building is, but there wass scarcely a place around the bar where I could stand up straight.
From Mevagissey, we drove around some headlands to the beaches at Boswinger. This took us along some very narrow, winding roads where the road was scarcely wider than our car. Jill didn’t like this at all but it was well worth it for the scenery. Fortunately, we didn’t meet any oncoming traffic although the protocol would simply have been for the vehicle within easiest access to a passing point to reverse and let the other car through. It wasn’t raining although the dark sky formed quite a dramatic backdrop.
Back up the narrow road to the top of the hill, we came across Caerhays Castle. It’s not really a castle, but the stately home of Charles Williams, the local Baron. His estate stretches for many kilometres and includes a few villages along the coast. The building, a mock castle, overlooks Porthluney Cove. Its garden has the largest collection of magnolias in England. It was bought by the current owner’s predecessors when the original owner couldn’t pay his bills and fled to France.
Very obvious in this area, were a large number of pheasants and partridges. They were everywhere! We could see them in the grounds of the castle, along the roads and in the fields. Apparently, they are regularly (daily) hunted as a game bird.
The roads in this area were very scenic. Some were only the width of a car and the hedges on either side were up to 3 metres tall. It felt as if we were driving down a tunnel. I don’t have a photo of this type of road as I was too busy concentrating on driving straight down the middle and avoiding potential cars coming the other way on frequent blind corners. Other roads were wider and covered in a beautiful forest canopy of filtered light.
Our last stop for the day was at the town of St Mawes with its wide bay and harbour. We drove back to our hotel at Truro taking a short cut taking the King Harry Ferry across the Fal River. It cost us £6, but saved us over an hour of driving.
We have had a very interesting time in Cornwall over the last week. Its history is interesting and its scenery is beautiful. We are now looking forward to the next phase of our trip as we drive north along the coast of Devon and on to Gloucester.