Originally written for suite101 and published on 01/12/08, now hosted at Xomba.

Although best known to tourists as a handy base for visiting the nearby Eden Project, St Austell has a fair share of charms all of its own.

One of the largest towns in Cornwall, St Austell lies just a few short miles from the sea. The old market town has had a long history of mining and during the 18th and 19th centuries had a thriving China Clay industry. Although both industries are now in decline, they have left their own distinct mark on the area, creating the rather surreal landscape of the Cornish Alps.

Even though there are few tourist attractions in the town itself, modern developments having robbed it of much of its original charm, the surrounding area is full of interesting and unusual places to visit. From the little villages scattered along the beautiful coastline that has earned the title of the Cornish Riviera, to the China Clay museum and country park just outside the town. Making St Austell an ideal place to base explorations of the area.

History Brewing by the Sea

On the outskirts of the town itself lies St Austell Brewery, founded in 1851 by Walter Hicks, it has been home for 150 years to the famous St Austell ales. Visitors can learn about the long history connecting the town to the brewery, enjoy the interactive museum and take a tour of the Victorian Brewery itself. They might even get a glimpse at the ‘secret spring’, which supplies the brewery with its vital water supply.

St Austell is a working brewery, and the tour negotiates some low ceilings and steep staircases making it unsuitable for children under the age of eight. Open all year round, Monday-Friday 9am to 5.30pm and weekends 10am to 4pm (closed Sundays during the winter months). Admission is £7 for adults and £4.25 for children, with discounts available for larger groups.

Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre

Just outside St Austell lies the small Georgian port of Charlestown, which grew from a tiny fishing village to service the growing mining and China clay industries of St Austell during the 18th Century. The shipwreck and heritage centre houses a variety of exhibits from the history of Gas (the inventor of gas lighting William Murdock, 1754-1839 lived just 25 miles away at Redruth) to sea rescue and a North Sea diving bell.

The centre houses impressive displays of treasures and artefacts from a variety of shipwrecks, with parts of the collection dating as far back as 1715. Open from the beginning of March to the end of November, from 10am to 5pm. Admission is £5.95 for adults, £2.95 for children, and children under 10 get in for free when accompanied by a full paying adult.

A Little Piece of Eden

Only two miles away, outside the village of Bodelva, lies what can arguably be claimed to be the area’s best-known tourist attraction, the Eden Project. With a changing program of exhibitions, activities, educational activities (The Core, provides an exciting variety of experiments and interactive projects for enquiring minds, young and old) and even concerts throughout the year, the project make an intriguing visit at any time of the year.

The famous Biomes hide two dramatically different botanical worlds, on one side a lush tropical rainforest and on the other the temperate world of the Mediterranean. They also offer an insight into how the plants and traditions of both areas play a vital and largely forgotten role in our modern world. Whereas the outdoor Biome, provide an insight into how plants and minerals from a more local climate can be used and reused in everyday life.

Getting There

  • By road:  Following the A30 and A391 through Cornwall (Visitors from further afield should follow the M5 south, exiting at J31 marked Bodmin A30)
  • By rail: St Austell railway station lies on the Cornish Mainline with regular trains from London (Paddington), Penzance and Plymouth, and less regular services from further afield, such as Glasgow, Newcastle and Cardiff.
  • By bus: The National Express coach from London to Penzance (service 500) stops in St Austell and a variety of local bus services link St Austell to other major and minor Cornish towns.

The Core, Eden Project