St Austell can date its origins back to 1189 when it became a market town in its own right, having previously been under the jurisdiction of the local manor. On the south coast of Cornwall, between Mevagissey and Fowey, it is sometimes called the capital of the Cornish Alps – the remains of Cornish clay pits. In the nearby town of Bodelva, in one of these disused clay pits, lies the Eden Project.
What is the Eden Project?
When you first see the Eden Project, it looks a bit like a settlement on another planet, with huge semi-circular greenhouses that look as though they are made of giant bubble-wrap. These “bubble-wrap buildings” are the biomes dedicated to replicating the climate in different parts of the planet. Perhaps the most comfortable to visit, and, for me, the most attractive, is the Warm Temperate Biome. As you walk around, you can imagine yourself to be in the parts of the world depicted – the Mediterranean, California and South Africa, with the different plant species growing. It is wonderful.
The Humid Tropical Biome (if you go there in winter, make sure you don’t wear your cold weather gear inside, but do wear sensible shoes) is exactly that – a replication of rainforests and tropical jungle. It’s hot. Outside of the biomes are the landscaped gardens, which feature a vast array of plants from those we can eat to those used for medicines, and many others. The Eden Project is an educational charity that works with a number of disadvantaged groups and is one of the “must-see” places to go to in Cornwall.
St Austell Town
St Austell is one of the largest towns in Cornwall. As well as the Eden Project, nearby are also the beautiful Lost Gardens of Heligan (so called because, having been well maintained up the end of the nineteenth century, they were soon overgrown and, effectively, hidden). It is also part of what is known as the Cornish Riviera, part of the beautiful Cornish Coastline with sheltered coves and beautiful scenery leading to the coastline.
There are all the usual “town things” in St Austell – a fairly new shopping centre called White River Place as well as a four-screen cinema and a bowling centre. There is a china clay museum and a shipwreck and heritage centre in the town a short way away at Charlestown. Many of the buildings still evidence its history – the remains of the castle, built by the then sheriff of Cornwall, William De Austell around the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the Quaker Meeting House and the Market House (which was built in 1791 and has the largest freestanding ceiling in Europe).
In the centre of the town stands the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity – it’s made of Pentewan stone, a local stone, and is one of those churches built in what is known as the perpendicular style, an early English style.
Well served by mainline trains from London and national coaches, as well as by road, St Austell would make a good base if you wanted to stay in Cornwall for a while.