As you drive into Cornwall one of the most eye-catching landmarks on the horizon are the white peaks of St. Austell, or the ‘Cornish Alps’ as they’re known locally. And a set of trails, rather fittingly called the Clay Trails, offer an in-road into the the world that created them.
In the early 19th Century the biggest china clay deposits in the world were discovered in the St. Austell bay area. The industry went on to boom in the south west, with the pits supplying raw materials right the way around the globe, and by the early 20th Century about 50% of the world’s china clay was coming out of Cornwall. Small scale production is still happening today, but for the most part the pits have been abandoned, leaving a scarred and surreal landscape of deep cavernous holes, pyramid hills and white washed mounds that dominate the Cornish skyline.
Brutal rather than beautiful, the Clay Trails offer up a system of trails that allow walkers, cyclists and horse riders the opportunity to get up (fairly) close and personal to the pits and peaks. There are walks that range from 1.5 – 6 miles, some of which are circular, with recommended stop off points for food and, amusingly enough (I thought), details on ‘horse tie-ups’. And a few of them circumnavigate The Eden Project, starting and finishing at the (or close to) the car park.
On our walk we were hoping to clap eyes on some some of the flooded pits, where milky blue water lays motionless on pure white powder, but didn’t research enough in advance i.e. didn’t really know where we were going. Instead we tramped past coagulated pits, vast rolling landscapes planted with heather and rhododendrons, saw butterflies feeding on buddleia and stole some spectacular views out over St. Austell Bay.
For more information and detailed route maps: http://www.claytrails.co.uk/