Finding the Clay Trail

Trip Start Apr 25, 2012
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Trip End May 12, 2012


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What I did
Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Friday, May 25, 2012


At some point today, the young man at reception asked me how I liked the luxurious new beds.  Hmmm, I think I remember sensing something different - as if the bed were higher maybe - or maybe cushier.  In any case, I hadn't really been aware, but they had changed the bed in most or all of the rooms so we now had these new deluxe beds.  I will have to try to enjoy it more tonight.

Today I had to attend to travel arrangements.  When I tried to see what times the ferry left from Weymouth, I was frustrated to find no schedule.  That could not be good.  So I went to find a travel agent.  The agent looked up the ferry schedule from here to Guernsey and found that Weymouth had no ferry service at the moment.  He thought it might be caused by the Olympics.  The Olympics gets blamed for all the inconveniences.  So rather than book the ferry without knowing that I could get there by train, I had to get my train tickets first.  I did manage that and sorely regretted having to schlep my bags up that big hill tomorrow morning at 6 am.  Back to Thomas Cook and got my ferry ticket.  It will be a long day.  I have three train connections to make and some of them are less than 10 minutes between arrival and departure.

After the travel agent, I bought some goodies at a bakery:  vegetable Cornish pastie, a custard tart and some kind of almond cookie tart.  I also stopped in a pound store - like our dollar stores - and got some things to drink and some chocolate to replace my depleted supplies.  I went back to my room and had lunch since it was already noon.  Then I started out to find the Clay Trail.  I had a map of the Clay Trails but they were not very detailed.  I have been trying to get a free map of St Austell but there are none to be had.  The closest I came to getting one was at a market arcade with funky shops with memorabilia and a small St Austell museum..of sorts.  A shop owner there looked around because he said he had seen them.  I think whoever is paying for the maps isn't buying any more.  So I gave up on the map and tried to work from the Clay Trail one.  I asked a lot of people for the walking path to Wheal Martyn - the best I got was identifying the road it appeared to run beside.

I set off - uphill of course.  I walked under the railroad tracks and looked for some signs.  There were none that I could see.  I went farther.  A van stopped and asked if I were lost.  He told me to stay on the road but didn't know about any paths.  He turned off the road.  I turned back and looked for turnoffs.  I found one and followed it a bit and then I saw a gate with a bicycle sign on it.  So I started walking on it.  It was a lovely path - mostly shaded for quite a while.  There were wild flowers - bluebells and Red Campion I think as well as gorse and lots of wild rhododendron along the path.  Later I came out into an area of fields - saw some horses.  (I am in the lobby now and smell cigarette smoke.  I thought this was a smoke-free hotel.  Maybe not the lobby and bar.)  Anyway, I followed the trail - some of it seemed to follow the map and then some of it didn't so I wasn't exactly sure if I were going in the right direction except that I thought I remembered seeing a hill with gray-white dirt on it as I walked on the path.  I did cross a bridge (the William Cookworthy Bridge) over the highway and did pass the village of Ruddlemoor with its green so I seemed to be OK despite things not exactly looking like the map.

I found some Clay Trail signage about Wheal Martyn and the Eden Project that confused me a bit, but I kept on going.  Finally I reached the museum.  It was now almost three.  The museum was open until 5 pm but did not admit anyone after 3.  The woman eyed me with a certain look of disfavor but let me in.  She said I could stay and let myself out by the gate when I was done.  They shut off the waterwheels before 5 pm though.

I went through the inside part of the museum and the gift shop in pretty short order.  They were interesting but I just took photos of the signs with the thought I would read them later.  I might if they aren't too blurry.  I liked the old photographs, especially the one of the women who worked there and the ones who supported the men who worked there.  Then I went to see the old operation.  I liked this part because of the old stone buildings, the waterwheels and running water, the big tanks of water and all the machinery and tools.  Lots of great gears and an old truck - I have forgotten the name at the moment.

From there I walked up a hill - of course - to the new pits.  From a lookout I could see the huge pit with terraced layers - a lot like the Eden Project's location in its clay pit.  Since it was almost 5 pm by now, there wasn't much activity but there was one vehicle coming down a road.  It was so far away it looked like an ant.  There was a a rock display on the way to the pit that was quite interesting.  They labeled the different kinds of granite - some with bigger chunks of feldspar, some with tourmaline bits and others with other combinations of the minerals. 

I guess I forgot to mention how the clay pit operates.  Apparently the granite in Cornwall gets crumbly so that you can wash out the feldspar which is where the kaolin - the finest clay for china- comes from.  They spray the rock with water to rinse out the kaolin and then they dry the residue.  That is an oversimplification of what is a multi-step process that used a lot of wonderful old machines and tools.  Now I am wondering what those smokestacks are from.  I will have to read all those signs I took photos of.  They must heat the water to dry the kaolin sediment out.

By the time I left, I think I was limping a bit because I now have some wicked blisters.  I don't know how I got so many lately since I thought I have been walking all along.  Maybe I am walking longer - who knows.  Even with the blisters, I enjoyed the walk back along the path.  I am wondering:  a lot of people come to Cornwall to go walking, but maybe the people in Cornwall aren't that interested in the clay trails.  I only saw two people walking on my way out and one person and one cyclist on the way back.  One observation that I haven't made yet that covers my stay in Cornwall is that I feel as if I have run into more people in wheelchairs and with canes as well as little people in strollers.  Lots of strollers.  This may be a function of when I am out and where I am going - tourist spots for one and weekdays during working hours, the other.

Another observation about Cornwall is that life does seem more traditional here.  St Austell has a real downtown.  I did see that semi-shopping center, but haven't really seen the kind of suburban sprawl that we have.  Here the towns end abruptly and the farmland begins.  There are villages out in the middle of the farmland but the houses are clustered together.  The roads are windy and enclosed by hedges.  The streets in the villages can be very narrow so that everything has a very quaint, picturesque feel.  And there are a lot of working farms here.  I saw a statistic on the amount of land that is farmed in Cornwall and it is a high percentage. 

In retrospect, this was a pretty good trip for me.  Astrid did most of the work - I just listed the different places I wanted to go and she did a quick itinerary.  I booked the White Hart in St Austell and left the rest up in the air.  Penzance was a great place for exploring the extreme SW peninsula, but St Ives could have served as well and it was a nice tourist town.  Falmouth was a great base for the gardens.  I wish I had time for the Maritime Museum.  And now St Austell has worked extremely well for the 2 big sights - the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan.  I really enjoyed my slow day of walking and seeing the clay pits.  I wished I had thought of seeing the tin mines when I was farther south.  I think it would be great to do more of a walking trip in Cornwall just to enjoy the farming landscape.  Of course, I have had exceptionally great weather.  I have really enjoyed Cornwall - wouldn't mind coming back some time.
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