Wheals of Clay

 WHEAL MARTYN
China Clay Country Park
 St
Austell, Cornwall

Daytrip – Mid-October 2011

Ever wondered who made the ‘pyramids of Cornwall’?  Or what Cornish commodity could possibly be more lucrative than the pasty?  Stay tuned to find out…

For two days in October, members of the local Friends of Luxulyan Valley (like ourselves), were granted free entry to Wheal Martyn, just a few miles from St Austell in mid-Cornwall.  Thanks to them, I can pass on these insights into this China Clay site which is a combination of museum, showcase of past & present clay working, and nature park.

IT’S MINE – ALL MINE!

Barely had Steve & I crossed the threshold into the visitor centre than we were greeted by a kindly volunteer guide who told us a bit about Wheal Martyn – ‘wheal’ being a Cornish word meaning ‘mine’ or ‘pit’.  We were surprised to discover that the slopes surrounding the site are the result of waste materials being piled up over the years. 

Just in case you weren't sure... This is a dummy, not Steve! (Steve hasn't got a moustache.)

After walking through the gift shop reception, we were led through a series of inventive displays relating the story of Cornwall’s China Clay heritage…  A ‘talking portrait’ of William Cookworthy telling you how he first found local clay in 1746…  A Victorian ‘Kettle Boy’ at the door of a work shed painting a picture of his working day…  Videos showing how the clay was (and still is) taken from the opencast mines and processed before it heads off to various countries around the world…  And much, much more…

Before Cookworthy discovered that vast amounts of clay could be obtained from Cornwall, the British got their clay from China – hence the name given to crockery made from it.  However, it’s used in countless products (eg paper, paint & cosmetics) and Cornwall now exports clay to the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, the pasty hasn’t fared so well!
 

Spot the tiny Tonka truck! (Clue: it's yellow & it's somewhere in the bottom left-hand corner.)

WHAT A SITE!

The indoor exhibitions give you a great introduction as to what lies outdoors on the 26-acre site, where you get to explore the separation tanks, drying areas, etc used to process clay, as well as Cornwall’s largest working waterwheel.
 
Taking a walk through the forest nature trail, we eventually came to Pit View which overlooks a working quarry.  From here, work vehicles look like tiny Tonka trucks.  If you have kids, you can double-back to the play area or have lunch in the café – it certainly smelled good when we were there, though alas, we’d already made sandwiches to eat in the camper!


As we left the centre, we looked around.  It was quite something to get your head round the fact that all these hills were the result of years of clay mining.  Wherever there is Cornish clay mining, you’ll also see the huge ‘sky tips’.  These ‘pyramids of Cornwall’, made of waste from the mining process, no doubt gave the Egyptian tourist board something to worry about when they first appeared!

The Eden Project (also near St Austell), has turned another of the county’s legacies – an old quarry – into a thriving tourist attraction with its famous, iconic biomes housing tropical and Mediterranean plants.  And a whole network of Clay Trail routes has been created in the area – you can even walk or cycle from Wheal Martyn to St Austell and the Eden Project after your lunch if you fancy it.

We’d definitely recommend a visit to Wheal Martyn China Country Clay Park: Cornwall is about much more than scenic cliff-top views and beach resorts… although there’s no harm in checking all that out while you’re down here as well!
 
Again, a big thank you goes to Wheal Martyn and the Friends of Luxulyan Valley (click links for more info).  There are also a couple of articles on my website referring to the Luxulyan Valley, if interested.
 
TAKE A CHILL PILL!

Cluey readers among you will probably have noticed how shockingly long it’s taken me to post this blog.  All I can do is apologise to my faithful subscribers, who have no doubt been pulling their hair out waiting for it (not!).  Unfortunately, my blog entries have had to take a backseat to other things on my list lately…

 

COOKING THE BOOKS

I’m still plugging away at the Campervan Capers book as well as getting sets of photos ready to accompany it.  And as I’ve also been spending time publicising my other recently-released eBooks (click links for more info), I’ve put back the release date to around springtime next year.

COMING SOON…?

I’ll keep you all informed as things progress…  We’re still popping out in our camper occasionally, but nothing significant enough to write about at the moment.  In the meantime, have a fantastic Christmas break and we look forward to more CC blogging in the new year!

PS  Do you remember our Underground, Overground trip where Castle Drogo needed a decent wedge of money to fix its leaky roof?  Well, the good news, according to the National Trust, is that they’ve had a cash injection now of just over half a million.  The bad news?  They are still a few million down.  Luckily, lottery funding may able to help to ‘plug the gap’ – err… both literally and metaphorically!  Click for more info about the appeal.

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