Until the opening of the Eden Project in 2001, the only holidaymakers that would have been seen wandering around the St. Austell countryside were those that were lost.
The industrial landscape above the town wasn’t one of the things that most visitors to Cornwall had come to see, but anybody who decides to make their way to Wheal Martyn will be rewarded with a fascinating insight into how important the industry has been to the region.
This open-air museum, heritage centre, or whatever it wants to call itself now, incorporates all aspects of china clay from the days when William Cookworthy, a Plymouth apothecary, discovered kaolin at Tregonning Hill near Germoe in West Cornwall in 1746.
He wasn’t the first to find it of course – it had been used in China for thousands of years, but the desire for an equivalent ingredient to manufacture high quality porcelain in England had eluded the aristocracy for ages.
The National Trust (NT) are responsible for looking after a multitude of properties throughout the West Country, and Cotehele is without doubt one of my favourites.
The estate at Cotehele includes the Tudor House, Gardens, Mill, Estate and the Quay, and the Quay is the first thing that most people will encounter.
The Estate has been in the Edgcumbe family since 1353 when William Edgcumbe married into the de Cotehele family. Anybody who is familiar with this part of the world may well have heard about ( or been to) Mount Edgcumbe, which was the family’s main home for many years.
As you can probably imagine, Cotehele Quay would have been a hive of activity in years gone by, not just in its involvement with the local mining industry, but also with market gardening.
The lush landscape along the river valley suited the production of flowers and fruit, such as apples, strawberries and cherries, and so it’s not surprising to find limekilns on the quay. Coal from Bristol, and limestone from Plymouth, would have been brought upriver to be turned into lime for fertilising the fields.
Looe Island is just a mile offshore, but the short boat journey from the quayside at East Looe will transport you into what seems like a totally different time and place.
The island is owned and managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and access is usually only permitted by using the authorised boat that runs from Buller’s Quay. The boat runs from Easter to September, two to three hours either side of high tide, and of course, weather conditions permitting.
The boat trip costs £7 return per adult and there’s also a landing fee of £4 per adult (July 2018).