Clay Trails of St Austell

Leave the traffic behind

Clay Trails sign, St Austell
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Clay Trails sign, St Austell

The clay trails allow you to leave your car behind and explore the rugged yet beautiful terrain of the Clay District. The trails are a key part of a large scale restoration programme by Imerys in partnership with English Nature to provide valuable new habitats for flora and fauna and a wonderful resource for local people and visitors.

The trails have been surfaced using recycled mining materials so that they can be used all year round by walkers, cyclists and the majority by horse riders.

The trail from Wheal Martyn to the Eden Project takes you along the Vinnick River and then a gradual climb up into clay country where the trail provides views over the disused pits glistening with turquoise waters and edged by thick vegetation that has taken hold on the steep inclines of the old tips. A visual delight at every turn. The planting of a million native broadleaf trees in this district, completed in 2008 will see many changes to the landscape as the trees mature creating woodland habitats rich in wildlife.

Waterfall in Menacuddle Woods St Austell
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Waterfall in Menacuddle Woods St Austell

The trails include the following routes:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Langmaid, a Cornish explorer and naturalist wrote an interesting piece about this area back in the 1960’s, long before the arrival of the Clay Trails.

Gover valley is very fine and wild looking. Menacuddle Valley on the White River valley from St.Austell up to Carthew contains a main road and is very picturesque on account of the beautiful woods in its lower part and the acres of Rhododendrons growing wild near the top. The streams are almost with exception rendered milky white by the discharge of waste water from the clay pits, and therefore lose much of their beauty. At one time these moors and valleys must have been quite pretty and it is almost certain that they contained numerous prehistoric remains of which there is now little trace. A tumulus survives on the stony top of Caerloggan Downs above Stenalees.

However in spite of the seemed loss occasioned by the china clay industry a certain amount has been gained. I refer to the old disused pits and burrows which nature has managed to reclaim. It takes a long time for vegetation to gain hold of their loose gravelly sides but when it does what a miracle of transformation is affected. The steep cones become like mountain tops in some East Indian Jungle, almost unclimbable because of the thickness of the growth. Gorse, Broom, Heather, Rhododendrons, Bracken,Brambles and Willow make up a luxuriant tangle as tightly held as anything in the Amazon Forest and yet typically Cornish in appearance. When the gorse is in flower these old burrows can be breathtaking in their beauty.

Clay district near Wheal Martyn Museum, photo courtesy of Imerys
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Clay district near Wheal Martyn Museum, photo courtesy of Imerys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But even better than this are the old pits, because in their steep cliff faces of rose and haft granite and mysterious pools of green water set loveliness against loneliness. To view the best of these overgrown pits it is necessary to leave the roads and sometimes fight ones’ way through the surrounding thickets.* The sides are often loose and dangerous. The edge of the water often sticky with clay, and yet I contend that these excavations man-made and adorned by nature, are some of the most unusual and exciting things to be seen in Cornwall and well worth the trouble of seeking out. On one of the faces herring gulls have discovered a novel nesting site, while at Bodelva there is a very big pool almost a lake, completely hidden, containing a tiny rocky inlet. As there are over a hundred pools,big and small, scattered over the moors, and at least as many old burrows, not to speak of other types of disused workings,such as the great gash at Garlar and the “Lost World “ above Ruddlemoor,it will be seen that within these 22 square miles of eminently explorable territory, almost unknown to the tourist, superbly unusual in character and almost unloved, except by the select few. For the naturalist or the photographer this is almost virgin territory. There must be plenty too to interest the geologist,and it is just possible that there is something left to attract an optimistic archaeologist.

Another interesting aspect is that of tracing the early industrial endeavours of the district. Carclaze Pit was once a huge open-cast workings for tin. One of the last beam engines to be working in Cornwall is at Greensplatt. Near Ruddle Moor there is the most amazing pumping contraption I have ever come across, hidden in the undergrowth and looking like a relic from the pre-steam age and what is more it is still in use. But enough! I hope I have shown that the China Clay District of central Cornwall is not completely unworthy of the attentions of the sightseer.

Written by Ken Langmaid in the 1960’s long before the arrival of the China Clay Trails so for your safety please keep to these paths!