Fowey & St Austell – Cornwall
On this stretch of Cornwall’s south coast, there are hidden smugglers’ coves and the beautiful river Fowey weaves its way through secluded and forested creeks. Further inland, the lunar landscape near St Austell – the ‘Cornish Alps’ – features dramatic white peaks and turquoise lagoons.
China clay brought wealth and prosperity to this area in the 19th century, when deposits of white silica enabled porcelain to be manufactured in the UK, rather than imported from China. While a few pits remain active, most are now abandoned and the extraordinary man-made landscape, punctuated by volcano-shaped peaks and lakes of iridescent blue, has been returned to nature. The lagoons, with water the colour of alpine lakes, are deep and steep-sided but wonderful places for wild swimming. While access is not encouraged and some lakes are periodically fenced off, many are enjoyed informally by locals through the summer. Even better, they are now connected by miles of new cycle trails (Clay Trails) which extend through wild heathland and are filled with spring bird song and summer butterflies.
More relics of the past can be found around St Austell. The old mining valleys of Luxulyan and Tregarsus, with their overgrown ruins and rusted machinery, are richly atmospheric. Or the adventurous might like to climb up the iron ladder to the top of Roche rock with its the ruined chapel, perched precipitously on a high granite outcrop in open moorland.
Just to the east, the valley of the river Fowey offers a gentler experience. Holidays spent around the wooded tidal creeks here are said to have inspired Kenneth Grahame when he was writing The Wind in the Willows. For a magical experience, explore the creeks by canoe, or stroll along quiet woodland footpaths between St Winnow and Lerryn, and around Pont Pill.
West of Fowey are the coves where writer Daphne du Maurier loved to swim, and which inspired her great romatic novel Rebecca. Heading east, the coast is wilder and has a long association with smuggling. From beautiful Lansallos, a wooded glade leads to a tiny beach with a smugglers’ passage, complete with cart tracks worn into the stone. Or you can swim from adjacent Palace Cove and admire its old ‘quay’ hewn straight from the rocks.