The main reason for visiting the otherwise fairly unexciting town of ST AUSTELL is for access to the spectacular Eden Project. Housed in a disused china clay quarry 4 miles out of town, the hugely popular "green theme park" explores humandkind's relationship with plants and is Cornwall's biggest attraction. St Austell's nearest link to the sea is at Charlestown, an easy downhill walk from the centre of town. This unspoilt port is still used for china clay shipments, and provides a backdrop for the location filming that frequently takes place here.
It was the discovery of china clay, or kaolin, in the downs to the north of St Austell Bay that spurred the area's growth in the eighteenth century. An essential ingredient in the production of porcelain, kaolin had until then only been produced in northern China. Still a vital part of Cornwall's economy, the clay is now mostly exported for use in the manufacture of paper, as well as paint and medicines. The conical spoil heaps left by the mines are a feature of the local landscape, the great green and white mounds making an eerie sight.