While tin and copper were the minerals that fuelled Cornwall's great industrial heyday during the 19th century, in the area around St Austell it was china clay – or 'white gold', as it was colloquially known. This chalky resource is vital for many industries, from paper-making to porcelain manufacture, and the quality of the clay around St Austell is considered some of the finest on the planet. The effect of this mighty industry can still clearly be seen around St Austell – most notably in the strange landscape of spiky hills and mineral pools known hereabouts as the 'Cornish Alps'.
Sadly, St Austell itself hasn't fared well from industrial decline, and the town centre is looking decidedly down in the dumps (and that’s even after the multimillion-pound redevelopment of its town centre). Nevertheless, it’s a handy spot for shopping and supplies before further explorations along the southeast coast.