St Austell is the Cornish town that modern tourism hasn’t caught up to yet. As the county’s most populous town (slightly bigger than the bustling hub of Truro), St Austell lacks the amenities, the charm and the location to make it any sort of destination other than for the locals: rather than quaint old fishing ports there’s mountainous china clay works; rather than main roads from all angles like Truro, there’s the one tortuous main road into and out of town. Rather than charming cobbled back streets, there’s concrete façades and construction work; rather than a prime location on the river or the sea, St Austell languishes, letting the likes of Fowey and Mevagissey and various big name attractions soak up the holiday crowds; rather than exciting nightlife or cafe culture, there’s the Ozzell Bowl. There’s little to venture into the town centre for: unless you’re after charity shops.
There really is a lot of construction work about. St Austell is ploughing on with a £75million regeneration project, which is part way completed: the new White River cinema is open (the first purpose built picture palace in the county for 60 years), and there’s evening a Frankie & Benny’s opening soon; it’s all happening. As yet though, the town is all near-brutalist structures and grey, Cornish rain-lashed concrete developments surrounding the vast, ground-zero-esque building site in the centre of town. It’s to the existing town centre that we repair however, and skilfully evading hordes of chuggers and mobile phone salespeople, we make our way around.
There’s plenty of bargains to be had here, if you’re in the right mood. Under the covered walk is a PDSA, Scope and British Heart Foundation. On a grey day to match the surroundings, I left with, well, not very much – just a DVD of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There’s a touch of the same syndrome that affects many little towns with little to do: plenty of DVDs to be watched, because there’s nothing else to do.
There’s also a YMCA around, and a nice Oxfam with plenty of books and one of the olde-timey signs. That leaves a Cornwall Hospice (there’s hundreds of these around – I spotted two on they way to the town, in Par and Holmbush) and A Mt Edgecumbe Hospice, a new one on me. A nice selection of Beatrix Potters.
Though it’s not really an attractive town, and given the local attractions, not somewhere I (in my London-centric ways) would ever choose to live; for a poke around it’s quite good. There’s a little market and a semi-famous church, and it’s close to plenty of nice things. Best of all, you can have a good scour around the charity shops, as there’s plenty to be had.
Find: St Austell @ Google Maps
Consume with: Burger and something cheap from the Wetherspoons is as far as I got.
Visit: The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey is absolutely lovely, but do get to Charlestown’s big ships.
Overall rating: three cheapo box sets