Thursday, August 22, 2013

Charlestown, St Austell

If you're around St Austell or passing through, Charlestown is certainly worth a visit. It has visual beauty, historical interest (especially for those who have a nautical bent) and a number of good places to eat and drink.

The place was a commercial development started in 1790 by Charles Rashleigh, to cater for the export of the copper mined nearby (and later, the clay). In ten years or so the harbour, storage rooms and workers' houses were all built together out of local granite, so there is a quiet grey architectural harmony about the place.

The Rashleigh name recurs in this part of south Cornwall. The family were merchants who bought the manor of Trenant (near Fowey) when that disastrous spendthrift Henry VIII dissolved (and sold) the monasteries. This didn't do the royal finances much good, because a great part of the cash had to be used to support the people who'd been turned out; but it was a Big Bang for money-minded Protestants and their descendants' terror of losing it all again is reflected in the 1688 Bill of Rights, itself the inspiration for the American Constitution.

At any rate, in Charlestown you have the Rashleigh Arms - good for a family meal in wood/brass/carpet surroundings; the cobbled car park is a feature, though it may test your car's suspension a bit. (In nearby Polkerris there is the Rashleigh Inn, right by the beach; and the Ship Inn in Fowey also used to be a Rashleigh family property. They're all good, as it happens.) And for the younger crowd, there's a couple of dockside café/wine bars that have a more modern décor.

But our favourite is the Harbourside Inn (at the Pier House Hotel). The food is good, some of the furniture converted from oak barrels, there's a window seat if you get in early enough, and the local beers are excellent. Most of all, the ambience is friendly and unstuffy. Behind the bar is one of those people who turn their work into art; his movement and multitasking are like a kata for engaging several opponents and he clearly enjoys the buzz of business. It's a treat to watch him. Popular on the taps when we went were the disgracefully logoed (this should cure Americans of thinking the British are reserved) Cornish Knocker and Sharp's Special - both flavoursome, but Doom Bar is what the manager rightly calls a "session" ale.

Something else not to miss is the Shipwreck & Heritage Centre. Divers will be particularly interested in the section on old diving equipment, including the heavy helmeted suits and an eighteenth century precursor made out of wood, but the range of exhibits is impressive and entertaining.

It's possible to walk along the coast in either direction, to Porthpean and Polkerris and beyond. Or one could visit either and end up in Charlestown for lunch or an evening meal.

To conclude, here are a couple of Youtube videos of Charlestown and the path from Polkerris to Charlestown, beautifully shot (you may want to mute the music):

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