Cornwall is the iconic seaside holiday destination for most British people and exerts a similar magnetism on visitors to the UK. From the traditional harbours of its ancient fishing villages to the iconic eco-tourism of the Eden Project. Look down upon the incredible landscape from the pinnacle of a moorland tor, or survey the dramatic Atlantic shoreline from the South West Coast Path, which meanders some 310 miles (500km) around the somewhat crinkly coastal topography of the Duchy.
As well as its famous surf, beaches and cliffs, Poldark country is renowned for its wild moors, attractive picture-postcard villages, the many signposts bearing words in the original Kernow tongue, and a climate that belies its close proximity to Britain. Much of the county is protected, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Kernow is also a major destination for eco-tourism, adventure sports/tourism, foodies, art-lovers and more.
The English name for Cornwall probably comes from two different linguistic sources. The Romans may have called the Celtic tribes west of the Tamar the Cornovii though historical mentions of this are few. Whether this was influenced by the local language (the place is called Kernow, and the word for Cornish is Kernewek), or the Latin word corn meaning horn, is difficult to say. Chicken and egg kind of situation. The second bit, -wall comes to us from the Old English language – walh meaning foreigner or outsider. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 891 refers to On Corn walum. In the Domesday Book, it was called Cornualia and later Cornwal. Cornuvia and Cornubia also crop up in various medieval texts – but in those times people played fast and loose with both letters and pronunciation, so it’s not worth getting too hung up on! Cornwall is one of only a handful of places in Britain (London, Edinburgh, and Dover are other examples) to have a different version of their name in the French language – Cornouailles. Make of that what you will.
Geology and Geography
If you think of Great Britain as a boot, with its toe pointing west and London somewhere near the heel, then Cornwall is the toe part of the footwear that you are visualising. In more grown-up speak, it forms the westernmost part of the south-west peninsula, its underlying structure being what geologists call the Cornubian batholith – a vast subterranean structure of granite running down the spine of the counties. This exposes itself above the surface of the land in many places (think moors and tors), and continues out into the sea for 100 miles (160km), including the last visible outcrop, the Isles of Scilly. The county faces the Celtic Sea to the north, the English Channel to the south, and the River Tamar/Devon border to the east. The resident population is about 532,000 and there are many large towns, of which St Austell actually is the biggest with a population even greater than that of the only city, Truro.
Cornwall was first inhabited in the early phase of the Stone Age, but we’re only talking about anatomically modern humans/Neanderthals here. Actual Homo Sapiens didn’t turn up until about 75,000 years ago. In the Neolithic period (kind of advanced stone age) Cornwall was occupied by peoples who though loosely classed as Britons, have most distinct cultural similarities to those found in the other “Celtic” regions – Brittany, Wales and Scotland – around ten centuries ago.
Although people lived here during the Roman occupation (43-410AD) there is negligible evidence of Roman influence west of Exeter and few Roman remains have ever been found. There are a number of places (Roman fort Calstock, Romano-British settlement Brea Hill) that sound as if they are Roman, but this refers to things that existed during Roman times, not that the Romans made or owned them. Indeed, in Cornwall and much of Devon, Roman “acculturation” was minimal or non-existent. The accepted view is that the Romans viewed the Tamar River as a major geographical and strategic barrier and the natural resources to the west of it either negligible or easily tradeable. It just wasn’t worth the investment of pushing on into Kernow.
In 936AD King Athelstan of Wessex set the boundary between English and Cornish at the high water mark of the eastern bank of the River Tamar, presumably for similar reasons. There are a whole bunch of legends of King Arthur associated with Cornwall, particularly in Tintagel and the surrounding area, and fans of Arthurian stuff can find many museums and attractions associated with the perhaps, or perhaps not, mythical King. Cornish/Welsh/Breton-like language and culture was apparently shared though trading across both sides of the Channel and the Severn.
Historically, mining was important in the Cornish economy. Tin was increasingly significant during the Middle Ages and later on, in the 18/19th centuries, copper. In the mid to late 19th century, the tin and copper mines went into a period of decline. Arsenic, manganese and silver were all discovered and dabbled with, but china clay extraction became more important and the mining of metals effectively ended in the 20th century, even with much more effective modern technologies. There are still functional mines in Cornwall, however, and many historic mines have been turned into tourist attractions, showcasing the lives of the miners in years gone by.
Originally, fishing, particularly of pilchards, and farming of dairy, vegetables and flowers were most important sectors of the Cornish economy. Railways came to the region in the 1800s and helped to drive an “export” market to the rest of the UK, and helped the growth of tourism in the 20th century. All of these economies still exist, although pilchards are not the important part of the diet that they once were and we probably export more pasties!
But Cornwall’s economy did falter after the decline of the mining and fishing industries, and it is only since the prevalence of automobiles and cheap flights and finally the internet, with the resulting massive surge of tourism, including international visitors, that the traditional tourist industry that existed since Victorian times has burgeoned into something inclusive and far reaching.
Cornwall/Kernow is the traditional land of the Cornish/Kernewek people and as such widely recognised as one of the Celtic nations. Despite not technically being a country in its own right. Whatever. To many of its inhabitants, it is a separate nation with a unique cultural identity which reflects that.
On 24 April 2014 the Cornish people were granted minority status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. This means that the UK government formally recognises the distinct cultural identity of the Cornish people. However, to many Kernow folk this does not go far enough. Many seek to question the constitutional status of the area as a part of the UK, and the nationalist movement with its political party Mebyon Kernow ultimately seeks autonomy in the form of a devolved assembly or Cornish Parliament.
Cornwall is, of course, noted first and foremost for its beaches. There are over three hundred of them to choose from, many of them dog-friendly all the year round, and some just either side of the summer season. From secret coves to wide expanses of golden sand, surf spots and gentle bathing beaches, nowhere else in the UK offers the range and accessibility of seaside attractions that Kernow can. Every beach tested for water quality by the Marine Conservation Society in 2014 passed the test, and over ninety per cent of them scored the highest marks available.
From Cornwall’s national bird, the wild chough, through the myriad hedgerow creatures that the mild climate enjoys, to some of the most diverse and impressive sea-life to be found anywhere in Europe, Cornwall never fails to please the animal lover. There is a huge range of dog-friendly places to stay, to walk and to play, as long as dog owners are responsible enough to control their own animals in the presence of livestock and wildlife.
From the Sea
Part of the allure of Cornwall being the diversity of its sea life, it’s no surprise that the range of fresh from the sea cuisine is equally impressive. There are many sustainable fish restaurants serving everything from the ubiquitous fish ‘n’ chips to the best in fine dining, and many of the fish on offer are indigenous or even unique to Cornish shores.
From the Land
Though you might not see them every day in British supermarkets, Cornish beef and lamb are highly regarded and sought after far and wide. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried hay smoked Cornish lamb, or a Cornish surf and turf. Poultry, too – the Cornish Cross Rock chicken, often known simply as Cornish X, is one of the best meat producing birds around. Cornish towns often have sustainable and organic restaurants specialising in serving these exceptional local products. Most famous of course is the Cornish pasty, a meal in its own right, which has become one of the county’s best-loved exports.
Cornwall is a popular destination for anglers and fishermen of all kinds. With three hundred miles of coastline, the Duchy is clearly a place for sea fishing, from mackerel to bass to shark. But inland anglers also find trout, salmon and a whole range of coarse fish to pursue. There are a number of coarse and fly fishing lakes, as well as steep, shallow rivers and deeper, meandering estuaries. Charter boats abound to take you to rocks or wrecks offshore and the beach casting, where approved, is second to none.
From ancient stone circles to gorse moors, fields of lavender to golden sand, Cornwall is a place of outstanding views, colour and texture that rewards photographers of all abilities. Dolphin, seals and basking sharks reveal themselves beyond the surf, and the windswept cliffs have become a photographic icon.
Arts & Cutlure
The art scene in Cornwall is alive and well, particularly in St Ives where we have the Tate St Ives and many smaller boutique galleries to boot. Many painters flock to the region because of the favourable weather and a certain quality of the light that has become almost mythical but brings artists of all kind to Cornwall year after year.
The Duchy is also blessed with a rich literary heritage. From Daphne du Maurier to Rosamunde Pilcher, the legacy of Cornwall’s great writers and stories is everywhere, not least in the extraordinary number of bookshops.
From Cornish pasties to Cornish wrestling, Celtic bagpipes to Mummer’s Day, gig racing, Euchre and guising, there’s more to Cornwall than surfing and legends of King Arthur. The county also has an astonishing number of museums and exhibitions of every imaginable kind.
While there’s a lot of traditional Cornish music, it’s festivals like the Looe Music Festival and gigs like the Eden Sessions that get the most feet through the door. And of course, many successful musicians choose to make their homes here, from Queen’s Roger Taylor to American singer/songwriter Tori Amos.
Film and TV
Blockbuster films like Blue Juice, Pirates Of The Caribbean (On Stranger Tides), Bond films, World War Z, Alice In Wonderland. TV shows including Poldark and Doc Martin. Cornwall’s blue seas, unusually reliable weather and unspoilt landscape, together with historic villages and harbours, all combine to make it one of the most sought after locations in the UK for film-makers. The fact that the county also boasts such a variety of quality accommodation for scouts, cast and crew can’t do any harm, either!
Cornwall has a world famous open-air theatre, The Minack, carved as if by giants into the granite cliff amongst beautiful gardens overlooking the stunning sweep of Porthcurno Bay. But there are also more traditional theatres for performances of all kinds, like the Redannick Theatre, the Burrell, and the Hall For Cornwall, all in Truro. Cornish theatre company the Kneehigh tour throughout the south-west of the UK and internationally.
Cornish Traditional Cottages
Cornish Traditional Cottages is devoted to providing quality self-catering holiday accommodation to rent, both traditional and modern, large or small. All are in exceptional locations throughout Cornwall. With over 51 years experience and more than 250 hand-picked and personally inspected properties to share with you, we aim to ensure you find that perfect holiday home.