Cornwall: England's most south-westerly county

by frankbeswick

Cornwall is a land here a jagged coast meets the ocean, and is a place with a unique character.

I think that it would be hard to tire of Cornwall, for its coast is replete with small coves [bays] each of which has its own character. Often sited in these coves are small villages from which fisherman used to sally out to scoop up shoals of sardines and a wide variety of other kinds of fish. On the cliffs above the ocean you can still see the remains of engine houses, which drove the giant pumps that kept the tin mines dry. There is also the Celtic identity of a land that is in England, but whose inhabitants often refuse to be called English.A great place to visit.

Image courtesy of Sharpshot

The Fourth Identity

Most people are aware that the island of Britain is home to three ancient identities, English, Scots and Welsh,  each with its own cultural traditions, language and flag. But fewer know that recently there was a successful campaign to add a  fourth identity, Cornish. The inhabitants of Cornwall have long been aware that they are distinct from the English, and many refuse to call themselves English, preferring the term Cornish. As you can see in the thumbnail above the Cornish identity has its own flag, the cross of St Pirran, and there have recently been successful moves to resurrect the Cornish language as a cultural resource. The language, a Celtic tongue,is  spoken as a  second tongue by some people and is distinct from both Welsh and Irish. 

Cornwall was a Celtic kingdom distinct from Wales that came to be dominated by England in the tenth century. Under the Normans it was a crown possession distinct from England, but which was eventually absorbed into England for administrative  reasons.  

The county is replete with archaeological sites, such as dolmens [remnants of stone tombs] and stone circles. These reflect the ancient Celtic culture of the county. There are many abandoned tin mines, for mining reaches back into the depths of Cornish history. The ancient Phoenicians even made the long and dangerous journey from Lebanon into the Atlantic to the place that they called the Cassiterides, the Tin Isles, to purchase this metal essential to smelting bronze. The last mine eventually closed in 1983 though there is a possibility of their re-opening to exploit rare earths. You can still see the giant granite engine houses that contained the engines that kept the massive machines used to pump the water from the mines. So essential to the Cornish identity was mining that it used to be said that a mine is a hole in the ground with a Cornishman in it. 

There is a thriving agricultural economy based very much on beef and dairy cattle, and in recent years the Cornish apple industry has developed with the production of craft ciders, often with one farm as their source, which gives each cider a distinct character. Fishing is not as strong as it was, but the industry still survives, and the famous chef Rick Stein has a very well-regarded sea food restaurant in Padstow on the south coast. 

The Norman castle of Tintagel, a ruin overlooking the sea, was linked in Cornish myth with the legend of king Arthur, but that is all it is, a legend. I believe that there was a real Arthur, but he was from North Wales.  


The Cornish Coast

Cornish Coast
Cornish Coast

Some Cornish Attractions

I can only give a brief sample of the attractions of Cornwall. One of these is "The Lost Gardens of Heligan," which is off the south coast. Heligan had been one of the greatest gardens in England, but by the 1970s the stately home to which it belonged had been sold off and turned into apartments, and the once beautiful gardens had decayed into a weedy jungle. When Tim Smit set out to explore the ruined  garden prior to his restoration he found a clue to why the gardens had decayed, for the gardeners' names he founds scrawled as graffiti in the ruined toilet building were the names that he had previously seen on the local cenotaph. Eighteen out of twenty two gardeners had perished in World War One, and the financially and emotionally damaged owners had given up hope. Tim began a massive project of restoration and now Heligan is a beautiful garden once again that runs as far as possible as it did in its heyday. I have visited it once and to wander through its revived grounds is to walk through a botanical heaven.. 

Tim was later to move on to the Eden Project, which I have also visited. This was the creation of several giant biomes using the site of an abandoned china clay pit for support. The biomes display plants of all sizes  from across the globe and are a wonderful experience for the visitor. Prepare to be awestruck by the combination of horticulture and engineering. The biomes are so large that the project employs rock climbers as window cleaners, and these people abseil down and clean the panes as they go!

Another attraction is St Michael's Mount, which I visited this year. It is the castle of Lord St Leven situated on an island in Mount Bay and accessed by a causeway accessible only at low tide. This year I had hoped to take the boat across as a novelty, but the wind was blowing from the south east, and no Cornish boatman likes to go out when the wind is from that direction. The castle now is in the hands of the National Trust. You enter and climb up a stony path to the keep, where you can then wander through the living quarters and see antique furniture and weapons. There is  also a chapel, which I enjoyed visiting. This island castle was essential as a defence against the North African Barbary pirates, who raided and enslaved along that coastline until the British navy suppressed them. The views from the castle's ramparts are wide and impressive.      


Heligan Gardens
Heligan Gardens

Eden Project

The Eden Project Biomes
The Eden Project Biomes

St Michael's Mount

St Michael's Mount
St Michael's Mount

Walking in Cornwall

There is plenty of space for walkers to wander along country lanes with the traditionally high, earth-banked Cornish hedges. I can recall walking down one at night between the dark hedges with their high trees and seeing swarms of  bats flitting around me. All this on a warm night lit by   a silvery moon. A magical experience. 

Several of Cornwall's rivers arise from Bodmin Moor,a granite pluton that has sprung from a batholith deep below Cornwall. There is much walking on the moor with walkers being able to climb to the summits of the tors, rocky granite protuberances that stand above the landscape. There is a variety of well-marked routes across the moor, but as a general rule walkers should stick to well defined paths, as the moor can be quite boggy. The wide vistas of  moorland with its tough grasses swaying  in  the wind are a taste of wilderness that can be enjoyed along with the music of the wind, the call of the curlew and snipe and the churring of the grouse,  all to the background of the deep silence of nature. 

The coast provides many walks. I can recall one day walking from Fowey to Polperro. Fowey [pronounced foy]is at the mouth of the river Fowey which has surged down from Bodmin Moor, and Polperro is a popular fishing village now a tourist  attraction. We had walked down from our cottage and begun the route at Polruan, walking eastwards along the coast above the cliffs. We met few people and could enjoy the peace of nature. To our right cliffs tumbled down to the sea and at places we spotted the occasional seal basking on the beach in an inaccessible cove. We skirted a herd of cattle, as neither of us was particularly keen on getting jostled by  a beast weighing several hundredweights, but they were tame. The route is about seven miles  along a path that rises and falls above the cliffs. We did not talk much, but shared enjoyment of nature in mutual silence, stopping once to break open the lunch pack, which was ham sandwiches, crisps,a chocolate bar and a banana, washed down with bottled water. 

We eventually descended to Polperro, a place full of character and well worth seeing, with droves of tourists thronging the shops and cafes. I am very British, I like my cup of tea, so we found a pleasant cafe near the harbour and took tea and cake. I chose my favourite, Earl Grey tea, and had a cream cake. After that we took the bus back to Fowey and returned on foot to our holiday cottage, The end of a pleasant walk. 

Updated: 05/28/2018, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 05/30/2018

One little known fact is that there used to be a language spoken in South East Ireland known as Ivernic, which was said to be related to British Celtic. By the time of the early Celtic saints this language had become extinct. Could this have been a missing link between Welsh and Irish?

Veronica on 05/30/2018

I am not really surprised by this. Welsh isn't standardised as a language as such. My husband tried to learn it when our son was at University in Wales and he was astonished at how locational the Welsh language is - different for each area. IT will be hard to standardise Welsh. Dutch used to be like that but is more standardised now. I would expect therefore that Cornish would be more similar to Irish than Welsh.

frankbeswick on 05/30/2018

I was struck by the fact that Cornish has some affinities with Irish, even though there was no Irish settlement there and in fact, according to the tale of Tristran in the Matter of Britain, relationships between Cornish and Leinstermen were often hostile. Take an example, while the Welsh for "the" is yr, Cornish and Irish both use "an"I remember seeing a set of Cornish possessive adjectives, and they were similar to the Irish prepositional pronouns used for possession.

Veronica on 05/30/2018

There are calls for Cornish to be more widely spoken in the area.

frankbeswick on 05/29/2018

Coincidentally, the Gower was on television tonight for a few minutes. So Emma has found some beauty in Swansea, which is an industrial port city. Commendable

frankbeswick on 05/29/2018

Take a look at the map above and find Exeter. Everywhere west of Exeter and between the Bristol Channel to the north and the English channel to the south is Cornwall. The area contains just over 556000 people, some of them incomers, but many native Cornish. Cornwall is a county, not the largest English county, but big enough.

dustytoes on 05/29/2018

That's the way to do it Frank. Real experience can't be beat and makes the story genuine. Emma Cownie, the artist, has mentioned the Gower coastline and Mumbles and also Swansea. Her paintings are beautiful and full of color.

blackspanielgallery on 05/29/2018

Of what size is this group that has its own identity? Is the area nation size, city size, of something between?

frankbeswick on 05/29/2018

Thanks. Your artist has probably been walking in Carmarthenshire, which is a very rural county, and/or Pembrokeshire, a lovely county which contains Britain's only coastal national park . I have visited Pembrokeshire and loved it. Also Monmouthshire is a possibility, though that beautiful county is more linked with the River Severn than the sea, but it is a lovely place

I only write about places that I have visited, even though I augment my knowledge by research, so there might be an article on Pembrokeshire in the pipeline, but not soon, as my exam marking job begins this coming Sunday and lasts for three weeks. I maintain this rule because the experiences that you read must be genuine. If I invite the reader on an imaginary walk the experiences are drawn from my own walks in real places.

dustytoes on 05/29/2018

The more I read about your beautiful country the more I'd love to visit. I follow an artist who writes about her hikes along the southern coast of Wales, which inspires her to paint. Between the two of you I am ready to fly over for a visit! An astounding number of towns in New England have names taken from your area as well. I only now realize just how many by looking closely at the map of the UK.
The photos you included are so gorgeous.

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