Cornwall is a Duchy in the extreme southwest of the UK and includes the Isles of Scilly, considered the mystical home of the legendary King Arthur. Lying west of the River Tamar border with its nearest neighbour, Devon, Cornwall is one of the more isolated and distinct parts of the United Kingdom but is one of the most popular with travellers and holiday makers.
Its relatively warm climate, long coastline, amazing scenery, and diverse Celtic heritage (combined with tales of smuggling and pirates) go only part of the way to explaining its appeal. Cornwall is increasingly becoming a popular destination for those interested in cultural tourism because its long association with visual and written arts and its enormous wealth of archaeology. Its mining heritage has recently been recognised by the United Nations (UNESCO).
Cornwall has always been fiercely proud of its Celtic identity. For many residents, their Cornish identity supersedes either their Englishness or their Britishness.
Destinations : Cities
Truro – Cornwall’s main administrative centre and its only city
Bude – excellent beaches, first class surfing and a laidback, relaxed vibe in Cornwall’s northern coast
Mevagissey – picturesque hillside fishing village
Newquay – surfing capital of the UK
Redruth – world capital of tin mining
St Columb Major
St Ives – home to a branch of the Tate Gallery
St. Just in Penwith
Davidstow – home of the famous Cheddar Cheese on the edge of Bodmin Moor
Tintagel – legendary birthplace of King Arthur and seat of the Kings of Cornwall
Veryan – Carne Beacon is one of the largest burial mounds, or ‘barrows’, in Britain.
Understand : The modern English name of the Duchy is thought to be derived from its old Celtic name, Kernou, or the Horn, from its projecting promontories. It was Latinised to Cornovia or Cornubia. The Saxons gave the name of Wealas (foreigners) to the Britons to distinguish those who had retired into Kernou or Cornubia, whom they gave the name of Cornu-wealas. The country was thus called Cornuwall or Cornwall. Cornwall is called Kernow in the Cornish language and many signs have Cornish language descriptions on them. However, everybody in Cornwall speaks English as their first language. The Cornish language is recognised internationally and has government funding, a thriving community of speakers and publishers. It is making a successful comeback, with the number of fluent speakers now increasing and being in the thousands.
Recent polls place Cornish identity amongst young people at around 40% regarding themselves as Cornish rather than English, with calls for a Cornish assembley or government by some. Some might take offense to being called English, but most will take it in good jest. A common, somewhat derogatory term for tourists is emmet, a Cornish dialect word meaning ant (as they tend to swarm everywhere). The Cornish word for ant is actually murrian. Be aware of locals recommending “Porthemmet Beach”. This hoax simply means ‘tourist beach’, and it does not exist.
The Cornish have several patron saints rather than those recognised in other parts of the United Kingdom (Andrew, George, David etc) but the preeminent one is Saint Piran, whose flag, black with a white cross, can be seen all across Cornwall. It is flown from not only private homes but also government and public buildings as well as in most towns. Saint Piran’s Day is widely celebrated on March 5 not only in Cornwall but also in the Cornish diaspora across the globe. The stereotype of the Cornish as ‘inbred’ and ‘backward’ is a misconception and, if repeated to a local, is likely to cause embrassement and offence (and perhaps a smack). Cornwall is generally quite ethnically homogenous in comparison to most areas of the UK, and Cornish people tend to hold onto traditional morals and lifestyles. They are also more conservative than the UK and are very patriotic.
Cornwall has a strong Protestant heritage, where Methodism is the main denomination. Nearly every village has at least one Methodist church: some small villages have more than one Methodist church and no church from any other denomination. It iscommon to be driving along a backroad and find a Methodist church in the middle of nowhere, with settlements in the vacinity other than a tiny hamlet witha couple of houses, still holding regular Sunday services with a good attendance.
Cornwall was a contributor to the Industrial Revolution, particularly for its tin mining, and has produced major writers, artists, scientists and musicians to current times. The Cornish are extremely proud of their history and heritage predating the arrival of the English Anglo-Saxons in Britain, and many Cornish people are loyal to Cornwall. You may even see some Cornish people wearing kilts and playing Cornish pipes at cultural and other gatherings, and Cornwall is recognised as a separate nation by many international organisations. One such popular organisation is Gorsedh Kernow and is aimed at promoting Cornish culture and festivals such as Gorsedd.
Access : Coordinates: 50.3, -4.9 / By train : Rail services to Cornwall run along the Cornish Main Line to Penzance in the far south-west of the county, calling at several Cornish destinations (including Liskeard, St Austell, Truro, Redruth, Camborne and Hayle) along the way.
There are eight trains per day (operated by Great Western Railway) from London Paddington to Penzance via Reading, Exeter and Plymouth, taking around 5 hours 30 minutes. CrossCountry runs services to Penzance from the Midlands (e.g. Birmingham), the North (Manchester, Newcastle) and Scotland. Great Western Railway runs additional services to Penzance from Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Exeter and Bristol.
Newquay, Falmouth, St Ives and Looe are connected to the Cornish Main Line through local branch lines. On summer weekends, Great Western Railway and CrossCountry operate direct long-distance services to Newquay.
By car : Cornwall can be accessed by road via the A30 which starts at the end of the M5 at Exeter. Cornwall can also be accessed from the A38, crossing the Tamar River at Plymouth via the Tamar Bridge. From London, it is a 5-6 h drive. On Saturdays in July and August and the Easter bank holiday, weekend roads can be busy, but a new 7 mi stretch of dual carriageway at Goss Moor, near Bodmin, has helped to alleviate many of the long tail backs.
By coach : Cornwall is served well by National Express coach services from London Victoria Coach Station (4 a day, taking 9 hours ). National Express also run 1 daily coach service each from Glasgow via Edinburgh (taking 18 hours), Nottingham via Birmingham, and Eastbourne via Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton . Megabus also run a daily service, taking 8 h from London Victoria Coach Station to Penzance and stopping at a few major towns in Cornwall. With ticket prices from £1, it is a very cheap option. The coaches are relatively comfortable, but expect them to be pretty much full so book early.
Get around : Several bus companies operate in Cornwall, the main one being First Bus. Great Western Railway and CrossCountry operate regular train services between the main centres of population. For train times and fares, visit National Rail Enquiries. The Isles of Scilly are accessible by ferry from Penzance, or by air from Newquay and Land’s End.
Highlights : Cornwall boasts a large number of attractions for the traveller, many lying outside of cities and towns amidst the Cornish landscape:
- Bude With a decent Atlantic swell, superb surfing on Bude’s excellent beaches such as Summerleaze as well as nearby Widemouth bay and Crackington Haven. Smaller, friendlier, more laid back and less pretentious than its neighbours such as Padstow and Newquay, Bude has a mellow, relaxed feel that reflects its surfing heritage and culture. Good facilities too.
- Bodmin Moor Within the 208sq kilometres of the Moor, is King Arthur’s Hall, a megalithic monument and Brown Willy, the highest point in Cornwall at 417 m (1,368 ft). Dozmary Pool is a small beautiful lake, linked with the Arthurian Legend. There is also a reputed Beast of the Moor, a phantom wild cat that haunts and stalks at night, similar in fantasy to the Loch Ness Monster.
- The Eden Project . Open Every day all year except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 9AM 6PM (Last entry 4:30PM). near St Austell – a fabulous collection of flora from all over the planet housed in two ‘space age’ transparent domes.
- Land’s End – The extreme South-West, where Britain meets the Atlantic head on.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan – 80 ac of stunning landscaped scenery with a huge complex of walled flower and vegetable gardens
- Tintagel Castle – The legendary birthplace of the legendary King Arthur and seat of the kings of Cornwall. Earl Richard of Cornwall and King of the Romans built the present medieval castle at the site. Ongoing excavations are revealing a Cornish royal seat of the period 400 to 700 AD.
- Minack Theatre – A outdoor theatre built, by hand, into the side of cliff over looking the ocean. Near the village of Porthcurno, the theatre includes a museum and offers tours when there are no performances.
- The Tate St Ives – One of the four Tate galleries in the UK with modern art.
- The National Maritime Museum Falmouth – Home of the National Maritime Museum’s small boat collection and other exhibits.
- Penlee House – Home of the famous Newlyn School of Art.
Pencarrow House and Gardens A large house near Wadebridge built in 1760 with extensive gardens.
- Prideaux Place – A large house near Padstow, Lanhydrock – near Bodmin.
- Theme parks : Cornwall’s Crealy Great Adventure Park, Crealy Great Adventure Park, Tredinnick, Wadebridge, Cornwall, PL27 7RA. Great family days out at Cornwall’s top theme park.
- Polperro : a small picturesque town on the southern coast of Cornwall,Its geographical location on the attractive coast and the visit of popular figures make it an attractive summer destination.
- Cornish World . Combining shopping and leisure. Browse and shop at Cornish Market World while the children play at Kidzworld, Charlie’s offers fun for young adults and The Kids’ Academy is an Ofsted-approved nursery, preschool and holiday club.
- Perranport Beach : The five-kilometer territory, surrounded by rocks, is covered with fine light sand and stone blocks of various shapes and sizes.
National Trust Properties :
St Michael’s Mount – Marazion, near Penzance
Cotehele – St Dominick, near Saltash.
Godrevy – Gwithian, bear Hayle, a stunning mix of long sandy beaches, high cliffs, and smugglers coves.
Lanyon Quoit – southeast of Morvah
Trerice near Newquay.
Cornish Mines and Engines – Near Redruth.
Tintagel Old Post Office – Tintagel.
The Hurlers (Cornish: Hr Carwynnen) are a group of three stone circles in Cornwall, similar to but smaller than Stonehenge. The site is 0.5 mi (0.8 km) west of the village of Minions on the eastern flank of Bodmin Moor, and approximately 4 mi (6 km) north of Liskeard. Each stellar alignment was given with tabulated declinations, at a date some time in between the range of 2100 to 1500 BC!
Activities : The South West Coast Path runs along the coastline of Britain’s south-west peninsula. The Cornish section is supposed to be the most scenic, particularly around Penwith and the Lizard. The trail takes walkers to busy towns, remote cliffs, beaches, heaths, farms and fishing villages. Walking along it is a great way to experience the region in all its variety.
The Camel Trail – An 18 mi off-road cycle-track following the scenic estuary of the river Camel.
Cornish Film Festival is held annually each November around Newquay.
Coasteering: Cornwall has many providers for what is the UK’s fastest growing adventure activity. Grab a helmet, a wetsuit and prepare yourself as you swim, scramble and cliff-jump your way along stunning sections of the Cornish coast. There are many providers throughout the county.
Rock climbing – Some of the best rock climbing in the UK is found in Cornwall. From the stunning granite of West Cornwall to the treacherous sandstone of North Cornwall’s Culm Coast, climbers have been attracted here for over a hundred years. Famous visiting climbers include George Mallory. There are many providers county-wide.
Festivals : Note these festivals tend to not be public holidays, and not all are celebrated fully across Cornwall.
AberFest, a Celtic cultural festival celebrating “all things” Cornish and Breton that takes place every two years in Cornwall at Easter. The AberFest Festival alternates with the Breizh-Kernow Festival held in Brandivy and Bignan in (Breizh/Bretagne, France) on the alternate years.
Allantide (Cornish Kalan Gwav or Nos Kalan Gwav), a Cornish festival that was traditionally celebrated on 31 October elsewhere. Many of the Allantide traditions are celebrated in Penzance as part of the town’s Apple Day celebrations that take place in late October. Bobbing for apples is traditional, and candy Gilliflower apples has become a recent edition for the kids.
Chewidden Thursday, a festival celebrated by the tin miners of West Cornwall on the last clear Thursday before (at least one week before) Christmas.
Furry Dance, also known as The Flora, takes place in Helston, one of the oldest British customs still practised today. The dance is very well attended every year and people travel from all over the world to see it.
Golowan – (sometimes also Goluan or Gol-Jowan), The Cornish language word for the Midsummer celebrations, which were widespread prior to the late 19th century and most popular in the Penwith area and in particular Penzance and Newlyn. The celebrations are conducted from 23 June (St John’s Eve) to 28 June (St Peter’s Eve) each year, St Peter’s Eve being the more popular in Cornish fishing communities. The celebrations are centred on the lighting of bonfires and fireworks and the performance of associated rituals, and it has seen a resurgence with the neopagan movement. Some towns have a street parade during this period.
Guldize, an ancient harvest festival in Autumn, which involved the ‘crying of the neck’ ritual, where there would be chanting in the corn field. A revived Guldize celebration has been held in Penzance and several other locations across Cornwall.
Montol Festival, an annual heritage, arts and community festival in Penzance held between 16 and 22 December each year
Mummer’s Day or “Darkie Day” as it is sometimes known, is an ancient Cornish midwinter celebration that occurs every year on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day in Padstow. Now considered somewhat politically incorrect, as people will paint themselves black.
Nickanan Night, traditionally held on the Monday before Lent and sometimes called roguery night in West Cornwall, this event is an excuse for local youths to undertake acts of minor vandalism and play practical jokes on neighbours and family. The name Nickanan may come from the practice of knocking on doors and running away which is known as ‘Nick Nack’ in some parts of English speaking world. The eating of pea soup and salt bacon is also associated with this date.
Noze looan is a style of Cornish-Celtic dance, and associated music and events similar to the Breton Fest, Noz. Noze Looan is Late Cornish for “happy night”.
‘Obby ‘Oss – held annually on May Day (1 May), mainly in Padstow, where there is large marching bands and traditional music. Attracts large crowds so show up early.
Royal Cornwall Show is an agricultural show organised by The Royal Cornwall Agricultural Association that takes place at the beginning of June each year, at Wadebridge in North Cornwall. The show lasts for three days and attracts approximately 120,000 visitors annually, making it one of Cornwall’s major tourist attractions.
Picrous Day is celebrated by the tin miners of Cornwall on the second Thursday before Christmas. Luxulyan hosts a particular big party.
Shrove Tuesday Hurling – “Cornish hurling” or “silverball” (Cornish: Hyrlian) is a medieval game once common throughout Cornwall but now played onlyin St Columb (Major) and St Ives. The St Columb’s game takes place first on Pancake Day (usually in February) and then again on the Saturday eleven days later. The game involves two teams of several hundred people (the ‘townsmen’ and the ‘countrymen’) who endeavour to carry a silver ball made of apple wood to goals set roughly 2 mi (3 km) apart, making the parish the largest pitch for a ball game anywhere in the world. The annual St. Ives hurling match happens on Feast Monday each February (the feast is on the Sunday nearest to February 3). Hurling also survives as a traditional part of Beating the bounds at Bodmin, played on the Moor in years ending with a 0 or a 5.
St Piran’s Day – (Cornish: Gool Peran) The national day of Cornwall, held on 5 March every year. There is large parties widespread across the whole of Cornwall, with people dressing in the black, white and silver national colours. St. Piran’s flag represents Cornwall and is the patron saint of tinminers, the largest traditional industry of the county.
Tom Bawcock’s Eve – O. 23 December, stargazey pies are traditionally consumed. In mythology, pies were seen bizarrarely as the reason that the devil stayed out of Cornwall.
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