Cornwall, a county of outstanding natural beauty that no amount of commercialism can distract from, is most easily introduced by means of artificial division.
The south-east Cornish coastline contains the county's grandest harbours, formed by rising sea levels drowning river valleys. The Fal estuary is a yachting haven as well as a deep water harbour accommodating merchant shipping; flanked by Pendennis and St Mawes Castles the whole ensemble is splendidly dramatic and best viewed from the sea. Fowey harbour is more enclosed and picturesque and perhaps therefore more Cornish to the eye; the south-east coastline overall is gentler in character than the west and north of the county. While old smuggler's coves and legendary pirate villages are now in short supply, Polperro and Mevagissey are colourful examples of working fishing villages with fishing trips and scenic boat excursions on offer.
The mild, sub-tropical climate of this region has led to it being referred to as the ‘Cornish Riviera', most especially around Falmouth and Truro. Because of these prevailing conditions this area is renowned for its extraordinary landscaped gardens, many exhibiting exotic flora and fauna. The most famous perhaps are the enchanting ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan', a 57-acre Victorian garden now restored after 70 years in the wilderness, and the dramatic hanging woods of Trelissick Gardens. Inland, and at odds with all around it, is the eerie brilliant-white lunar landscape created by the china-clay works at Hensbarrow Downs. By contrast, dotted around this region are palatial country houses such as at Lanhydrock, Anthony and Cotehole.
North Cornwall couldn't be more different with its rugged, wild and highly impressive coastline, where white-crested Atlantic rollers tear incessantly at the shore; occasional easy access to stretches of beach is had between dark jagged headlands, as at Bude. Despite the scenery around Newquay being much commercialised, the lengthy stretch of coastline running from the Camel estuary to St Agnes includes a sequence of excellent bathing and surfing beaches. A lack of sheltered harbours on this wind-buffeted coast has resulted in a mere handful of ports developing, the most attractive being Port Isaac, Boscastle and Padstow. Arthurian references abound in Cornwall, particularly here around the shattered remains of Tintagel Castle - perched precariously on its ragged headland it dares visitors to walk on its wildside. Inland, the scenery is no less dramatic across the wind-scarred swathes of Bodmin Moor, with its high tors, neolithic henges and spectacularly twisted granite formations. Architecturally, north Cornwall is graced with a number of superb country churches, the most rewarding being at Morwenstow, Launceston and Bodmin.
West Cornwall comprises two peninsulas, both with extraordinary coastlines and steeped in ancient legends of shipwrecks, smugglers and the bizarre subterranean world of tin miners. The Penwith peninsula provides mainland England's most westerly point, appropriately named Land's End, where the famous granite mass tumbles dramatically down steeply rugged cliffs into the foaming Atlantic. This gives a fine view of the Longships Lighthouse standing on its solitary rock 26 miles offshore, the scene of many a violent wreck. A derelict and ruined tin mine clings nervously to the cliff-face at Botallack above a rock-torn sea. In from the coast, pre-history has bequeathed a litter of stone circles, earthworks and burial chambers ranging from St Just to Zennor, with the bones of an Iron Age village displayed at Carn Euny. Located at Porthcurno is the hugely enjoyable Minack Open-Air Theatre, built in 1932. Here, Shakespeare and others can be engaged with the open sky, blue Atlantic and rugged cliffs forming a breathtaking backdrop - always to be experienced if possible. Northward, picturesque St Ives sits prettily within her bounteous crescent-shaped bay, bathing in the admiration of all.
The Lizard peninsula completes the picture and forms the mainland's most southerly point. Around this grim headland where the coastal rocks bite like shark's teeth, the turbulent seas and treacherous reefs have accounted for more shipwrecks and lost lives than any other part of the Cornish coast. Less crowded than neighbouring regions, small fishing villages hide away in sandy coves possessing an austere charm; these like Mullion Cove were the haunts of smugglers and excisemen in past centuries. In wintertime, when fierce gales howl or a drifting shroud of sea mist hangs low, the peninsula, with its strange formations of serpentine rock takes on a desolate, eerie quality. Westward, lying in the curve between the two peninsulas, Mounts Bay sparkles serenely as an antidote to the Lizard. The sweep of its golden sands glisten in the shadow of the romantic soft-grey outline of St Michael's Mount, an isle topped by a castle that shimmers ethereally in the sun's warm glow.
Historical Places to visit in Cornwall:
- Carn Euny
- Dozmary Pool
- St. Ives
- Lost Gardens of Heligan
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- Find Accommodation in Cornwall