The county of Cornwall is about as far south-west as you can go in England before dropping off into the Atlantic. Cornwall is renowned for its ruggedly beautiful coastline, spectacular surfing beaches and beautiful villages, all reasons that make it one of Britain’s most popular destinations with home-grown holidaymakers.
Despite that it’s a county that thinks itself almost a separate nation thanks to its isolation surrounded on three sides by the sea and its heritage as part of Britain’s Celtic fringe, culturally tied to the period several thousand years ago before the Romans and Anglo-Saxons took over the British Isles and roughly pushed the indigenous Celts to the more remote parts of the country. Cornwall even had its own language, related to the traditional language once spoken in Brittany immediately south across the English Channel in France. Cornish was still spoken, though rarely, well into the 20thcentury. It’s revival now is as a subject to study at local colleges.
Strictly speaking you can go a little further beyond Cornwall and still be in the British Isles. There’s a small archipelago sitting in the Atlantic in the warmth of the Gulf Stream called the Isles of Scilly, a rather rough voyage of a couple of hours beyond Land’s End. The islands are very beautiful, rather old-fashioned and famed for their semi-tropical plants.
Overseas visitors are starting to discover Cornwall, not least, from its appearances as the star location in international hit TV series “Doc Martin”, the everyday story of a rather gruff but lovable GP whose practice sits in “Port Wenn” and tackles a rather unlikely weekly string of medical dramas featuring the eccentric local farmers and fishermen. In reality “Port Wenn” is Port Isaac, a charming fishing port on Cornwall’s dramatic north coast. Filming has taken place for the last nine summers. As a tour guide for British Tours I’ve been there several times with overseas fans, coinciding on one occasion with the film crew and cast shooting scenes in gorgeous summer sunshine on the cliffs above the village.
The surfing beaches of north Cornwall attract international competitions as well as thousands of families to their huge expanses of clean, golden sand. The Atlantic waves provide some of the best surfing in the world.
“Poldark”, another international TV hit series, has also attracted visitors to the county eager to discover the historic tin mines and windswept clifftops that provide the spectacular location for the series. In fact tin mining has been carried out in the county for thousands of years. It was the tin that attracted the Romans to Britain two thousand years ago and Cornish tin-mining expertise created a diaspora of Cornish miners centuries ago in South America and Spain where there are still communities with more than a hint of their history in place names. Mining shafts can be identified by the ancient buildings teetering on cliff edges above shafts that lead down to mining galleries stretching sometimes thousands of metres beneath not just the land but the sea.
Travel further west towards the beaches of Porthcurno and you’ll find what must surely be the most spectacular setting for any theatre in the world. The Minnack Theatre is open air, cut into the cliffs above crashing Atlantic waves below. The theatre’s backdrop is the sea itself. Every summer audiences are attracted to performances unlike any theatrical experience to be enjoyed anywhere else in the world.
Land’s End itself is a short drive away and is a monument to the power of a name to pull in visitors. Few can resist the photo op in front of a signpost pointing out to sea to destinations far and wide.
For the traveller wanting to expand their knowledge of England’s heritage away from the better-known destinations within easy reach of London, our personal West Country & Cornwall tours are sure to provide unique memories.
Post by Richard, British Tours Ltd Tour Guide