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Cornwall, England

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Did You Know…?

  • Guglielmo Marconi sent his first transatlantic radio message from Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula to Newfoundland (1901).
  • The largest Cornish pasty, made in 2010, weighed just over 1,600 pounds and took 11 hours to bake.
  • The show title “Pirates of Penzance” recalls Penzance’s history of smuggling and piracy.
  • There are no prisons in Cornwall.
  • Cornish pasties account for around 20% of all turnover in Cornwall’s food and drink business.

Pasties: A tasty tradition

Cornwall stands out in the pantheon of tourist destinations on two counts — first, for its natural beauty and mild climate and, second, as the place where England’s Celts retain their identity. As of 2014, the Cornish people are an officially recognized minority in the U.K.

To the first point, Cornwall is situated at the end of a peninsula that extends pointedly into the Atlantic Ocean in England’s far southwest.

The county’s warm and sunny climate combines, on its southern coast, with extensive beaches and the charms of tiny fishing ports for a relaxing seaside holiday. In contrast, Cornwall’s north coast is dramatic with rugged cliffs for climbing or coasteering; pounding ocean waves for surfing, and countless coves, fine these days as vacationers’ retreats, but loved by pirates and smugglers in another era.

Cornwall is a walker’s destination, too, with choices for leisurely (or not-so-leisurely) strolls on the coast or on inland trails that cross the windswept Bodmin Moor. Explorers may find, on the moor and beyond, the leavings of Bronze Age and other prehistoric settlements.

Large-scale mining (copper, tin and more) in the 18th and 19th centuries created its own fascinating landscapes, accessible today in the mining towns and the mines themselves.

As to things Celtic, there are the Cornish language (evident in place names), bagpipes and kilts, Cornish dances and music, storytelling, hurling and other games — and King Arthur. The language, thought lost, is experiencing some revival as part of broader projects to celebrate and support uniquely Cornish traditions. Visitors may experience some such traditions, generally at entertainment venues or full-blown folk events.

The legends of King Arthur have special meaning in Cornwall as they refer to the real or presumed exploits of a Celtic king (based in Wales). Also, some Cornish sites, such as Tintagel Castle, are associated with the King Arthur stories.

Finally, Cornwall has Cornish pasties, which now enjoy a trademarked status in the European Union. This means only pasties made in Cornwall using the traditional recipe can legally be sold as Cornish pasties. At least 120 million traditional pasties are made in Cornwall yearly — they are everywhere.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Surf by day and then play in the town’s nightspots at Newquay on the north shore. Or, on the south coast, arrange a sharking trip.
  • Try coasteering. That is, climb high onto the rugged cliffs that comprise parts of Cornwall’s coast, then jump into the ocean for a swim. Or, stick to rock climbing and skip the jumping.
  • At low tide and with an eye on that tide, walk the causeway from mainland Britain to the island called St. Michael’s Mount and visit the medieval castle there. (You can take a boat when the tide is in.)
  • Attend the October Lowender Peran Festival, which celebrates Cornwall’s traditional music, dance, storytelling and its links to other Celtic peoples. Take part in Celtic dancing. Attend Cornish language classes or even a Cornish language karaoke. Newquay hosts the annual event.
  • In the autumn, run in the Eden Marathon, which follows a route through Cornwall’s China Clay Country.
  • Hike inland on the Bodmin Moor, to find what nature offers — a windswept landscape dotted with rocky tors — and the evidence of human activity, including mining, over thousands of years.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Scout out the galleries in St. Ives, a town favored by the artsy crowd. Include the local branch of the Tate on your rounds. Come for the town’s annual literature festival, held in May.
  • Hunt up Iron Age and Bronze Age archaeological sites in the westernmost section of Cornwall, in an area called Penwith.
  • Attend a performance at the Minack Theatre, which clings to its cliff site at Porthcurno.
  • Ride the Tamar Valley Line trains, or explore the Tamar region by boat on the Tamar Passenger Ferry or aboard a pleasure cruise.
  • Plan an itinerary around Fowey focused on author Daphne du Maurier for a look at houses where she lived and places that provided inspiration for her novels “Jamaica Inn,” “Rebecca” and others.
  • Head to Redruth at the heart of the Cornish mining country. See area mining towns, historic equipment and the mines themselves. Cycle the four-mile Great Flat Lode Trail, which boasts the world’s highest concentration of historic mining sites.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Pursue an interest in gardening, big time, at the Eden Project, home to huge greenhouses called Rainforest Biome and Mediterranean Biome.
  • Seek out the charm of traditional fishing villages. Good candidates are Port Isaac on the north coast, and Mevagissey, Polperro and Portloe on the south coast. Include Penzance, the westernmost major town in Cornwall. And, get to Land’s End for great views at the westernmost point of mainland England.
  • Eat Cornish pasties, i.e., the traditional meat and vegetable pies that were such an important staple for the county’s tin miners. Eat fresh seafood, too.
  • Attend an English Heritage reenactment event at the cliffside ruins of Tintagel Castle, the English site most associated, at least by tradition, with King Arthur. It is described as his birthplace.
  • In Falmouth, tour the National Maritime Museum and add time for Pendennis Castle. Also, take a boat trip from Falmouth to Truro, a picturesque cathedral city.
  • Discover Cornwall’s spas. Consider hopping over to the Isles of Scilly, off Cornwall’s southwestern tip, for a spa holiday.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult VisitBritain at www.visitbritain.com