Cornwall, in the far west of England, cuts down from Devon on its coast like a large piece of cake, sloping from north to south. The spine of the county - the watershed - is in the north, with the principal rivers - the Tamar and the Fowey, the Fal and the Helford - running to the south coast.
. Within the county's boundaries, there is a wealth of contrast. The north coast comprises a series of magnificent cliffs and headlands, backed by a high plateau of good agricultural land. The south coast is softer and greener, with tidal estuaries providing an abundance of bird life, the exception being the rugged Lizard peninsula, almost entirely surrounded by sea, whose exposed position results in it taking a severe battering from the Atlantic in winter, inland, the scenery is again full of contrast - the barren, somewhat desolate landscape of the mining areas very different to the wild, boggy Bodmin Moor. The further west you travel, the fewer the trees - an exposed land which helps explain Cornwall's dependence on stone for building.
Origin of name: The Welsh in Cornavia. From the Latin Cornu meaning horn. West of the Dunnoii (Devon) was the Corneu to the Britons - the land of horn. The second syllable comes from the Old English 'wahl' meaning foreign, as that was how the English called the Britons or the Welsh. Name first recorded: 1891 as Cornwalam. County Motto: "One and all".
TRURO Has a strong sense of identity: It only acquired city status in 1877 (until then, Cornwall was administered from Exeter).
BODMIN: Was officially the county capital (the assizes were there) and the largest town in the Middle Ages. St Petroc's Church, the largest in the county, had a spire until lightning removed it in 1699.
BUDE: A popular holiday resort with a magnificent cliffy coastline. Head for the Summerieaze beach which is so wide that when the tide is out a sea- water swimming pool is created near the cliffs.
FALMOUTH: A wonderful natural harbour and an attractive town, as well as being a good jumping off point for exploring the county's splendours.
FOWEY: Quintessential Cornish port and worth a stroll around at any time of the year. The 15-century church of St Fimbarrus is at the centre of the town.
LAUNCESTON: County capital until 1838 crowned on a hill with castle ruins. Good trout rivers nearby.
LOSTWITHIEL: Built to a medieval grid plan and with interesting old buildings, such as the 13th-century parish church spire, sloping down to the Fowey.
MOUSEHOLE: Picture postcard port (pronounced 'Mouzell') with an almost all-embracing granite breakwater. Once pilchards were fished, now mackerel, in 1595 a squadron of Spanish galleons appeared off the village and 200 soldiers landed here and burnt the port and pillaged. On a lighter note Nicola Bayley's The Mousehole Cat is a delightful children's tale and animated film based on the port.
NEWLYN: Busy fishing port. Shark-fishing trips available.
PADSTOW: Picturesque holiday town with Atlantic rollers providing good surfing. Narrow mainly unspoilt streets converge on a semi-circle of buildings round the quay.
PENZANCE: A seaside town with splendid views across Mounts Bay to St Michael's Mount.
REDRUTH: Famous back in the 1850s as a copper-producing town. The simple granite mine-buildings scattered through the town bear a passing resemblance to the Methodist chapels in the area. John Wesley was known to preach in these parts.
ST AUSTELL: Centre of the Cornish Riviera and with a number of impressive buildings, such as the italianate Town Hall.
ST IVES: Colourful stone cottages, twisting narrow lanes, fine sandy beaches and picture-postcard prettiness attract both artists and tourists.
ST JUST-IN-PENWITH: Victorian town with best concentration of abandoned mining engine-houses in Cornwall creating a strange and evocative landscape.
ST NEOT: is one of Bodmin Moor's prettiest villages with a 15-century church containing some of the most impressive stained glass windows in the country.
SALTASH: Seen from Devon across the Tamar this port once resembled a medieval town with grey and white houses one above the other on the hillside; now it is more a suburb of Plymouth, but that does not detract form the impressive Royal Albert Bridge spanning the river at a height of 100 feet. This was the minimum height set down by the Admiralty to Isambard Brunel. His triumph, completed in 1859, is 2,240 feet long and has 19 arches, it is best viewed from the quay where you can compare it with the road bridge. The town is far older than Plymouth: "Saltash was a borough town when Plymouth was a furzy down."
TINTAGEL: Holiday town with Arthurian attractions apart! it often resulted in bruises, broken bones and even including the ruins of Tintagel castle dating from c.l145 pitched battles. Today there is a gentler reminder of the with bracing coastal views. Visit the Old Post Office. time-honoured sport.
. Callington . Camborne . Gunnislake . Hayle . Looe . Perranporth . Porthleven . St Blazey . Stratton . Torpoint
Tamar (forming the border with of Helston. Devon), Camel, Pal, Fowey, Truro, Kenwyn, Alien.
Brown Willy at 1,375 feet. . Late May to mid September: Minack Theatre Summer Festival - drama at this spectacular cliff-top open-air theatre at Porthcurno, near Penzance.
. Shrove Tuesday Hurling at St Colomb Major: It was incorporated in the 12th century. hurling was a traditional local sport played with a wooden ball encased in silver. The goals were two miles
. On May Day is the annual Obby 'Oss festival in Marazion . Mevagissey . Penryn Padstow. A man dressed as a horse is led through the streets and there is dancing in the Market Square. . Wadebridge . May: the day of the Furry Dance - the traditional floral dancing day performed through the decorated hilly streets. . Throughout the summer, a floral dance is performed every week in Boscastle.
. Early June: the Royal Cornwall Show is a large agricultural show at Wadebridge.
. Late August: Bude Jazz Festival, more than 150 sessions and four street parades during the one- week festival.
. Mid October: Lowender Reran festival of Celtic music and dance, various venues around Perranporth.
. The Tate Gallery at St Ives has modern art exhibitions throughout the year (and is worth a visit anyway for its post-modern architecture, cafe and views). The 'visitors' comments' book' is worth a peek.
. Early May: the Great Cornwall Balloon Festival is a free hot air balloon extravaganza leaving from St Austell and Newquay.
. Celtic nations are rugby-mad and Cornwall is no exception: Camborne-Redruth sees some superb club rugby, and Cornwall can swell supporters' ranks by 50,000 when they reach the County Final at Twickenham in Middlesex!
. in front of Penzance's Market House stands a statue of Sir Humphrey Davy, a Cornishman of genius who is best remembered as the inventor of the miner's safety lamp.
. Sir John Betjeman, poet and television personality, was born in Cornwall and lived for many years on the north coast, in a house overlooking the golf course at Trebetherick, near Wadebridge. He is buried in the church by the beach at Trebetherick.
. The late William Golding, Nobel Prize winner, was born near Newquay.
. Writer D. M. Thomas still lives in Truro, the town where he was born and grew up.
. Author Daphne du Maurier spent a third of her life beside the Fowey estuary, first at Bodinnick and later at nearby Menabilly, where she completed My Cousin Rachel and The King's Genero).
. A large part of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour
. a SO-minute made-for-television fantasy coach tour - took place in Bodmin, Watergate Bay, Holywell and Newquay in 1967.
. Prime Minister Harold Wilson found his earthly heaven in the Scilly isles.
. The popular and famous TV series Poldark was filmed in the county.
17 March 2007 . Sir Humphry Davy, who devised the safety lamp for miners, was born in Penzance in 1778.
. John Couch Adams, discoverer of the planet Neptune, went to school in Saltash.
A two-tier local government administration split between Cornwall County Council and the six Districts of Caradon. Carrick, Kerrier, Penwith, Restormel and the lion's share of North Cornwall bar the two Devon parishes of North Petherwin and Werrington.
CROSS THE ELEGANT span of the Tamar bridge from Devon into Cornwall and you enter not just another county but another country. Cornwall is very different from the rest of England: it is separate, a kingdom of its own, called Kernow, and you feel it as you cross the Tamar. So there is a claim to be made that the bridge - and not Land's End - is England's final frontier. No wonder the Cornish are proud to assert that, I would be too. England was created by the Romans, but Cornwall (like Wales) by the Celts. At Land's End, the granite mass of the Penwith Peninsula tumbles into the sea at a place steeped in ancient lore and legend unmatched anywhere else in England. But the county also harbours softer contours. On the southern fringes of Bodmin Moor, the scenery is verdant, pastoral and gentle, as it is on the Roseland peninsula, on the sheltered south coast. Other parts are more lonely and bleak, but just as lovely in their own way. Most people visit Cornwall in search of a suntan - the first family holiday I ever had was on the Lizard - but when you tire of the beaches, there is good sightseeing.
Cornwall has several outstanding towns and villages, and Truro not least for its Georgian streets and buildings - Lemon Street contains some of the best examples of Georgian architecture in Britain - and its distinctive, triple-spired cathedral. The cathedral was built on the site of the 16th-century St Mary's parish church and was only completed in 1910. It's best seen either travelling in by train from the east, or on a boat trip up the Truro river from Falmouth, the walls of the great building rising above you like granite cliffs, the highest tower pointing 250 feet into the frequently windy Cornish sky. While you're in Truro, pay a visit to the County Museum and Art Gallery in River Street, which contains a famous painting of a Cornish giant by Sir Godfrey Kneller, But the true character of Cornwall is to be found on its rocky, wave-lashed coast. The county has more than 300 miles of coastline and in any resort along the north and south shores you're likely to encounter the county's most famous gastronomic offering, the pasty - meat and potato (often turnip or swede but never peas) encased in half- moon shaped pastry. The pasty is held together by the thick ridge of pastry on the side. Cornwall also boasts excellent seafood including a local speciality of marinated pilchards. Star-gazy pie is a traditional fish pie in which the heads of pilchards, mackerel or herring protrude through the pastry lid - perhaps for the more hardy gourmets.
The Cornish Riviera, as it is justifiably known, includes picture-postcard fishing villages such as St Mawes and Mevagissey. Pilchards, mackerel, herring, lobster and crabs were once brought into Cornwall's little harbours and sent off again to all parts of the land and even to Europe. Today you won't find any pirates in Penzance - just a seaside town with the port where the steamer sets sail for the Scilly Isles, 40 miles away, beyond Land's End. Like much of the rest of Cornwall, the climate is so mild here that palm trees and other tropical plants thrive in the Morrab Gardens near the sea front. Beyond Penzance, Newlyn's old cottages climbing up a steep hill are lovely and steeped in an ambiance which,
100 years ago, attracted artists like Frank Bramley, Dame Laura Knight and Stanhope Forbes. St Ives also wooed first artists and then tourists - both lured by the cluster of colourful stone cottages which seem to fall over each other in the narrow twisting lanes. The silent stacks in the vicinity of St Just are testament to Cornwall's almost defunct tin mining industry, but large greyish-white cones or pyramids glistening in the sun advertise that at least the china clay industry lives on in and around St Austell. The mounds are composed of sand and waste from the clay pits. The greater part of this clay is not used for the making of china but for the glazing and finishing of paper. Along the north coast, where the Atlantic rollers provide some of the finest surfing conditions in Europe, are more holiday towns, notably Newquay. The 'new' quay dates from the 16th century, when it was found necessary to find a replacement harbour for the then-prosperous nearby fishing village of Towan Biystra. The town's livelihood then depended on pilchards, but tourism replaced it with the arrival of the railways in 1876. Farther along the coast, Padstow is another labyrinthine, picturesque town of crooked streets leading down to an attractive harbour.
Prehistoric man left an indelible mark on Cornwall. The county fairly creaks and groans under the weight of the activities of Neolithic Man, who arrived around 5,000 years ago. In the far west of the county, the durability of the local stone - granite - means that you don't have to look too hard to discover megalithic tombs and stone circles, such as the Merry Maidens near Lamorna Cove. Moving on a few thousand years, much of Celtic legend dates from the Dark Ages. High on Bodmin Moor, the mystic water of Dozmary Pool is supposed to be the place where Sir Bedivere may have flung King Arthur's sword, to have it caught by an arm rising from the depths. Right up to Tudor times few Cornishmen spoke or understood English. Their language was that of the Celt (similar to Wales) and the language still exists in the place- names: Cornwall is sometimes called 'the land of tre, pol and pen' ('tre' is home, 'pol' an inlet and 'pen' a headland).
In 1337 Edward III created the Duchy of Cornwall out of the original Norman earldom and Lostwithiel became the centre of Duchy administration. Wander around Lostwithiel today and the Duchy connections become apparent: in the ruined Restormel Castle, some of whose walls date back to 1100, in the guildhall, donated by the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, and the sophisticated and elaborate spire of the church, a throwback to Brittany or Gascony, with which the Duchy had trading connections. I adore the ruins at Mount Edgcumbe, it is the crowning beauty of the majestic Plymouth Sound. Mount Edgcumbe was held for the king in the English
Civil War until 1645, and the county played a prominent part in that civil war. When hostilities began in 1642, the county generally supported the Royalist cause and Cromwell's Parliamentary army was defeated on the peninsula between Lostwithiel and Fowey. But the war's outcome was determined by the New Model Army under Fairfax and Cromwell and in summer of 1646 the Royalist strongholds in Cornwall capitulated. A mile up the River Fowey from Restormel lies Respryn Bridge and, up on a hill to the west, the grounds of Lanhydrock, a 17th-century country house later blended with Victorian splendour after a fire almost destroyed it in 1881. Set in superb woods and parkland, the house offers great views of the river. Lanhydrock was built in the early 1600s by Richard Robartes, a banker and merchant from Truro, and remained in the family for three centuries until 1953, when it was bequeathed to the National Trust. It remains arguably the finest house in Cornwall. But the history of this county is really about fishing and mining - industries which have both provided a living for Cornishmen for centuries. Tin mining began in the Middle
Ages and, along with copper mining, was at its height in the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the most famous mines was the 12,199 feet deep Dolcoath mine near Camborne, which produced both copper and tin until early this century. Both industries are now in decline, but a new money-earner - tourism - is taking over.