Visit the sea­side county now for empty beaches, peace­ful fish­ing vil­lages and wild walk­ing

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Porthcurno, with its dis­tinc­tive cove and rel­a­tive prox­im­ity to main­land Europe, was

heav­ily for­ti­fied dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. To­day it’s home to the open-air Mi­nack

The­atre, which is built into the cliff face

Au­tumn, win­ter and spring are good sea­sons to be in Pen­zance. The town’s po­si­tion – look­ing east to­wards St Michael’s Mount and the Lizard across the great sweep of Mount’s Bay – af­fords views that are, of course, glo­ri­ous dur­ing the sum­mer months. But, out-of-sea­son, the scenery be­comes even more dra­matic, giv­ing it an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent sort of ap­peal. On a half-de­cent day, per­haps with grey cloud break­ing to show the sun, the sea gleams sil­ver and gold. The scents of salt and sea­weed min­gle in the soft air. A seafront stroll, tak­ing the breeze deep into your lungs, watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to the rhythm of the waves, is a sin­gu­lar de­light to be­hold.

A lit­tle way back from the sea is one of Corn­wall’s lesser-known trea­sures: the sub-trop­i­cal Morrab Gar­dens. With its curv­ing paths and banks of shrubs, its aca­cias and Ja­panese quinces, its or­nate band­stand and cast-iron fountain, it is a place to linger and sniff the scented air. A place to pause and ad­mire the hand­some cream frontage of the Morrab Li­brary, a repos­i­tory for the records de­tail­ing Corn­wall’s rich her­itage.

Sum­mer lingers late in this far-flung out­post of Eng­land and spring comes early. West of Pen­zance and fur­ther in­land ex­tends the ir­reg­u­lar che­quer­board of Pen­with’s fields. They are bounded with hedges, some im­mensely an­cient and not really hedges as the rest of the coun­try un­der­stands the term, but rather ram­parts of stone, slate and earth, sup­port­ing tan­gles of bram­ble, hawthorn and black­thorn, their sides bright with wild­flow­ers.

The cul­ti­vated daf­fodil, ready from late win­ter on­wards in th­ese mild climes, has be­come a sta­ple of Cor­nish agri­cul­ture and many of the fields are now given over to the yel­low-flow­er­ing bulbs. Later comes the Cor­nish new potato, con­sid­ered by many con­nois­seurs – my­self in­cluded – to be su­pe­rior to the Jer­sey Royal. Corn­wall has many nat­u­ral bless­ings and chief among them is its cli­mate. Al­though hot sum­mers are no more likely here than any­where else, its fa­mous balmi­ness through­out the other sea­sons brings won­der­ful sur­prises. You’re likely to en­counter a sum­mer’s day in Novem­ber or Fe­bru­ary, or a spring day in deep mid­win­ter. Se­vere win­ters are ex­tremely rare and the preva­lence of warm, moist southerly and south-west­erly winds makes the re­gion a par­adise for gar­den­ers and out­door types who al­ways re­mem­ber to bring along a rain­coat.


Of course the Cor­nish coast is also cel­e­brated for storms and tem­pest and ship-shat­ter­ing gales. Thou­sands of wrecks litter its shores, and the grave­yards of Cor­nish churches are filled with the vic­tims of sea­far­ing dis­as­ters. Greed­i­est ship­swal­lower of them all is The Man­a­cles, a reef of saw-toothed rocks just out from


The fish­ing boats that sail out of Pen­berth Cove were once winched ashore by a cap­stan. To­day, an elec­tric winch ful­fils that duty

Port­hou­s­tock. Low tide ex­poses some of the rocks while per­ni­ciously hid­ing oth­ers. On even the most be­nign day, the sea licks and sucks around the reef in the most threat­en­ing and sin­is­ter way.

The sea and the frac­tured dark cliffs de­fine the char­ac­ter of the western Cor­nish coast. The seascapes are lovely in the sun­shine and warmth but, with only a touch of dark sav­age weather, the other harsh, im­pla­ca­ble side of their na­ture is re­vealed. The cliffs are not high com­pared with oth­ers along the Chan­nel but they have an un­yield­ing strength and sever­ity about them that is equally im­pres­sive. They are scarred and bat­tered and bruised by the sea but never bro­ken.


That great na­ture writer and or­nithol­o­gist, WH Hud­son, spent a good deal of time in the far west of Corn­wall in the first years of the 20th cen­tury, most of it in the win­ter. He wan­dered the moor­lands and windswept fore­lands, mus­ing on the habits of gulls and terns, ob­serv­ing the fish­er­men at work and try­ing – gen­er­ally un­suc­cess­fully – to iden­tify traits in the Cor­nish char­ac­ter. He was fas­ci­nated by Land’s End – and gave his 1908 book about West Corn­wall that very name – but was aware of the dan­ger of its power and magic be­ing sab­o­taged by crowds and com­mer­cial ex­ploita­tion.

Hud­son rec­om­mended dusk on a stormy win­ter’s day to ex­pe­ri­ence “the rav­ing of the wind, the dark ocean, the jagged, iso­lated rocks… the hoarse sounds of the sea, with hol­low boom­ing noises in the cav­erns be­neath.” He urged that the Cor­nish land­scape be taken into pub­lic own­er­ship to pre­vent it be­ing over­whelmed by the tack­i­ness of com­mer­cial in­ter­est – but his warn­ing was never heeded.

His Corn­wall was a very dif­fer­ent place at a very dif­fer­ent time. Al­though the Lon­donPen­zance rail­way had opened the re­gion up to a de­gree, it re­mained very much an­other place, in­tro­verted and sus­pi­cious of out­siders, and de­pen­dent on its sur­viv­ing in­dus­tries – mainly tin and cop­per min­ing and china clay, com­bined with fish­ing and sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture. St Ives, where

Hud­son took lodg­ings, was over­whelm­ingly fo­cussed on fish­ing, al­though the artists were be­gin­ning to ar­rive. 800 fish­er­men and their fam­i­lies were packed into what Hud­son likened to a rab­bit war­ren or ants’ nest. A cen­tury later there are still artists but the fish­er­men have mostly gone and tourism dic­tates the eco­nomic heart­beat.


The mar­ket­ing of Corn­wall as a tourist des­ti­na­tion be­gan with the ar­rival of the rail­way. The county had leg­end, ro­mance, coves and beaches of daz­zling sand, quaint vil­lages, wild land­scapes and seascapes, old ru­ins – ev­ery­thing any hol­i­day­maker could want. So they came, in ever-in­creas­ing num­bers. By 1959, Looe was said to have reached sat­u­ra­tion point. Polperro was, ac­cord­ing to the 1983 edi­tion of The Shell

Book of the Coast, “so over­cooked com­mer­cially that much of its orig­i­nal charm has dis­ap­peared”.

Plan­ners warned that the hol­i­day in­dus­try that had be­come the re­gion’s lifeblood could even­tu­ally de­stroy the very fea­tures that

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP Cen­turies of crash­ing waves have carved the rocks at Land’s End into curious con­fig­u­ra­tions; daf­fodils bloom in Pen­with’s fields from Fe­bru­ary to May; find sub-trop­i­cal sur­round­ings in Morrab Gar­dens, Pen­zance

Grass­land, rocky out­crops, fine sand and crys­tal-clear wa­ters com­bine to make Ky­nance Cove one of the most strik­ing beaches in the world

ABOVE Pure white spume boils on the sur­face as the At­lantic hurls waves against the Land’s End coast­line

Sand­wood Bay’s one-mile-long beach looks tLouwsahrhdis­llt­shideesmeae­sat­daocwk­soof vAem­r­loBoukactheaiMll e.vagis­sey Sdiottcikn,gfr­fiovme mwih­lesre­to­both­aetss­coaun­th­boe­fcChapreteWr­erdatfho,r tfih­se­hbi­nagy thraipssm­toan­cy­atl­cehgem­nad­c­skaesrseol,cpiaotlelod­cwk iath­n­ditc, od i–na­clnud­dein­vgen­si­bgh­luteins­gh­saor­fkm­be­tr­wmeaei­dnsJaunde gahn­od­sOtsc.t..ober

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