Vancouver Sun


Rugged scenery and historic coastal charm make Cornwall one of England’s most popular vacation spots, writes Rick Steves.

- Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at and follow his blog on Facebook.

On the rocky peninsula at the southwest tip of England is a gorgeous slice of Britain: Cornwall. Harbouring an endangered Celtic culture (Cornish), quaint coastal villages, a gaggle of visit-worthy sights, and a thought-provoking stone circle, it’s one of England’s most popular vacation regions — especially among the English.

This past summer, perched on a seaside cliff in an open-air theatre, I enjoyed a pasty (traditiona­l pastry stuffed with stew) and bottle of local elderflowe­r presse as I watched dolphins and seabirds diving for their lunch. My dramatical­ly situated lunch spot at Minack Theatre captures the highlights of Cornwall: historic charm wedged in the striking English landscape. Every night during theatre season, about 700 people gather here on seats carved into the rocky cliff hundreds of feet over the sea to enjoy live drama. Imagine watching The Tempest with only the sunset and crashing waves for a background, brushed by the winds of the past. You can visit the theatre just to see it and take in the view.

The rugged scenery and wild, uncultivat­ed appeal of Cornwall evoke the feeling of approachin­g the end of the world (and many natives would say it’s exactly that). The last native speaker of the Cornish language probably died in the late 1700s, but local pride is still strong. The welcome sign at the county border is in that old Celtic language people used to speak around here (as well as English). And, locals claim, had the Scots said yes to their recent referendum for independen­ce, there would have been rumbling for greater autonomy here in this proud corner of Britain.

Cornwall is chock full of history, claiming to have more prehistori­c megaliths than any other region of England. Finding a remnant of lost civilizati­ons that is older than the oldest Egyptian pyramid makes you want to just sit there in silence for a while and marvel. Also dotting the landscape are crumbling tin mines — the only remains of the region’s tinmining industry, which collapsed in the 1980s. These abandoned mines are reminders that, even in ancient times, Greek and Roman traders came to Cornwall for tin.

Older Cornish natives can still remember being in their houses decades ago and hearing the miners working undergroun­d.

One of my favourite spots in Cornwall is the little fishing port of Mousehole, named for the tiny, mouse hole — like entry into its tough little harbour. There’s nearly eight-metre tide here, so the boats lie beached in the harbour at each low tide.

The arrival of the train made this distant part of England accessible to holiday-goers in the 19th century; a rock pool where the daily tide strands a world of fun little creatures is one of the little niceties built here to entertain Victorian aristocrat­s.

In the bay across from Mousehole and the hub of the shipping port of Penzance is the rock island St. Michael’s Mount. I like to think of it as the little brother of France’s Mont St-Michel — just across the English Channel. Inhabited for about 1,500 years and originally a Benedictin­e monastery, St. Michael’s Mount is a fun excursion today. After a short boat ride across the bay and a hike up steep and rocky paths to the castle entrance, I take in the grand views and feel as though I’ve trekked back in time to the Middle Ages.

Visitors flock here for another reason: Cornwall’s climate is unusually mild.

The Gulf Stream brings warm, almost tropical weather — making it perfect for walking, basking on the beach, and generally enjoying life. Fishing ports thrive with mackerel, lobster and crab, and farmers appreciate the bounty of arable fields. Among these fields are Cornwall’s iconic and fearsome hedgerows.

For a thousand years, the hardy Cornish people have been picking the rocks off their rugged fields and stacking them along their lanes.

A stone framework filled with earth and made vibrant with a tangle of vegetation, hedgerows also function as wildlife corridors that originated 800 years ago. Built for horse and cart rather than cars, these hedges create a virtual tunnel through the rolling countrysid­e.

At the far southwest tip of Cornwall, tourists gather at the aptly named Land’s End.

Though overwhelme­d with shutterbug­s lining up for a picture with the famous milepost, it’s a fun place to cry “Land Ho!”

A short walk away from the commotion of tourist shops leads you to the real land’s end. Within a few minutes, it’s just you and nature.

Whether you join in on the tourist action or seek tranquilli­ty in this Garden of England, it’s easy to get immersed in the rich history and remarkable scenery of Britain’s rural Cornwall.

 ?? CAMERON HEWITT ?? Carve out some time for a picnic or some cliff-hanging live drama at the open-air Minack Theatre.
CAMERON HEWITT Carve out some time for a picnic or some cliff-hanging live drama at the open-air Minack Theatre.
 ?? SARAH MURDOCH ?? The charming fishing harbour of Mousehole has a tiny mouth to protect it from the wild sea.
SARAH MURDOCH The charming fishing harbour of Mousehole has a tiny mouth to protect it from the wild sea.

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