Our recent visit to Cornwall served a dual purpose; firstly as a search into Dr Bs ancestors who lived there, and secondly as the final chapter in our Tour of England which began two years ago. It was in June 2017 that we wrote down a list of all of the things we would like to see in England, not necessarily the places we wanted to visit, and when we had finished thinking and writing, there were 46 items, some objects, some buildings, some events. Mappa Mundi, John Harrison’s chronometers, Whitby Abbey, Chatham Royal Dockyard, Battle of Hastings re-enactment ….. All were on our list. We grouped them by location, finding we had 5 geographical areas and made a plan to visit each area for about a week. The south coast of England was to be first, the southwest mostly Cornwall was to be last. Nothing in the northwest of England and nothing in London.
You can follow The Tour by simply entering Tour of England in the search box of this blog. So now, finally, Cornwall!
Cornwall is the homeland of the Cornish people and the cultural and ethnic origin of the Cornish diaspora. It retains a distinct cultural identity that reflects its unique history and is recognised as one of the Celtic nations with a rich cultural heritage. First inhabited in the Palaeolithic period, Cornwall continued to be occupied by Neolithic and then Bronze Age peoples, and later in the Iron Age by Brythons. Cornwall still has its own language and the county is known as Kernow with its own flag, the cross of St Piran:
We made Newquay our base for the week, not the most “cultural” of places, but convenient for most things we wanted to see and with a good range of seaside hotels and restaurants. It’s a good 4.5 hours drive from our Cotswolds home, but we left early on a Monday morning so as to initially visit the St Agnes coastal area where several of my ancestors lived in the late 1700s through to the mid 1800s working as copper and tin miners …… all of them ….. men … women …. and children!
Our second day was spent on the most south westerly tip of England visiting Lands End then Geevor Tin Mine. Lands End is the iconic tip of England, “twinned” with John O’Groats, the iconic tip of Scotland to the north. I often thought about cycling the distance between them, around 850 miles, but never bothered as I knew I’d get bored compared to the Himalayan mountaineering I was doing at the time! I have to say Lands End was a disappointment, extremely tacky with a rip off £6 just to park your car, then £10 to have your photo taken by the famous signpost, plus gift shops, experience outlets (whatever that means) and a cinema! Bugger that, we left and visited Geevor Tin Mine, one that continued working until the 1990s from the 1700s. I walked through all of the sheds and exhibition rooms before going underground into a mine shaft from the 1700s. A very enjoyable couple of hours but I don’t think Dr C was impressed waiting so long for me in the café and shop!
On our third day we visited Truro, the capital of Cornwall, with our main purpose being twofold: mining history and Violet Pinwill …. Woodcarver. The Royal Cornwall Museum is an absolute mine of history and information about the county. Trevithick’s steam engine, Davey’s miners lamp, both examples of technology development that made the expertise of Cornish miners so desirable around the world, from Australia to USA. On to the cathedral to find beautiful examples of the woodcarvings of Violet Pinwill ….. Never heard of her? I suggest you look her up because you might just have been staring at some of her incredible work in many English churches and cathedrals without knowing it!
Our fourth day was a bit strange, trying to find bits and pieces relating to some of my ancestors around St Austell. But there were no traces of homes, graves, the butchers business some had created, and even specific mine buildings had been completely wiped off the map. But, they couldn’t wipe out Gwennap Pit closer to Redruth rather than St Austell, the famous amphitheater-like hollow where John Wesley preached his Methodist version of Christianity to thousands and thousands of Cornish miners and their families. It’s highly likely that my 4x great grandfather, Richard Waters, saw Wesley here!
From that time, every village had a Methodist chapel, sometimes two, though they were still classed as “nonconformist”. In fact, if you look closely below at the building housing the current community museum in St Agnes, it seems to be two buildings rather than one. Originally this was the village chapel of rest where the deceased lay prior to burial ….. Church of England folks on one side of the building, nonconformists on the other …. how discriminatory or non PC is that!
Our final day was a “touristy” day as we slipped back into our previous interest of medieval history and drove beyond the town of Lostwithiel to view Restormel Castle, a classic example of a Norman-style “keep” on a mound and with a moat running around it. Now in the care of English Heritage whose website gives a brief description and a fantastic photo obviously from a drone. Our own photos are beneath.
“The great 13th-century circular shell-keep of Restormel still encloses the principal rooms of the castle in remarkably good condition. It stands on an earlier Norman mound surrounded by a deep dry ditch, atop a high spur beside the River Fowey. Twice visited by the Black Prince, it finally saw action during the Civil War in 1644.”
On our way back to Newquay we stopped off at Perranporth, a small village nestling at the end of a valley dropping down to the sea ….. because we wanted an ice cream from the Perran Dairy ice cream parlour we’d heard about! Which brings me around to food beyond the ubiquitous Cornish Pastie in this historic county. Seafood and Cream Teas with scones, strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream (on top of the jam please or it’s a Devon Cream Tea!) are a must here and we visited Rick Stein’s beach café and The Fish House, both at Fistral Beach, Newquay, twice each, and Healy’s Cider Mill for the cream tea. A good way to end our Tour of England.