Cornwall is famed for its world-renowned beaches which make it a surfing haven in the UK as well as one of the leading holiday destinations in the UK. With castle ruins and old tin mines dotted throughout the county, the history in Cornwall is also something that is to be celebrated alongside the changing scenery and local produce. Discover what is on offer when you visit Cornwall!
Skip to section:
A brief history
Cities, towns and villages
Weather and climate
Culture and customs
Where is Cornwall?
The county of Cornwall is the most westerly in all of the UK, in fact Cornwall can boast both the most southerly and westerly points on mainland Britain at Land’s End and Lizard Point. To get an idea of Cornwall's geography, check out our map of Cornwall.
The population of Cornwall in 2011 was 536,000 people meaning it’s the 40th most populated of the 47 counties in the UK. Cornwall is the 41st most densely county in the UK with only 151 people per square kilometre meaning there is plenty of space for you while on holiday in Cornwall. The population was relatively steady during the 20th century but has been gradually increasing since 1961 when the population was 342,000.
Brief history of Cornwall
It is estimated that humans first started visiting Cornwall between 400,000 BC and 200,000 BC but there is no evidence of any settlements in the county during these years. Settlements began to appear around the newly formed coastline in around 10,000 BC.
Cornwall developed its own language during pre-Roman times and had close ties to the Celtic nations who also had their own languages. Cornwall finally became part of England around the time of the Norman Conquest but kept powers over their most valuable exports namely tin. Tin plays a key part in the story of the formation of Cornwall’s flag with the white representing tin metal against black tin ore which is the black section of the flag. In the 18th-century Cornwall became a part of Great Britain marking the start of a steep decline in the use of the Cornish language.
Cornwall is the only county in England to only have one bordering county, that being Devon. It is the 9th largest county in the UK covering an area of 1376 sq/mile with over 25% of this designated as ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. The Cornish coast stretches 422 miles, meaning there are plenty of beaches, cliffs and coves to enjoy while on holiday in Cornwall. The highest point of the county is Brown Willy which is found on the Bodmin Moor standing at 420m above sea level.
Major cities, towns, and villages in Cornwall
The only city in the county is Truro (above) where the headquarters for Cornwall Council is based. Truro is only the sixth most populated settlement in the county with Falmouth being the largest just ahead of Penzance.
The population of some of these locations can soar during the summer with tourists flocking to the destinations with Newquay’s population reaching over 100,000 making it a bigger town than West Bromwich, Preston and Bath.
Weather and climate in Cornwall
The effects of the Gulf Stream mean that Cornwall has the sunniest climate in the UK. It also has the mildest climate in the United Kingdom. Warm ocean currents ensure that snow and frost are rare in Cornwall even during the winter months. Cornwall experiences some of the longest hours of sunlight in the UK with 1541 hours per year. The south-west coast of Cornwall has the only sub-tropical climate in the UK with palm trees being found in the area. For up to date information for the weather in Cornwall, check the Met Office website.
The two main roads into Cornwall are the A30 (above) and A38 and they may it accessible for road users to visit Cornwall with ease. The A30 runs between Exeter and Penzance with 111 mile stretch of road being largely a dual carriageway. The A38 runs from Mansfield to Bodmin and was the main “holiday route” until the opening of the M5 but is still a useful alternative if there is a traffic jam on the motorway. Other roads that reach Cornwall include the A39 from Barnstaple to Bude, the A3072 which runs from central Devon to Bude and finally the A3930 from Tavistock to Liskeard.
The main train line into Cornwall runs through the centre of the county carrying passengers from London Paddington all the way to Penzance and is run by First Great Western. Cross Country run three services a day from Penzance including the longest rail journey in the UK to Aberdeen. There are several branch lines that carry passengers from St Budeaux, Liskeard, Par, Truro and St Erth to further stations in the county including popular coastal location, Looe, Newquay, Falmouth and St Ives.
Newquay Cornwall Airport is the main airport in the county with daily flights to and from London-Gatwick, Manchester and St Mary’s. Further seasonal routes run with flights to and from Liverpool, Belfast-City, Birmingham, Edinburgh, London-Southend, Newcastle open Tyne and Düsseldorf.
Economy and industry
Cornwall’s economy is heavily dependent on two industries, agriculture and tourism. The tourism industry is responsible for around 20% of jobs in the county. Fishing also plays a large part in Cornwall’s economy with plenty of harbours and ports found along the Cornish coastline.
Cornwall’s industries used to be dominated by mining of copper, tin and rare metals until during the 20th century but these have since diminished, with the last tin mine closing in 1998. China Clay extraction still plays a part in Cornwall economy with large works in St Austell and the only china clay museum in the
Culture and Customs
Cornwall has some of the most unique customs in the whole of the United Kingdom with the county considered by some to be its own country. Guise dancing is a celebration of mischief and is performed while hiding the identity of the dancer by covering the face.
The Cornish language was only spoken by 20 people in 2000 but this has increased to 557 in 2011. There are plenty of tales of myths and legends in Cornish folklore including stories associated with King Arthur and Tintagel.
The Cornish flag is known as the Flag of St Piran and is a white cross on a black background. The Duchy of Cornwall shield has 15 gold bezants in the shape of a triangle on a black shield. There are several flowers which can lay claim to being the Cornish natural flower including, broom, furze, rhododendron, Cornish heath and daffodils. The national tree is a sessile oak which is known locally as a Cornish oak.
As you would expect Cornish dishes are largely influenced by their surroundings with many of the local dishes being fish based. The most famous of these dishes is Stargazy pie where the head of a fish sticks through a pie-crust as if it were “star-gazing”.
The Cornish cuisine with the most world-wide recognition is the Cornish pasty, which is sometimes referred to by locals as ‘oggies’. The pastry-based dish is traditionally filled with beef, onion, potato, swede, salt and pepper but you’ll find many variations of fillings.
You’re likely to be familiar with many Cornish dairy products as well, including Cornish fudge and Cornish ice cream. Cornish clotted cream is in the unique position of being protected under EU law with main manufacturers being Rodda’s.
Cornwall is historically famous for producing cider but nowadays the major breweries are best known for producing stouts and ales.
Rugby is considered the most popular sport in the county with the biggest club team in the county being the Cornish Pirates who play in the second level of the English rugby pyramid. The counties representative rugby side have reached the final of the County Championship on 12 occasions with the last of these coming in 2013.
There are no professional football teams in the whole of Cornwall with many fans heading to Plymouth Argyle to follow a professional club, which is just over the Devon/Cornwall border. The largest team in the county are Truro City, who play in the Calor League Premier Division. They are the only Cornish side to ever win a national competition, winning the FA Vase in 2007.
With the miles of coastline that Cornwall can boast it would come as no surprise that water sports are incredibly popular. Newquay is regarded as the counties finest surfing destination with world championship events regularly taking place. Other water sports such as pilot gig rowing and sailing have a rich history in Cornwall and are well participated in today.
Uniquely Cornwall has its own form of wrestling known as Cornish wrestling where the goal is to throw your opponent and make them land flat on their back. Four pins are on the back of each wrestler with two on each shoulder and two above the buttocks and when all four pins are on the floor, a “Back” is achieved and the bout is over.
There are also a number of fantastic links golf courses across the county. Mullion Golf Course is a great example, offering stunning views of the coastline from every hole.
Famous people from Cornwall
- Constantine of Cornwall – Former Cornish ruler and Saint
- Daphne Du Maurier - Novelist
- Matthew Etherington – Professional footballer
- Mick Fleetwood – Drummer with rock band Fleetwood Mac
- Thandie Newton - Actress
- John Nettles - Actor
- Saint Piran – Patron saint of Cornwall and of tin miners
- Jethro - Comedian
- Saint Petroc – Patron saint of Cornwall
- Rick Stein - Chef
- Roger Taylor – Drummmer with the rock band Queen
- Phil Vickery – Former professional rugby player and England international
- Kristin Scott Thomas - Actress
- Nigel Martyn – Professional footballer