It’s been two and a half years since I moved to The
People’s Republic Duchy of Cornwall. For ‘Muricans and other non-Brits, Cornwall is that bit in the southwest that looks a bit like an elephant’s trunk (see the map below). Before I met my other half, my forays into the county were fleeting. I visited the ecopark Eden Project 2-3 times and had a mini break to Falmouth 10 years ago. That was it.
Living here has made me appreciate what makes the county unique as well as reinforcing my beliefs and perception of the southwest in general. Here, then is what I love about this gorgeous county.
Cornwall, along with its neighbour Devon and parts of Somerset and Dorset, is officially designated a subtropical climate. Does that surprise you that England has anywhere like this? When you travel the towns and city of this county, you’ll see most people have palm trees in their gardens. Public parks are full of succulents that simply wouldn’t survive elsewhere. Falmouth seafront has many varieties of aloe, for example. The reason is the Atlantic Jet Stream. Cornwall is on the front line facing the ocean and so it receives the warmer waters around its coast and air carried from the mid and south Atlantic. For a climate to be subtropical, the temperature must exceed 10C (around 50F) for more than half the year. Mild days in autumn and winter are common. Just today visiting Truro for an evening of late night Christmas shopping at a street market, my car told me it was 14C at 4pm (57F). It didn;t get much colder 3 hours later when we left – dropping to just 12C (53.6F). On two Christmas Eves since I moved down I’ve stood on our apartment balcony in jeans and a t-shirt with the sun on my face and not felt cold.
In other parts of the country, a random stranger talking to you would elicit discomfort at best, fear for your safety at the worst. Not in Cornwall (and in Devon too). Talking to random people about nothing seems to be the norm, a rite of passage, even. People hold doors open for each other and when you do it for others, there is a high chance of receiving a “thank you” for doing so. In a supermarket last year, I came across a young woman of about 19 or 20 complaining that toy monkeys were in the Christmas aisle. While her friend laughed, the young woman turned to me (I was selecting some savoury snacks) and asked “was there a monkey at Jesus’ birth and nobody told me?” to which I responded “Yes, it was chaperoning the lobsters”. This was a reference to Love Actually that she may not have understood as she didn’t mention it. Anyway, random pleasant encounters with strangers is a fairly typical experience here. Other experiences include a woman telling me I had good taste in doughnuts because I chose cinnamon sugar as a topping.
Life’s a Beach
Where I live, I can reach three beaches within a 10 minute drive. A further 5 or 6 beaches lie within a 20-30 minute drive with a choice of north or south coast. Cornwall has no end of beaches dotted along both the flat and serene south coast which attracts holidaymakers and the rougher and rugged northern coast which attracts just as many surfers but still plenty of tourists. There are so many little coves and bays and it’s easy – even in high summer – to find some with barely any people on because the tourists all gravitate towards the main beaches of Falmouth, Newquay, St. Ives, Perrenporth and so many others whose names escape me. The beaches are lovely in the autumn and winter, nice places to go and sit on a dry day, drawing, writing, or photography-ing. I took this photo in January this year. Yes… January. Blue sky and golden sand. It was a mild day too. I had my winter fleece but I think I took it off after a while.
I’ve seen St. Piran’s flag far more often than I’ve seen either St. George’s flag or the Union Flag. The sense of local pride is heartwarming although it can spill over into parochial “otherness” at times. Most counties have their own saint’s day, but only in Cornwall is theirs marked with any sense of occasion. Scout Groups parade through the towns and city of Cornwall every St Piran’s Day. Everywhere you go, “Cornish produce” is worn as a badge of honour in farmer’s markets, or at the very least, a suggestion that you don’t want to buy inferior nasty stuff from other parts of the country – who knows what they do with their asparagus in Northamptonshire, right? Local shops and the small businesses make up the economy here and they trade on their localness. Even up country, some Cornish produce is presented as something better, something exotic, especially when it comes to vegetables.
Rugged coast and rolling hills is not unique to Cornwall, but what is are the number of ruined industrial heritage buildings that can only be seen here. They sit atop rugged cliffs beaten by strong waves and the winds coming off the Atlantic. Go around a corner on some minor roads and you’ll see something called an engine house – the only standing visible above-ground remains of Cornwall’s industrial past as the world’s centre of tin mining. The further you go west into the largely rural areas of Cornwall of Penwith, they become more prominent. There is little urban development save for the major tourist centres of St Ives and Penzance, and little farmland compared to other parts of the southwest. Seeing them feels a bit like an adventure. Rugged coastline, heath, beach, headlands overlooking the sea, nature reserves and rolling hills lined with solar panels and wind farms. So much of Cornwall’s landscape is stunning and sometimes it comes up on you without warning. No wonder so many writers, photographers, artists and other creatives find it so inspiring.