Join Odyssey Traveller on this tour of the West Country of England and the fascinating areas of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. This is an escorted small group tour for mature and senior travellers who are travelling with partners or as a solo traveller. This is a journey filled with stories of wreckers and ship wrecks, smugglers, pirates, medieval treasures, charming fishing villages along the Cornish coast, stunning cliff-top coastal views of the blue Atlantic, castles and romantic destinations traditionally linked to the legends of King Arthur, and the delights of ‘cream teas’ and Cornish pasties.
The tour starts and ends in Bristol, which is situated on the River Avon in South West England, and was once a medieval trade centre and busy maritime port for explorations into the New World. Bristol is a great first stop for our adventure as we travel west and south, even venturing beyond the Cornish coast and across the Atlantic to the Isles of Scilly.
This article concentrates on the locations visited on the tour through Cornwall.
Located on a peninsula winding southwest into The Atlantic Ocean, Cornwall is among England’s most culturally and geographically distinct regions. The scenery here is spectacular and varied, ranging from windswept moors to England’s best (and warmest) beaches, craggy cliffs to verdant subtropical gardens.
Cornwall is the most remote of English counties. Its eastern boundary, on the River Tamar, is some 320 km distant from London. Cornwall’s westernmost town, Penzance, lies another 130 km farther from London and close by Land’s End, the traditional southwestern extreme of Great Britain. The Isles of Scilly lie an additional 56km southwest of Penzance in the Atlantic Ocean.
During the early Stone Age period, there was little sign of human habitation in Cornwall, although there are signs of occasional visitors from elsewhere. The Mesolithic era – the Middle Stone Age from about 10,000 BC- was the end of the last glacial period when water levels began to rise. Hunter-gatherers began to settle around the coastline of Cornwall and evidence can be found around the Lizard, for example, and on upland areas such as Bodmin Moor.
Between 4,000 and 2,500 BC in the Neolithic or new Stone Age there was great social and agricultural development. Farming began and there was increased monument construction, as the population increased. Settlements began to be fortified.
The Early Bronze Age between 2,400 and 1,500BC saw the introduction of metal working. The use of bronze exploited Cornwall’s natural resources of tin and copper. These metals were found by tin-streaming and open-cast mining. During this period there were many more ceremonial and burial monuments: the stone circles, rows and standing stones or menhirs, and the barrows with their “cist graves” hollowed out of stone or timber.
From 1,500 – 600 BC during the Late Bronze Age, the climate became wetter causing movement of the settlements to lowland sites such as Trethellan, Newquay. The nature of farming changed to less intensive grazing on the uplands. As a result, a more warlike society evolved which often sacrificed weapons to their gods. Although it has long been believed that the first Brythonic Celts (ie, from Gaul or France, and not from Spain or Portugal) arrived in Britain around 600BC, some recent scholarship suggests this possibly happened as early as 2000 BC. Today Cornwallis recognised as one of the six Celtic nations, along with Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Brittany, and the Isle of Man
Iron gradually replaced bronze for weapons and farming tools during the Iron Age from 600 BC to 43AD. People started to live in defended settlements known as rounds which were bank-and-ditch enclosures around a number of round-houses. Economic and social centres, for manufacturing and trading, were established on hill-tops and headlands, such as Trevelgue Head, near Newquay.
During the late 1st century AD, Roman military occupation of Britain began. At this time the part of Britain annexed by Rome was divided among various tribes. The south west was occupied by the Dumnonii, Iron Age Celts who had been in the area for centuries. The rural society in Cornwall was largely unchanged by the Roman influence. Trade in tin increased during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, not only for bronze, but also to combine with lead for pewter objects. Courtyard houses appeared at this time in villages such as Chysauster, Penzance.
During the 6th and 7th centuries there was an English invasion of Cornwall. This was the period of Arthur, Doniert & other Celtic kings including King Mark. It was also known as The Age of the Saints.
Many legends associate King Arthur with Cornwall. He was said to have been born in Tintagel, at the home of Gorlais, Earl of Cornwall. It was here that Uther Pendragon seduced Igerna or Igraine, Arthur’s mother. The castle ruins at Tintagel are 11th century, but there are signs of a much earlier settlement. There is a cave below the castle known as Merlin’s Cave as the magician is said to haunt it. Arthur is said to be reincarnated as a Cornish chough.
King Mark was said to have lived at Castle Dore, Fowey. Legend says that Mark sent his nephew, Tristan, to Ireland to bring back the fair Iseult to be Mark’s queen. However the young couple accidentally swallowed a love potion and fell passionately in love. Iseult married Mark and the story inevitably had a tragic ending. It is interesting that this story parallels the story of King Arthur sending his most loyal knight, Lancelot du Lac, to collect his new bride Guinevere from her home in Scotland. They, too, fall in love with tragic consequences.
In 577, the Battle of Deorham Down near Bristol resulted in the separation of the Cornish (known as the West Welsh) from the Welsh by the advance of the Saxons. By this time, the Saxons had destroyed the remains of Roman civilisation and it was almost forgotten in the west. The Saxons were established and they were converting their conquests to Roman Christianity. Not long after this the earliest Christian church opened at St. Piran’s Oratory.
St Piran became the patron saint of Cornwall and of tin miners. His flag is a white cross on a black background. St Piran’s Day is celebrated on March 5th. He is the most famous of the Irish saints who came to Cornwall and is said to have discovered tin and to have founded the monastery of Clonmacnois. Legend says the heathen Irish tied him to a mill-stone, rolled it over the edge of a cliff into a stormy sea, which immediately became calm. The saint floated safely over the water to land upon the sandy beach of Perranzabulo in Cornwall, where his first converts were animals.
In 936 Athelstan’s (King of the Anglo-Saxons and then King of England) settlement had fixed the east bank of the River Tamar as the boundary between Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Celtic Cornwall. The river still marks the division between Cornwall and Devon.
The county’s isolation aided the survival of the Celtic language known as Cornish, although it has not been spoken as a living language since the 18th century. Celtic place-names are much in evidence. After the Norman Conquest (1066) the indigenous manors of Cornwall were taken over to form the basis of an earldom; since 1337 they have belonged traditionally to the eldest son of the English sovereign, who acts as duke of Cornwall – currently Prince Charles.
Tin was mined in Cornwall for at least 3,000 years. Since ancient times, Cornwall has been closely linked to the outside world, thanks to the export of tin. Historians suggest that Cornish tin powered the advancements of the Bronze Age, as tin was necessary to the smelting of bronze. In the Classical Era, tin from Cornwall reached the Mediterranean, while the Early Middle Ages saw tin exchanged for luxury goods from North Africa and the Middle East. In the 19th century, tin mining expanded rapidly, as the Industrial Revolution allowed for mining deep under the ground. . Despite periodic depressions in the industry, Cornish tin mining continued profitably until the 20th century, when the shallow tin deposits were exhausted and the deeper and more costly workings fell victim to cheaper foreign tin production. The number of working mines dwindled, and, with the world collapse of tin prices in the 1980s, the last few tin mines in Cornwall were allowed by the British government to close. In 2006 the copper and tin mines in Cornwall and West Devon were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Kaolin, the product of eroded granite, is still mined around St. Austell and used to make medicine to stop bleeding and diarrhoea.
Cornwall was also closely associated with pirates in the Early Modern Period, inspiring The Pirates of Penzance. The Cornish were often accused of the villainous practice of luring ships to the cliffs to be wrecked and so their cargo could be salvaged. This has since been disproved, but those who lived along the coast of Cornwall assumed the rights to salvage goods from wrecked ships. In the past, Cornwall was a centre for smuggling of illegal contraband such as brandy, port and gin to avoid excise. Smuggling was an acknowledged Cornish pastime and reached its peak during the 18th century. At one time the Isles of Scilly were totally reliant on the smuggling trade. The only legal business was fishing, but at best that was seasonal. Mousehole is one of the many west Cornwall villages steeped in smuggling history.
The Cornish in Australia. There was a Cornishman who travelled to Australia with Captain James Cook and at least two convicts from Cornwall on the First Fleet. Cornish Australians are thought to make up around 4.3 per cent of the Australian population and are thus one of the largest ethnic UK groups in Australia and as such are greater than the native population in the UK of just 532,300. The Australian gold rush commenced at Ophir in May 1851, quite close to the Cornish Settlement, whose official name was Byng (on the Great Western Highway between Bathurst and Orange). These Cornish miners formed the first mining union in Australian and Cornish miners were instrumental in the formation of the Australian Labor Party.
10 Books to Read If You Are Planning to Visit Britain
10 Books to Read If You Are Planning to Visit Britain For Odyssey Travellers, Britain has and remains a key destination in the organisation’s collection of escorted small group educational tours offered each year. For…
A Journey Through Britain's Roman Roads
Rome's roads constitute the most remarkable culmination of its technological, logistical and bureaucratic achievements. Even a brief understanding of their history and significance can enrich your experience walking tour of Britain.
Britain’s National Trust role for successful small group history tours
Britain’s National Trust: Historic houses, gardens and natural wonders Britain is home to many attractions, many of them rich in the region’s history. Sites and artefacts are preserved beautifully, and […]
St Michael's Mount, England
Understanding British Churches: The Definitive Guide for Travellers
British Churches Through the Years “How old is this church?” asks Mary-Ann Ochota in a chapter of her book, Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape (Francis Lincoln, 2016, p. 250). In this article, we…
24 daysMay, Sep, Mar
Small Group Guided Tours of Spain and Portugal
Visiting Portugal, Spain
Our program explores the lands of Spain and Portugal, two countries bound by many centuries of history reflected in their modern cultures. Divided by history and language, contiguous neighbours Spain and Portugal were once host to gigantic empires that still bear their languages and lifestyles. A small group tour for couple and solo travellers.
From A$13,750 AUDView Tour
The Sultanate of Oman is a country of diverse natural beauties and fascinating human history. Oman boasts medieval forts and watchtowers, Bedouin villages, spectacular fjords, bustling markets, date palm plantations, and sand dunes.
From A$10,350 AUDView Tour
Gardens of Ireland Small Group Tour
Visiting Ireland, Northern Ireland
From A$6,950 AUDView Tour
11 daysSep, May
Heritage, culture, history of Italy, seniors small group - Short Tour
From A$6,975 AUDView Tour
21 daysMay, Oct
History of France by Rail | Escorted Small Group Tour for Seniors
From A$15,995 AUDView Tour
British Gardens Small Group Tour including Chatsworth RHS show
Visiting England, Scotland
From A$13,995 AUDView Tour
18 daysApr, Aug
Small Group tours exploring the Treasures of Ireland
An escorted small group tour to Northern Ireland & Ireland, with local guides and itineraries that give authentic experiences Ireland's capital, Dublin, including 1/2 day tour of St Patricks cathedral and Trinity college. Destinations also Aran islands , Kerry plus the world heritage site, the giant's causeway. Ireland tours for singles over 50 and couples.
From A$10,250 AUDView Tour
Mongolia Small Group Tour | Discover the history and culture of Mongolia
Mongolia is a relatively unexplored country for travellers but it has many diverse landscapes to explore, and interesting cultures to become acquainted with, all existing in a country with few cities and towns but with extensive rural lands that remain the domain of nomadic herders. Small group tour for couples or solo travelers
From A$10,750 AUDView Tour
5 daysSep, Jun, May
Discover Greenland | Small Group Tour for Seniors
Greenland is the largest island in the world, the majority of it lies above the Arctic Circle, and it is part of Denmark. Few places are quite so difficult to reach, we fly from Reykjavik to Nuuk. During this small group tour we have ensured that our travellers gets to this conversation-stopping land and, while we are there we obtain the most comprehensive overview of this vast landmass. We visit during the summer, experiencing the burst of seasonal flora, which caused the early voyagers to name it Greenland.
From A$5,950 AUDView Tour
11 daysMay, Sep, Mar
Short Spain Tour for senior and mature travellers
Join our small group guided tour of Spain, exploring this fascinating country over 10 nights with like minded people. We start in Barcelona and make our way slowly towards Madrid. Enjoy the food and culture while learning about the history of each location from our expert local guides and Odyssey Program Leader.
From A$6,920 AUDView Tour
25 daysSep, Mar
Mediterranean Islands Small Group Tour | Malta, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica
Visiting Corsica, Italy
For centuries Malta, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica held the key to the Mediterranean. Unlike other European tour companies, Odyssey provides a tour leader and local guides to share detailed itineraries about the destinations on these small group journeys. This escorted tour of western Mediterranean explores the geography, history, culture and peoples of these 4 islands. Small group tour for mature couples and solo travellers. A reasonable single supplement is charged.
From A$17,350 AUDView Tour
17 daysOct, Apr, Nov
Iran Culture and History Escorted Small Group Tour for seniors
Unlike its neighbours to the west and northwest, Iran had not adopted Christianity and it was the explosive spread of Islam and its ready adoption, without the Arabic language or customs, which helped unite the culture and greatly enrich Persian heritage. This small group tour program includes the great cities of Iran, historic sites, mosques, gardens, bazaars and teahouses for couples and solo travellers.
From A$8,995 AUDView Tour