Search site

Exploring 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.

18 Jul 21 · 7 mins read

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.

About 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

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.

Distinctive blue purple agapanthus flowers on the Isles of Scilly coastline.

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.

Related Articles

10 Books to Read If You Are Planning to Visit Britain

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…

16 Oct 17 · 2 mins read
Read Article
A well preserved Roman road.

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.

28 Nov 19 · 14 mins read
Read Article
Lacock Abbey, Britain's National Trust

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 […]

31 Jul 17 · 10 mins read
Read Article
Castle Combe Road villages of england tour

English Village History

An English Village history. Prepared for mature and senior travellers, couples or solo traveller considering joining a small group tour of England's villages.

4 Apr 18 · 7 mins read
Read Article
Lynmouth, Devon

Exploring Devon

Article about Devon for senior and mature small group tours couple and solo travellers interested in stone circles, the Romans or English history including the Industrial revolution.

18 Jul 21 · 6 mins read
Read Article
Tresco Island

Isles of Scilly, England

The Scilly isles form part of a day trip on the escorted small group tour of Devon and Cornwall for seniors and mature travellers. Whilst on this tour the group also visit St Michaels Mount, Penzance, Glastonbury and Tintagel.

1 Apr 20 · 6 mins read
Read Article
Tolcarne Beach, Newquay, Cornwall

Newquay, England

There’s also lots of history in Newquay. It was first settled in the Iron Age, evidenced by a hill fort which has ditches and six ramparts making it an impressive fortress, and experts claim there was continuously settlement from the 3rd century BC to the 5th or 6th century AD.

12 Mar 20 · 4 mins read
Read Article
Port of Penzance

Penzance, England

Penzance, The area is rich in legend and history, and Mousehole in particular has been central to this. In 1595, the village was burned by a fleet of Spanish ships.

12 Mar 20 · 4 mins read
Read Article
St Michael's Mount

St Michael's Mount, England

The counterpart to Mont St Michel. On the Devon and Cornwall escorted small group tour for senior and maturer travellers the group learn about the abbey of St Michael's mount built in the middle ages complete with gargoyles and grotesques.

1 Apr 20 · 6 mins read
Read Article
Tintagel, England

Tintagel, England

Believed to be the home of King Arthur, Tintagel Castle on the North Cornish Coast is one of the most visited destinations in England.

31 Mar 20 · 5 mins read
Read Article
England village tour

Touring England's villages

Touring England’s villages For many travellers, London is synonymous with England. This lively, cosmopolitan capital is a must see, of course, but there is more to England than booming cities and industrial centres. Instead, what…

2 Mar 18 · 16 mins read
Read Article
St Vincent Street Church

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…

28 Jun 19 · 10 mins read
Read Article

Related Tours

Tour of West Africa - Markets

21 days

Oct, May

Explore the History, Culture and Wildlife of West Africa: Ghana, Togo & Benin Tour The History, Culture & Wildlife explored

Visiting Benin, Ghana

This small group tour for couples and solo travelers concentrates on the history, culture and wildlife of coastal Central Africa. Meet the friendly local people and come to a greater understanding of just what has made them what they are today.

From A$12,750 AUD

View Tour
Bhutan points of interest

17 days

Apr, Sep

Bhutan | Small Group Cultural Tour

Visiting Bhutan

An unhurried ocean of calm in a crowded continent, Bhutan is scenically magnificent. Join our small group escorted tour and walk up the mountain to the famous Tiger's Nest monastery. The Bhutanese will welcome you to share their distinctive culture, unpolluted environment, and colourful festivals.We explore centuries of Buddhist tradition inherited from Tibet that have shaped this land with art, dance, music, and even medicine shaped by religion.

From A$10,995 AUD

View Tour
France small group short tour

11 days

Sep

La Belle France Small Group Short Tour

Visiting France

On this small group tour of France, we visit several culturally significant and picturesque regions of France, including Provence, Champagne, Burgundy. We learn about each region's history from expert local guides with a chance to experience the local culture, and taste the regional cuisine.

From A$10,285 AUD

View Tour
Pre-guaranteed
Athens, Acropolis - Greek Islands

22 days

Sep, May

Greece small group escorted history tour

Visiting Greece

Our 21 day small group tour explores the land of great philosophers, myths, and legends. We will learn about the culture and heritage of modern Greece which only found independence in its uprising from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.

From A$11,500 AUD

View Tour
Small Group Tour of British Gardens

18 days

Jun

British Gardens Small Group Tour including Chatsworth RHS show

Visiting England, Scotland

This small group tour will explore gardens in Scotland and England with knowledgable local guides and a tour leader. We explore the gardens in and around Edinburgh, Chester, Stratford upon Avon - Shakespeare's birthplace, Oxford and London in a 22 day tour.

From A$13,995 AUD

View Tour
Japan History by Rail - Small Group Tour

10 days

Apr

Japan History by Rail - Small Group Tour

Visiting Japan

Explore historic and present day Japan. Journey by rail to regions and great cities to learn about their historical significance.

From A$12,150 AUD

View Tour
Mongolia cultural history, small group tour for mature travellers

20 days

Sep

Mongolia Small Group Tour | Discover the history and culture of Mongolia

Visiting 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 AUD

View Tour
Milan, Doumo Cathedral

13 days

Sep, May

Lakes and Landscapes of Northern Italy | Short Small Group Tour for Seniors

Visiting Italy

Our small group tour begins in the cosmopolitan city of Milan and ventures to 2 of the region's lakes - Garda and Maggiore. Our tour uncovers a wealth of natural beauty, castles, serene waters, snow-capped mountains, and breathtaking scenery.

From A$8,380 AUD

View Tour
Modern pot stills in a distillery in Scotland

19 days

Aug, Jul

Whisky and Other Scottish Wonders

Visiting Scotland

A guided small group tour of Scotland is a day tour collection that includes Edinburgh, the royal mile, Edinburgh castle, and the old town a UNESCO World heritage site Experience and learn about, Kellie castle, St Andrews, Skye, Balmoral castle, Loch Lomond and Loch Ness as well touring the Scottish highlands to finish in Glasgow.

From A$14,450 AUD

View Tour
Jane-Austen

22 days

Aug, Jun

Discovering the art and literature of England: Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and more

Visiting England

Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeares birthplace and Anne Hathaway's cottage as well as the Lake district a UNESCO World site and Dicken's London are part of guided tour for a small group tour of like minded people learning about the art and literature of England. Your tour leader and local guides share day tour itineraries to create a unique travel experience.

From A$14,250 AUD

View Tour
Tajikstan small group cultural tour

6 days

Jun, Sep

Tajikistan Tour | Central Asian Small Group Tour

Visiting Tajikistan

We explore the country’s astonishing scenery and monuments. Tajikistan is the smallest of the 5 ‘Stans and is also the most mountainous. On our small group tour for couples and solo travelers we encounter many ranges and mountain chains where we reach well over 3,000 metres above sea level while crossing passes.

From A$3,950 AUD

View Tour
Pre-guaranteed
Prehistoric Britain small group history tour

21 days

Aug

Prehistoric Britain small group history tour including standing stones

Visiting England, Scotland

This guided tour invites you to explore UNESCO World heritage sites at Skara Brae in the Orkneys, Isle of Skye, and Stonehenge in a prehistoric tour. This escorted tour has trips to key sites in Scotland, and the Irish sea in Wales such as Gower Peninsula and National Museum in Cardiff and England. Each day tour is supported by local guides.

From A$14,750 AUD

View Tour

Join 22,383 like-minded travellers receiving our weekly newsletter.

Special offers and promotions
A$350 AUD first trip travel voucher
The latest tours and articles