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Cornwall

Southern England

Cornwall is almost an island, separated from the rest of England by the River Tamar. Because of its bleak high moors and poor soil, it never attracted the attentions of either invaders or landlords. The Romans stopped at Exeter, and Iron Age man continued to live unmolested in forts on its headlands.

 

The coastal scenery is what hits you first. Rugged cliffs and smashing waves. The scenery in Cornwall is spectacular - tantalising views of deep wooded valleys and wide vistas of sparkling blue sea combine with a varied and luxuriantly coloured landscape, historic market towns, attractive fishing villages and picturesque riverside hamlets. Ancient antiquities, such as stone circles and remains of iron-age villages can be found between Land’s End and Penzance, and Celtic crosses dot the countryside.

There is a wealth of folk lore about piskies (the local fairy folk and no, not a spelling mistake!), and giants that roamed Cornwall in the past. The legendary King Arthur is said to have had his Camelot at Tintagel, and many early Christian saints founded settlements around the Cornish coast. Then there were the wreckers and smugglers in the last few hundred years!

The spectacular Cornish Coastal Path runs all the way round the coast from Bude in the north to Plymouth in the south. As you follow it, you pass through Cornwall's ancient past, Tintagel and Arthur, modern seaside resorts, the romantic ruins of mines round St Agnes and St Just, St Ives and its artists, Land's End, the Minack Theatre, St Michael's Mount near Penzance, fishing villages like Polperro and Mevagissy, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and Plymouth sound over which Drake looked out for the Spanish Armada.

The region's fishing industry still survives in harbours such as Newlyn, Mevagissey, Padstow, Falmouth, Looe and Polperro, and many smaller boats still work out of coves such as Port Isaac, Cadgwith and Mullion. You can also explore Cornwall's real past in the castles and country houses, the National trust properties. Or visit its literary past in following the trail of one of the Cornish authors.

With its spectacular location on one of England's most dramatic coastlines, Tintagel is a place of legends. Joined to the mainland by a narrow neck of land, the 'island' has been occupied since Roman times. During the 5th and 6th Centuries it is thought to have been the stronghold of a Celtic King. Famed as the legendary birthplace of King Arthur and home of Merlin the Magician, Tintagel Castle is one of the most awe-inspiring and romantic spots in all of Britain.

St Michael's Mount is another. This iconic island rises gracefully to the church and castle at its summit. Accessible on foot at low tide across a causeway, at other times it is reached by a short, evocative boat trip. The oldest surviving buildings date from the 12th century, when a Benedictine priory was founded here.

Dubbed the 'Eighth Wonder of the World' by some, Eden is a dramatic global garden housed in tropical biomes that nestle in a crater the size of 30 football pitches. With a worldwide reputation Eden barely needs an introduction, but this epic destination definitely deserves a day of undivided attention. More than just a huge, tropical garden, Eden is a gateway into the relationships between plants and people, and a fascinating insight into the story of mankind's dependence on plant life.

Don't miss your chance for a visit the National Maritime Museum. Apart from the fascinating history of all things 'boating', you'll be able to visit their ongoing boat restoration projects, take in the breathtaking views from the 29 metre tower; visit an underwater viewing tidal zone; and get hands-on with the numerous interactive exhibits.

St Ives is a must for arts and crafts, with 30 galleries including the Tate. Tate St Ives opened in 1993 and offers a unique introduction to modern art, where many works can be seen in the atmosphere and environment which inspired them. Changing displays focus on the modern movement St Ives is famous for. Displays are complemented by exhibitions and artists' projects which explore the diversity of working methods in art today.

If the great outdoors is more to your liking, don your walking boots. Not only is Cornwall blessed with over 268 miles of spectacular coast path, its inland routes twist and turn across lush countryside, wild moors and sheltered valleys. Wrap up warmly and ramble across the wild, windswept Bodmin Moor, stroll hand-in-hand along bluebell-strewn trails in early spring and explore the golden-tinged clifftops in the autumn light.

They say it spoils a good walk, but if you fancy chasing a ball around acres of turf then you'd be a fool not to do it on some of the most scenic courses in the UK. Whatever your handicap, both experienced golfers and novices will abandon competitive natures and the frustration of bad play, as your focus is permanently shifted to stunning sea views, pockets of woodland and the surrounding blankets of undulating countryside.

Okay, so you're not literally going to keep your feet on dry land, but coasteering is the ultimate activity if you fancy a bit more than a sedate stroll along the coast path. As you traverse the border between land and sea, explore remote coves and crags, clamber along barnacled ledges, plunge into swirling surf, abseil down cliff faces and scramble through coastal caves. Adrenalin-fuelled, action-packed and truly adventurous.

Escape dry land and dip into the tranquility of the underwater universe. Combine numerous historic shipwrecks, including the internationally renowned sunken HMS Scylla, with rugged underwater geology and a staggering diversity of marine wildlife and you have one of the world's great dive spots.

Feel the wind in your sails and take to the open seas - Cornwall is a Mecca for sailors. Why not live the high-life and charter a sleek yacht to cruise to the idyllic Isles of Scilly, or explore smugglers' coves and the sheltered waterways of the Carrick Roads? If you prefer, sit back and enjoy the scenery from the water without having to lift a finger. One of only five chain ferries left in the country, the King Harry Ferry between Trelissick and the Roseland Peninsula was recently flagged as one of the world's top ten ferry rides.

Shopping until you drop does count as a calorie burning activity. And whilst Cornwall boasts the best of the outdoors for active adventures, for some indoor action it's also a shoppers paradise. Narrow alleyways, cobbled streets and pedestrian zones put the fun back into the art of shopping, especially when they host a maze of arts and crafts, local markets, antiques, and unusual boutiques.

There are a wealth of superb restaurants and bistros to be found along with more traditional inns and, of course, the famous Cornish pasty and saffron cake can be bought in every bakery in Cornwall.

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