I’ve heard Cornwall described as a poor canvas inside a lovely frame, and there’s no denying that the coastline around the county is its main attraction, but the county will offer up a lot more to the inquisitive visitor if he or she explores a bit further inland.
It’s no doubt true to say that old mine workings, clay pits and quarries won’t have the same appeal for most people as its quaint fishing harbours, stunning seascapes and fabulous beaches, but to really get to know Cornwall, its people, and customs more intimately, then I would recommend a visit to the less fashionable parts of the county as well.
Although fishing, agriculture and tourism have all played an important part in Cornwall’s economy, its geology has also had a major impact. Its rocks have given up kaolin and any number of different minerals, but it was copper and tin that had the most profound effect.
The 19th century saw the county become the world’s biggest producer of copper and there were around 2,000 tin mines at one point. What goes up must come down as they say, and that’s exactly what happened to the price of these two metals. When the prices collapsed so did the fortunes of its workforce and their families.
All this has led to a two speed Cornwall. On the one hand there are the honeypots that attract wealthier people from outside the county who buy up property at inflated prices, and then on the other hand there are pockets of poverty where local people find both jobs and houses hard to come by.
While it’s largely recognised that England has a North-South divide, it might surprise some people to learn that Cornwall is England’s poorest county, and according to the New Statesman “If Cornwall was a country it would be poorer than Lithuania and Hungary”. The irony is that many people from Eastern Europe have come here for a better life.
Obviously, most people who visit Cornwall would rather see the more attractive side of the county, and as strange as it may sound, some of the most evocative parts of the landscape are where mining once took place.
As a guideline, the North Coast is more rugged than the South Coast, and as it’s governed by a unitary authority with no specific regional boundaries, I have divided the county up into five separate areas. – South-East Cornwall, The Cornish Riviera, West Cornwall, North Cornwall, and Inland Cornwall. Whilst this may not be a scientific break-down it makes sense – to me at least.
Finally, as regards the poor canvas inside the lovely frame, I can understand why people would think that, but scrape away the veneer of the canvas and you’ll begin to understand that there’s more to Cornwall than just its undeniably beautiful coastline. To me, it’s this eclectic mix that makes Cornwall so beguiling.