If Cornwall is a stocking, then the Lands End side of West Cornwall really is its toe, jutting out into the Atlantic. Its extreme location lends it a certain wild air, and its geographical narrowness makes it quite unique. Nowhere else on mainland Britain can you be only a few miles from both north and south coasts – indeed stand atop Trencrom Hill or Chapel Carn Brea and you can see the two. The semi-barren moorland landscape with rocky granite outcrops and gnarled, windswept trees of the highland and north coast are the dramatic counterbalance to the lushly vegetated, sheltered coves of the south coast. And this close proximity is a dream come true to beach goers, coast walkers and surfers alike, as you can nearly always find a sheltered spot or an offshore wave (swell permitting) amidst the plethora of beaches.
Penzance, the area’s main town, is a functional seaside town to nearby St Ives’ pretty tangle of picturesque streetlets, though it has its own charms, not least its proximity to popular destinations such as St Michael’s Mount and the fishing village of Mousehole. Transport to the beautiful Scilly Isles also mainly leaves from Penzance.
Traditionally fishing, farming and mining were the backbone of local industry, though dwindling fish stocks and unprofitable mines have meant that, much like the rest of the county, West Cornwall is now heavily dependent on the tourist trade. Even so, early new potatoes and flowers still keep farmers busy, especially in the sub-tropical climate of the nearby Isles of Scilly.
Strongly associated with the area is art, both past and present. Newlyn started the ball rolling in the 19th century with its fellowship of artists, which included renowned names such as Stanhope Forbes and Walter Langley. In the 20th century, St Ives became the hub of artistic activity, attracting people such as Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Bernard Leach. Whatever the area has which inspires the creative, it is still very much alive and the array of both commercial and public art galleries stands as testament to this, not least the architecturally notorious Tate in St Ives.
West Cornwall also boasts perhaps more than its fair share of ancient and mystical sites, with Iron Age villages, stone circles, quoits, ancient wells, fogous and burial chambers. The holed stone of Men-an-Tol, the circle of Merry Maidens near Lamorna and the ancient settlement at Chysauster are a few good examples.
Continuing the stocking analogy, the heel would be the equally dramatic, though perhaps slightly less wild, Lizard peninsula. This very rural finger of land is smattered with tiny fishing villages and serpentine rich coves. Flanked by the verdant Helford Estuary to the east and sheltered Mount’s Bay to the west, it is the most southerly point of the British Isles