Discover the beautiful, beguiling and rugged land of West Penwith in the far reaches of Cornwall
It’s called Land’s End for good reason. Tucked away in the extreme southwest of mainland Britain, the Penwith peninsula feels like the very edge of the world. Flanked by the Atlantic on all sides – and often bearing the full brunt of its rages – the landscape here is as wild and rugged as it comes. And it’s all the more beautiful for it. If you’re looking to escape the throngs of city and enter the wilderness then West Penwith is not a bad place to start. A land where the myths and legends are as impenetrable as the fog that rolls in from the sea. Welcome to the Wild West.
But in fact, with a direct train line to London Paddington, recently improved road links, and Cornwall Airport Newquay linking the wider county to cities across the UK, Penwith today isn’t as inaccessible as you might first think. And upon arrival you’ll soon find yourself swept away by its myriad charms.
When a relatively small area boasts not one, but two of the country’s most magnificent wonders – in the form of St Michael’s Mount and the Minack Theatre – it’s perhaps understandable that surrounding treasures can get overlooked. St Michael’s Mount is a dramatic tidal island, connected to the mainland only via a granite causeway at low tide, on which is perched a medieval castle, itself built on the site of an 8th-century monastery. It bears striking resemblance to its Normandy namesake, Mont-Saint-Michel.
The Minack, meanwhile, is a construction as breathtaking as its clifftop setting: a magical place for outdoor theatre in the warmer months. Both landmarks enjoy wide coverage for good reason and they must be experienced. Yet deeper exploration of West Cornwall reveals so much more.
Another highlight of Mount’s Bay is the harbour village of Mousehole – that’s ‘Mowzul’ to locals. Poet Dylan Thomas famously found it to be “the loveliest village in England”, and that sums it up quite neatly. A day watching the boats come and go is always an absolute delight. Spend the afternoon with a well-thumbed copy of iconic children’s tale, The Mousehole Cat, and a slice of the local speciality, stargazy pie.
Nor is the Minack the only reason to explore Porthcurno. This sleepy headland was once the communications centre of the world, the terminal for the 19th-century submarine telegraph cables connecting Britain to her empire, with huge cables landed on the beach from as far away as India. The Telegraph Museum and underground Second World War tunnels make a fascinating detour.
Long before Cornwall’s infux of tourism, the county relied on its lucrative mining industry: it was once the mining capital of the world. Look out for the ruins of engine houses lining the coastline, including Botallack, managed by the National Trust. Some local mining tunnels extend out miles into the sea. Fans of the TV series Poldark may recognise scenes from their screens, and the crew are often seen filming locally over the summer months.
Despite its remoteness, Penwith has been inhabited for thousands of years. At first, it’s hard to fathom what would bring people to settle somewhere so extreme, until you encounter the almost magnetic draw first-hand.
Want to find out more about what attracts visitors to Cornwall? To read the full feature, see Vol 87 Issue 4 of BRITAIN magazine on sale here