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A very brief guide to Cornwall

Cornwall, well known for its beautiful beaches, rugged coastline and wild moorland landscapes, is one of the world's iconic tourist destinations. The county is perfect for walkers, sailors, surfers, divers, sunbathers, gastronomes and amateur historians, geographers, geologists and oceanographers and, indeed, anyone seeking a break from a hectic world.

St Michael's Mount with the tide out St Michael's Mount Causeway closed

Cornwall lies at the far south west of the United Kingdom. To the north of Cornwall lies the Atlantic Ocean, to the south the English Channel and to the east the county of Devon. The River Tamar marks much of Cornwall's border with Devon.

Cornwall's position means that it has a relatively warm and sunny climate. Close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean results in Cornwall having mild, moist westerly winds and relatively high rainfall, though less than more northern areas of the west coast of Great Britain. Cornwall's winters are mild, and frost and snow are uncommon. Most of Cornwall enjoys more than 1,500 hours of sunshine each year.

Cornwall's scenery is dramatic. The coastline is composed mainly of resistant rocks, but the two coasts have very different characteristics. The winds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean give Cornwall's north coast its wild nature because it is more exposed. The prosaically named High Cliff, between Boscastle and St. Gennys, is the highest sheer-drop cliff in Cornwall at 735 feet (224 metres). However, there are also many fine beaches, which are so important to Cornwall's tourist industry, including those at Bude, St. Agnes, St. Ives, Perranporth, Porthtowan, Polzeath, Fistral Beach, Lusty Glaze Beach and Watergate Bay, Newquay. There are two river estuaries on the north Cornish coast: Hayle Estuary and the estuary of the River Camel, which provides Padstow and Rock with a safe harbour.

The south coast, dubbed the "Cornish Riviera", is more sheltered and there are several broad estuaries offering safe anchorages, such as at Falmouth and Fowey. Beaches on the south Cornish coast usually consist of coarser sand and shingle, interspersed with rocky sections of wave-cut platform. The world renowned St. Michael's Mount is located towards the western end of the south coast, near to Marazion and Penzance.

St Michael amphi-craft on land St Michael amphi-craft on water

Cornwall's interior consists of a roughly east-west spine of infertile and exposed upland, with a series of granite intrusions, such as Bodmin Moor in the east and Land's End in the west.

Between Cornwall's uplands and the coast is more fertile, mainly pastoral farmland. Near the south coast, deep wooded valleys provide sheltered conditions for flora that like shade and a moist, mild climate.

Cornwall was one of the most important mining areas in Europe from the Bronze Age until the early 20th century. Cornish mines have produced tin, copper, lead, zinc and silver. However, all the traditional mines have now closed; Geevor Tin Mine (opened in 1780) closed in 1991 and the last tin mine, South Crofty, closed in 1998, although there are plans to reopen it if the price of tin is sufficiently high. Mining activities are now limited to the extraction of China Clay from the area to the north of St. Austell.

Cornwall was first inhabited by Neolithic and then Bronze Age peoples, and later, in the Iron Age, by Celts. After many years of conflict with the English Kingdom of Wessex, in 922 AD King Athelstan set the boundary between England and Cornwall at the River Tamar. Although Cornwall is part of the United Kingdom, it continues to retain its distinct identity, with its own history, language and culture. The Cornish language was in regular use until the late 19th century. More recently, there have been attempts to revive the Cornish language and seek greater autonomy from the rest of the United Kingdom.

St Michael amphi-craft on land St Michael amphi-craft on water

Compared to the United Kingdom in general, Cornwall is sparsely populated; it has a permanent population of just over half a million people, but that nearly doubles in the summer months. Cornwall's administrative centre and only city is Truro.

Cornwall's traditional industries of mining and fishing and, to some extent, agriculture have declined since the middle of the 20th Century. Over the same period, tourism has increased in importance and today many in the county are trying to adapt to increase further the appeal of Cornwall to tourists. Today's visitors will discover first class accommodation and food, a fascinating, vibrant culture all set in a naturally thrilling adventure playground.

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Marazion Guide | Guide to Marazion and St Michael's Mount, near Penzance, Cornwall