Art & Literature: where to visit in Cornwall

Art & Literature: where to visit in Cornwall

Categories: Arts & Heritage

Art & Literature: where to visit in Cornwall

If you love to immerse yourself in art and literature, spending time in Cornwall will feel even more special. It comes as no surprise that the Cornish landscape has inspired great literature set in wooded creeks, atmospheric moors and along the magnificent coastline. Fine wordsmiths have been inspired by the Duchy, as have other creatives such as artists seeking the wonderful light around St Ives out past Newlyn towards Lamorna.

One way to explore is to create your own cultural tour by visiting some of the perfect places beloved through time by writers and artists, letting art and literature transform you.

Here’s our guide to Cornwall’s literary and artistic hotspots…

Did you know that the influential writer D.H. Lawrence lived in Zennor during World War I with his wife, Frieda?

To be fair, the locals were rather suspicious of Lawrence, a pacifist, and his German wife, yet still he described Zennor poetically:

“One sees infinite Atlantic, all peacock mingled colours, and the gorse is sunshine itself. Zennor is a most beautiful place.” See it for yourself.

That National Trust recommend a wonderful trail walking along Zennor Head, click here to find out more.

Turquoise waters and purple heather at Zennor Head, Cornwall. ©National Trust Images Sarah Davis

Meanwhile, the satirical Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman was inspired by the beauty of Daymer Bay, a beautiful golden sandy beach at the head of the Camel Estuary. He lived at Trebetherick and is buried near there at St Enodoc Church, so you can visit his final resting place in a land of “oil-lit farms” and “golden unpeopled bays”. A walk across Greenaway – the cliff-top stretch between Polzeath and Trebetherick Point – takes in many of the poet’s old haunts.

The Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, was married in Cornwall and went on honeymoon to Mousehole in the 1930s; he was a great fan of the Ship Inn on the harbour. Did Mousehole provide inspiration for the village in Under Milk Wood? See what you think as the real identity of his fictional ‘Welsh’ fishing village of Llareggub remains unknown.

Inspired by Romanticism, a young architect, Thomas Hardy, fell in love in Cornwall, while he was overseeing the restoration of St Juliot’s Church tucked away near Boscastle. He wrote a novel about his courtship with a local girl, Emma Gifford (who became his wife) called A Pair of Blue Eyes. There is a memorial to her in the church.

While Tennyson stayed at The Falcon Hotel in Bude in 1848, he hurt his leg on the cobbles trying to reach the sea in the dark. His Idylls of the King told the tale of King Arthur, who lives on in myth and legend at Tintagel.

Cornwall’s very own poet, Charles Causley, was born and died in Launceston. He made many references to Cornwall and its legends, but also wrote poems for children. His house, Cyprus Well, in Launceston is mainly used for ‘writers in residence’ but look out for occasional open days. Meanwhile, there are guided walks along The Causley Way and a July annual festival held in historic Launceston, home to a Norman castle, and once the ancient capital of the duchy.

Meanwhile, the children’s classic, Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame was thought to be inspired by the village of Lerryn, near Lostwithiel, so look out for Ratty, Moley or Badger if you go there. Godrevy Lighthouse, exposed to the full fury of the Atlantic, was said to have been often ‘gazed upon’ during childhood summers, said to have inspired Virginia Woolf in To The Lighthouse. Novelist Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn is also based in a setting stretching down to the Cornish cliffs.

View over St Ives Bay to Godrevy Lighthouse from the cliffs at Godrevy, Cornwall. The lighthouse is said to have been the inspiration for Virginia Woolf's novel, To the Lighthouse.

To more modern times, the well-loved author, Daphne du Maurier, is synonymous with Cornwall, where a festival in her honour takes place annually in her hometown of Fowey. She is perhaps best known for her tale of smuggling, wreckers and rogues in the Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor. The Inn, once a coaching house, has expanded but the old building remains with a fine collection of smuggling memorabilia.

Many overseas visitors are especially taken with the links to the work of Rosamunde Pilcher whose books were dramatised for television in Germany. She was born in Lelant on the Hayle estuary. More recently, television’s Poldark and Doc Martin have popularised areas like Charlestown and Port Isaac. Cornwall has a developing literary festival scene, with events at Endellion, Port Eliot, St Ives, Penzance, and Fowey, so you are never too far from a book-based event.

Meanwhile, the west of Cornwall is known for its artist-inspired communities at St Ives, where hands, hearts and minds come together. Here you can visit the awesome Tate Gallery and the impressive Barbara Hepworth Studio, or the Leach Pottery. Newlyn has its own art gallery, well worth a visit, associated with the Lamorna colony of British artists. Nearby, Penzance has the Penlee House art gallery, St Just is home to lots of individual galleries, while Truro is awash with creatives, museums and galleries.

J M W Turner visited Cornwall between 1811 and 1813, capturing the region’s wonderful light in his watercolours in his own special way. It might be said that he encouraged a whole raft of artists to discover the creative vibe that is Cornwall. If you enjoy painting yourself, you will have plenty of inspiration, so bring your easel or a sketchpad. A few books have been written about walking the south-west coast path, such as The Salt Path, so again there are plenty of recommendations for you within contemporary literature, too.

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