Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Charlotte Mason



Cornwall is not like the rest of England; the natives have habits of their own, and some remains of a language of their own. The land itself is not like that of other counties, and the people have unusual ways of earning their living.

Cornwall is at the very end of England, the southwest end; it is a sort of horn, stretching out into a stormy sea, which washes it all round except on the Devon side, and on this side the river Tamar nearly makes an island of it.

The Saxons called this out of the way corner "Cornwall," which means the horn of the strangers or foreigners, because here the Britons held their own for from four to five hundred years against the invaders who had conquered the rest of the country.

The descendants of the Britons still occupy Cornwall, and though they no longer speak the ancient Cornish tongue, they have words and ways yet which show their origin.

This county is in itself a history of England, the most ancient of all histories, to be read, not in printed books, but in rocks and ruins and in strange folk-lore; a history which carries us back to days before those when King David ruled in Israel.

Its rocks are made of granite, an exceedingly fine, hard stone, which takes a high polish, and is beautiful to adorn our churches, and firm and durable enough to support our bridges. This granite formation goes through the whole length of Cornwall, from Devon to Land's End, rising in huge bosses here and there, and giving a peculiar character to the country.

For granite is no friend to the farmer; there is seldom any depth of soil upon it. Though, here and there, even upon the moors, there are coltiTated patches and trees, much of central Cornwall is waste moorland.

Entering the county from Devon by the Cornwall Bailway, we cross Mr. Brunei's wonderful Suspension Bridge at Saltash. This bridge carries the railway from the hills of Devon to those of Cornwall at a height of 100 feet above the water of the Tamar estuary, which is here wider than the Thames at Westminster. The bridge is about half a mile long, and is a marvel of engineering skill.

Saltash itself, inhabited by fishermen, stands on the steep bank of the Tamar, the old houses rising in rows one above another.

Going on by rail to Liskeard, we pass through country full of hills and hollows and deep gorges, but not by any means bare. This part of Cornwall is richly wooded with all kinds of forest trees and many apple orchards.

Between the four towns of Liskeard, Bodmin, Camel-ford, and Launceston, lies the Bodmin Moor, the dreariest and wildest tract in Cornwall, though it is not without an interest of its own.

The town of Liskeard stands upon rather high well-cultivated land; it is a good point from which to cross the moors.


The Moors

For many miles the waste stretches away without any break except the rounded moor hills. These are commonly capped with cairns, formed of huge blocks of granite heaped together in fantastic shapes. These cairns tell a tale of their own, and are a bit of very early history. The Britons loved to bury their famous warriors upon their hill-tops; and, to make the graves the more conspicuous, they piled cairns upon them, that men who came after should say, "Some warrior lies here." The coffin was often placed upon the top of the cairn, and was a great stone chest, or Kistvaen. Sometimes the kistvaen was placed in a mound of earth, or barrow, which, also, it was the custom to place upon a hill-top. There are many such barrows on the hills in the north of Cornwall. The slopes of the moor hills are usually strewn with great blocks of granite.

Rowtor bristles all over with cairns, perhaps more than any hill on the moor. These cairns are formed of the largest blocks of granite in Cornwall, lodged on one another in a curious way, and giving Rowtor a magnificent appearance, more grand and rugged than any mountain in Cornwall, though it is not quite the highest. Under the north side of this hill are many of the circles of unhewn stone which are supposed to be the foundations of the round huts, with pointed roofs, which were the homes of the ancient people.

Not far from Rowtor is Brown Willy, the highest of the Cornish hills (1368 feet). It is perhaps more beautiful than its neighbour, if not so grand. Granite cairns surmount the crest of Brown Willy, but its sides are less rugged than those of Rowtor.

Near this mountain is one of the many valleys, or bottoms, as they are called, which furrow the Cornish moors; most of them, like this, are occupied by stream-works, some disused and some in full force. The tin which has made Cornwall famous for more tjian 2000 years is generally to be found in granite; and when, in the course of ages, the granite becomes worn down, much of the tin is dislodged, and sinks in grains to the bottoms. It is supposed that the tin for which the Romans came to Cornwall, before they had conquered Britain, was obtained by streaming, that is, by sending a stream of water through the bottom with force enough to carry away the earthy matter, and so leave the heavier tin exposed. The most important stream-works of Cornwall are on or near the south coast.

The stranger who ventures across Bodmin Moor may easily find himself in one of the deep bogs which fill up the lowland, as the moor is apt to be wrapped in thick sea-fogs which rise without warning; or the traveller may be nearly blinded by such storms of wind, full of sea-spray or pelting rain, as only Cornwall knows. Dozmare Pool is one of the marvels of the moor.

Launceston has a remarkable ruined castle, surrounded by three walls. It was very loyal to Charles I. during the Civil War.

Bodmin, near the borders of the Moor, was once the largest town in Cornwall; it is still the county town and the assizes are held here, but it is not otherwise of much importance.


King Arthur and Tintagel

Leaving the moor at Camelford, and turning a little to the north, we come to Slaughter Bridge, where the hero of British romance, the fair King Arthur, received his mortal wound in battle with his ungrateful nephew Mordred.

Beyond the bridge, upon the coast, is Tintagel Castle, the birthplace of the king. Nothing remains of the old castle but its ruined walls, dark and solemn, rising out of the rock on which they are built as if they were part of it.

Tintagel Castle is a fitting spot to have been the home of the hero-king. It is built upon a high headland, one of the most wild and beautiful spots in Cornwall. The walls, of rude stone, with china clay for mortar, still cover a great space, and show the square apertures through which King Arthur's knights may have aimed their arrows, and the low-arched entrances under which they must have come and gone.

About three miles to the north of Tintagel is Boscastle; the town stands on a steep hill which rises out of furze-covered valleys; and the harbour of Boscastle is one of the sights of Cornwall. It is one of the little lovely inlets, or porths, as they are called, which- break every part of the Cornish coast,—sheltered coves bordered by high cliffs. The cliffs between Boscastle and Tintagel are of slate, so curiously broken and storm-worn as to look like huge ruins.

Still in the slate district, about seven miles south of Boscastle, are the Delabole quarries, three enormous pits, with dark-blue hills of rubbish all about, where a thousand men are employed in quarrying the slate.


The Mines

Cornwall is a great mining county; barren and poor as the moors look, they have a wealth of their own, for the tin for which Cornwall has been famous for these 2000 years is held in their granite crust.

Right through Cornwall, from Devon to the Land's End, tin is found, either in bottoms, from which it is got by streaming, or the tin ore runs in veins or lodes below the surface. These veins vary in width from an inch to some yards, and usually run in a direction from east to west. A shaft is sunk and a mine opened where a good lode has been found. Some of the largest mines are on or near the south coast, as St. Austell, St. Blazey, Carclaze. The last is a very interesting mine, as it is open to daylight, and crowds of men and horses may be seen at work; it is a huge, white, silvery pit, in the side of a black moor hill, and looks like an opening into a mountain of silver. Now, and indeed since the time of Queen Elizabeth, most of the tin used in Europe is brought from Cornwall.

Truro, which stands on an inlet of the sea called Truro River, is in the centre of a mining country, and exports tin; it is really the busiest and most important town in Cornwall; a clear rivulet runs through the town, and is led through every street. It has paper-mills, foundries, smelting-houses, and, in the museum, a collection of Cornish birds.

Henry Martyn, the eastern missionary, was the son of a miner of Truro.

Copper ore is as abundant as tin in the granite, and the veins run in the same general direction; the copper-mining country lies to the south of Truro; and Eedruth is the centre of a famous district, which includes Gwennap, St. Agnes, and Illogan. Heaps of rubbish upon which no green thing will grow disfigure the country; and there is little of interest to be seen, as the works are underground.

When a good lode has been found, a well-like shaft is sunk to a great depth; then, running out from this, at a distance of 60 or 100 feet below one another, long galleries or tunnels are driven, so as to enable the miner to get at the metal. These underground leveh in the Gwennap mines measure altogether 60 miles.

There is always much water in the mines, which must be got rid of by pumping, and an engine capable of raising water from a depth of 2000 feet is employed.

The miners go to work dressed in flannel, the best kind of clothing to absorb perspiration, though in the lower levels of the deep mines they work naked to the waist; for it is a curious fact that the lower we go in a mine the warmer it becomes. There is little to be seen in such a mine; though there may be hundreds of men at work in the miles of underground galleries, they work quietly, each by himself breaking down the ore by the light of a candle fixed to his hat with a lump of clay.

A visit to Botallack, near St. Just, might be a little exciting, as that mine and a few others run under the sea, and the miners may hear the roar of the waters overhead.

The underground miners, or tributers, as they are called, like their work, as they have a share in the profits,—so much for every pound of ore they get. They are as a rule clever, good-looking men, and are very generally teetotallers and Wesleyans.

The Cornish miners owe a great debt to Wesley; about a hundred and fifty years ago they were so wild and drunken a set that strangers were afraid to venture into Cornwall, which was then known as Barbary, and its people as barbarians.

Into this wild country John Wesley came, earnestly desiring that the Cornishmen should live as pagans no longer. They pelted him, mocked him, nearly killed him, but he would not be driven from among them. He went from end to end of the county, preaching, teaching, pleading, until at last the hard hearts were broken, and wherever Wesley preached, in pit or on moorside, they came in crowds to hear. Often he would preach upon the desolate moors far into the night, the sound of his voice being broken only by the sobs of the listening multitude.

His work has not passed away.

To this day the Cornish men live sober, earnest lives, and every Whitsun Monday, which day they keep as their anniversary, between 20,000 and 30,000 people collect in the great Gwennap Pit, where he so often preached to the miners, to celebrate the memory of Wesley.


The Pilchard Fishery

Twice every year, in July and August, and again in October and November, the Cornish folk all along the south coast are busy with the pilchard fishery. The pilchard is a fish found only about the Cornish and Devon coasts; it is rather smaller than a herring, but so like it that only people who are accustomed to pilchards can tell one from the other. The pilchards spend the winter in the deep waters to the west of the Scilly Isles; when spring comes they begin to collect in small shoals, and about the beginning of July, millions of them gather together under the "Pilchard King" and make for the shore with such force that the foremost ones are driven upon the beach. Now is the time for the fishermen. Huers (callers) have been watching upon the headlands for some time—solitary men gazing out to sea, with glass fixed upon the most distant spot at which the pilchards will begin to darken the waters. Heva, heva, hevaf (found) they cry, and at once all is bustle in the villages below, where the people have been on the watch for this signal. Boats are manned; the great Seine net, perhaps 300 yards long, is taken out, and millions of pilchards are caught in a single taking. They are kept in the sea, enclosed in the net, for perhaps a week, being taken to shore a few thousands at a time, as fast as the girls and women can salt them. The casks of pilchards are mostly sent to Italy and Spain, Roman Catholic countries, where fish must be eaten many days in the year. St. Ives is one of the fishing towns; it is very pretty and picturesque, but has a strong odour of pilchards. About 10,000 persons are employed in this pilchard fishery.


Land's End and the Lizard

The Land's End, the most westerly point of England, is a large rampart of granite cliffs, which seems to have been set where it is to resist the fury of the Atlantic storms. Perhaps the fact is, that land which lay beyond this point has been washed away. The point which juts farthest into, the sea is about 60 feet high, and is pierced by a Ťort of natural tunnel; on either side are still higher cliffs. Below these cliffs are huge rocks against which the sea is constantly breaking, and in the cliffs are caverns, many of them large enough to hold twenty men, with smooth, shining walls of granite polished by the action of the waves.

People usually visit Land's End from Penzance, a pretty little town ten miles distant, where nearly every building is of granite. It stands on the beautiful and sheltered Mounts Bay, where the climate is so mild that Penzance is famous for its early vegetables. Southern flowers which will only grow in greenhouses in other parts of England flourish here in the open air.

About 30 miles from the Land's End are the Scilly Islands, a large group of islands formed of granite, six of which are inhabited. They seem to continue the granite highlands of Cornwall, and there is a tradition that they were once joined to the mainland by the " sweet land of Lyonesse," where some of King Arthur's battles were fought. But this land, with all its people and more than one hundred churohes, was swept away by a sudden rising of these stormy seas. So at least says the legend.

The whole of the projection forming the heel of Cornwall, which ends in Lizard Head, is formed of a beautiful rock called serpentine, perhaps because it has streaks resembling the skin of a serpent. It is generally of an olive-green colour. The Lizard district approached from inland is rather a dreary tableland, but its soil favours one beautiful plant, the white Cornish heath, the rarest and most beautiful of English heaths.

There are two large lighthouses upon Lizard Point, but notwithstanding this precaution many ships are lost in foggy weather off this dangerous headland; the cliffs are so steep that it is impossible to send help from shore to a sinking ship. The most beautiful sight at the Lizard is Kinance Cove. A snow-white beach, washed by a blue sea; a background of cliffs, green and purple and red; pebbles of gorgeous colours strewed on the white sand; the cliffs pierced by caverns with polished walls of all beautiful colours, fresh and glowing from a sea-bath—these are some of the beauties of Kinance Cove. The three chief caverns are named the Parlour, the Drawing-room, and tho Kitchen.

St. Michael's Mount, upon which was a chapel dedicated to the archangel, looks down upon the cove. Near it is the old town of Helstone.

Penryn, famous for its beautiful granite (of which Waterloo Bridge is made), and Falmouth, are the last places of interest we can notice.

Falmouth Harbour is one of the finest in England; the town itself consists only of one long, narrow street, which straggles along by the side of the water.

Cornwall is a Duchy, settled upon the eldest son of the sovereign of England.