• St Michael’s Mount
  • Pendennis Castle
  • Lanhydrock House

Unveiling Cornwall’s Past: A Journey Through Historic Sites

If you’re interested in history, Cornwall is the perfect place for your next holiday. From ancient villages to grand Victorian manor houses, there’s a great choice of fascinating historic sites to visit during your Cornish holiday. Here are a few of our favourites.

Prehistoric Cornwall: Chysauster

What does the traditional Cornish Easter look like? “Goody Friday” has always been quite an occasion, with families heading out for a bank holiday walk and picnic (snack tips incoming). This is always a lovely day for a walk, with plenty of friendly folk to pass the time of day with. If the weather’s good, take to the South West Coast Path with a blanket and hamper.

On Easter Sunday, it’s church followed by an Easter feast. If you’d like to attend an Easter service, try one of Cornwall’s many parish churches or celebrate Easter in beautiful Truro cathedral. Book Sunday lunch at a friendly local pub, or treat yourself to some home-reared pork from Trevaskis Farm, cooked in your Cornish holiday cottage.

Medieval Cornwall: Tintagel Castle

The dramatic headland at Tintagel has traces of Romano British activity and was a trading centre in the earlier Anglo Saxon period. The remains of Tintagel Castle date from Norman times, when the first Earl of Cornwall built a castle on the remote promontory. In parallel to this, Tintagel was also developing a mythical status as the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur, first mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century.

The castle continued to be expanded and renovated, although it was never a popular royal residence (too remote and inaccessible?). It finally fell out of use around 1600. Today, it’s managed by English Heritage, who recently completed an ambitious engineering project to join the headland to the mainland portion of the castle. Do you dare to cross the bridge to King Arthur’s fort?

Later Medieval: St Michael’s Mount

It’s difficult to place St Michael’s Mount in a timeline: like Tintagel, it’s been rebuilt and expanded over the centuries. The chapel that crowns the island dates from the 12th century, while the castellated building across the courtyard from the church is early 20th century. Many of the rooms on the visitor route are later medieval, with a lot of 18th and 19th-century tweaks.

Down in the village, the harbour dates back to the Middle Ages, while most of the houses are later (18th and 19th centuries). Don’t head straight for the castle, but explore the pretty little village first, with its whitewashed and granite houses and cobbled lanes.

Tudor: Trerice

Trerice is a National Trust-managed house three miles outside Newquay, which mostly dates from Tudor times. However, the open rooms are decorated from a variety of periods, showing the house’s long life as a comfortable residence. 

Outside, the gardens are inspired by Tudor designs: don’t miss the knot garden and orchard, as well as the field behind the house where you can try your hand at traditional Tudor games like “kaylings” (an old Cornish version of skittles). The tea room is housed in the old barn and is one of the best places around for a proper Cornish cream tea.

Civil War: Pendennis Castle

Pendennis Castle in Falmouth was originally commissioned by Henry VIII. Along with its sister castle at St Mawes, Pendennis guards the entrance into Falmouth harbour, a strategically vital site. When you arrive at Pendennis Point and see the incredible views over the water and town, you can see why Henry’s team chose this site.

Having kept an eye out for French invaders followed by the Spanish Armada, Pendennis’ next important role was as a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War. The garrison of 1,000 men endured a three-month siege here, surrendering when they ran out of food. The fort fell into disrepair for almost a century after the Civil War, but was modernised during the Georgian years with new batteries and barracks. Add in the WWI and WWII buildings and defences and you have the most incredible timeline of military architecture at Pendennis.

Georgian: Bodmin Jail

We love elegant Georgian architecture, such as the townhouses of Falmouth and Fowey. However, for our example of a Georgian visitor attraction, we simply had to choose Bodmin Jail. The jail has recently undergone a significant redevelopment, resulting in a fascinating look at Cornwall’s darker past (plus a great new restaurant…).

The original  jail was built by prisoners of war in the 1770s and was the first prison to have individual cells. Bodmin was a debtors’ prison until 1869, when it became a naval prison. It was also where men, women and children were held while awaiting transportation (or worse). The heavy doors finally clanged shut in 1927. Book onto a tour of the grim old building to find out more about crime and punishment in Georgian and Victorian Cornwall.

Victorian: Lanhydrock House

Just down the road from Bodmin Jail, you can step into a completely different world. Like most country houses, Lanhydrock House has been changed and developed over the centuries; however, a lot of what you’ll see on your visit dates from its opulent Victorian days. As well as the house, Lanhydrock has beautiful gardens and parkland and is a wonderful place for a bike ride or dog walk.

Inside, you’ll get a fascinating glimpse into life on a Victorian estate. As well as the family’s comfortable chambers, you’ll see the estate manager’s offices, the children’s rooms and the impressive kitchens. To find out more about how wealthy Cornish families made their money, visit the National Trust-managed tin mines on the West Cornwall coast.

Twentieth Century: The Minack Theatre

Hewn from a granite cliff face in the far West of Cornwall, the Minack Theatre feels like it’s always been there. However, this stunning open-air theatre was created in the 20th century by Rowena Cade, with help from her gardener Billy Rawlings. Rowena began this astonishing project in the 1920s and continued working on her theatre for the rest of her life.

As well as taking in a show during your Cornwall holidays, try to visit the theatre during the day. There’s an exhibition about Rowena and the building of the Minack and you can take a tour of the stage and backstage areas. The cafe has arguably the best views of any eatery in Cornwall. 

Book your holiday in Historic Cornwall

At Cornish Escapes, we have luxury Cornish holiday cottages close to some of these spectacular historic sites – you might even enjoy a view of the Mount, or be able to walk to an ancient settlement.

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