7 mins

12 inspiring books about Cornwall

With miles of accessible coastline, it’s no wonder the Cornish landscape has influenced so many authors. Jude Brosnan from Stanfords recommends 12 travel writing books, guides and fiction

Padstow, Cornwall (Shutterstock)

Travel writing

1. The Wild Silence

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn

This book continues from where the incredible best-selling The Salt Path ended. After walking 1,014km homeless along The Salt Path, the windswept and wild English coastline now feels like Raynor and Moth’s home. Despite Raynor’s partner Moth’s terminal diagnosis, against all medical odds, he seems revitalised in nature – outside, they discover that anything is possible. As they return to four walls, the sense of home is illusive and returning to normality is proving difficult – until an incredible gesture by someone who reads their story changes everything. A chance to breathe life back into a beautiful but neglected farmhouse nestled deep in the Cornish hills; rewilding the land and returning nature to its hedgerows becomes their new path. Along the way, Raynor and Moth learn more about the land that envelopes them, find friends new and old, and, of course, embark on another windswept adventure when the opportunity arises. The Wild Silence is a luminous story of hope triumphing over despair, of the human spirit’s instinctive connection to nature and of lifelong love prevailing over everything.

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2. Dark, Salt, Clear 

Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash

Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash

An evocative journey of personal discovery exploring the poetry and deep history of fishing communities. There is the Cornwall Lamorna Ash knew as a child – the idyllic, folklore-rich place where she spent her summer holidays. Then there is the Cornwall she discovers when, feeling increasingly dislocated in London, she moves to Newlyn, a fishing town near Land’s End. This Cornwall is messier and harder; it doesn't seem like a place that would welcome strangers. Lamorna finds herself on a week-long trawler trip with a crew of local fishermen, afforded a rare glimpse into their world. Out on the water, miles from the coast, she learns how fishing requires you to confront who you are and what it is that tethers you to the land. But she also realises that this proud and compassionate community, sustained and defined by the sea for centuries, is under threat, living in the lengthening shadow cast by globalisation.

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3. The Summer Isles

Summer Isles by Philip Marsden

Summer Isles by Philip Marsden

Beginning and very much centred around the author’s notions of home in Cornwall. In an old wooden sloop, Philip Marsden plots a course north from home to sail for the Summer Isles, a small archipelago near the top of Scotland that holds for him a deep and personal significance. On the way, he must navigate the west coast of Ireland and the Inner Hebrides. Through the people he meets and the tales he uncovers, Marsden builds up a haunting picture of these shores – of imaginary islands and the Celtic otherworld, of the ageless draw of the west, of the life of the sea and perennial loss – and the redemptive power of the imagination. The Summer Isles is an unforgettable account of the search for actual places, invented places and those places in between that shape the lives of individuals and entire nations.

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4. The Ancient Woods of the Helford River 

The Ancient Woods of the Helford River by Oliver Rackham

The Ancient Woods of the Helford River by Oliver Rackham

Beautifully illustrated throughout with photographs, maps and diagrams, this forms the second volume in the regional series The Ancient Woodlands of Britain, published in collaboration with the Woodland Trust. The Helford River, Cornwall is a place of wonder and delight, as it’s one of the few places in England where ancient woodland meets the sea. Known as oak country, the oaks have that surprising variety of size and shape that only Cornwall and Devon oaks can offer. So begins Oliver Rackham’s book covering 25 woods, predominantly in the north of the Lizard peninsula, including: Bonallack, Calamansack, Devichoys, Grambla, Gweek, Merthen, Reskymmer, Trelowarren, Tremayne and Treverry. He brings to life the curious industrial and cultural history of this unique area and shows how these woods have survived and what the future may have in store.

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Fiction

5. Rebecca 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” An international bestseller that has never gone out of print since it was first published in 1938, Rebecca was recently introduced to a new audience thanks to the 2020 Netflix release. Cornwall was Daphne du Maurier’s home and she was greatly inspired by the landscape and the rich history surrounding her. The ominous and brooding Manderley is commonly known to be based on Menabilly, a place that enchanted du Maurier and eventually became her home. It is currently a private estate but you can visit the nearby beaches that feature in the book. Often on most influential novels of all time lists, quite rightly so, if only for creating Mrs Danvers, the ultimate gothic villain.

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6. Peril at End House 

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s ingenious murder mystery published in 1932 is set in Cornwall. This is the sixth Christie novel featuring the most famous moustache in literature, Hercule Poirot. Nick Buckley was an unusual name for a pretty young woman. But then she had led an unusual life. First, on a treacherous Cornish hillside, the brakes on her car failed. Then, on a coastal path, a falling boulder missed her by inches. Later, an oil painting fell and almost crushed her in bed. Upon discovering a bullet-hole in Nick’s sun hat, Poirot decides the girl needs his protection. At the same time, he begins to unravel the mystery of a murder that hasn’t been committed. Yet.

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Travel guides

7. Lost Lanes West 

Lost Lanes West by Jack Thurston

Lost Lanes West by Jack Thurston

Jack Thurston recommends 36 bike rides in the West Country with five rides specifically set in Cornwall: 1 Cliff and Citadel – From Cornwall’s ancient capital to a breathtaking coast road taking in the highest cliff in Cornwall; 2 Granite Kingdom – Wild north Cornwall landscapes, from windswept moors to rugged little fishing coves; 3 Fowey Ahoy – Trace the River Fowey from the granite grandeur of Lanhydrock to the historic seafaring haven of Fowey; 4 Falmouth Hinterland – From the bustle of Falmouth’s grand harbour to the sleepy creeks of the Helstone River and a trio of spectacular sub-tropical gardens and 5 Promised Land – A Cornish odyssey taking in fishing harbours, prehistoric ruins, dramatic clifftop tin mines and one of the best coast roads in Britain. Combining engaging travelogue, fascinating history with stunning photography as well as all the extremely important things such as listing recommended pubs and pitstops. This addition to the Lost Lanes series provides route overviews and maps, overnight stops from B&Bs to camping spots, places to stop for a swim, breathtaking views and how to access the rides by train (no car needed!).

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8. Wild Swimming Walks Cornwall 

Wild Swimming Walks Cornwall by Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce

Wild Swimming Walks Cornwall by Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce

Cornwall is a paradise for walking and swimming, with over 483km of coastline and hundreds of beaches. And yet the terrain is not just about the coast, but about deserted moors, sweeping estuaries and wooded dells. Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce, authors of Wild Swimming Walks Cornwall – the latest guide in the Wild Swimming Walks series – present 28 great trip ideas involving walking and swimming. Combining stunning photography, engaging stories and natural history, with all the practical information you need – detailed directions, route maps, practical ideas and downloadable guides. Adventurers and family explorers alike can find fairy pools and coral sands in Penwith, explore rugged cliffs and sea caves near Padstow, follow in the footsteps of pirates and smugglers at Prussia Cove and dive into mysterious pools on Bodmin Moor.

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9. Walking in the Isles of Scilly 

Walking in the Isles of Scilly by Paddy Dillon

Walking in the Isles of Scilly by Paddy Dillon

The Isles of Scilly form the smallest of Britain’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and their historic shores have been designated as Heritage Coast. This guidebook to walking on the Scilly Isles includes 11 day walks and four boat trips. The walks are between 2.5km and 16km long and explore the larger islands such as Tresco, St Martin’s, St Mary’s, St Agnes and Bryher as well as smaller islands in the archipelago. Alongside the walks, which are suitable for walkers of all abilities, are four boat trips which explore Annet and the Western Rocks, the Norrard Rocks, St Helen’s and Tean as well as the Eastern Isles. All routes are illustrated with OS mapping and contain background information on the history, geology and ecology of the islands. There is also practical information on public transport services and accommodation. The author tells us that while the walks in this guidebook could be completed in as little as a week, a fortnight would allow a much more leisurely appreciation of the islands and leave memories that will last for a lifetime.

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10. Bradt Slow Travel Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly 

Bradt Slow Travel Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly by Kirsty Fergusson

Bradt Slow Travel Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly by Kirsty Fergusson

Offering in-depth exploration of frequently visited and less well-known destinations that will be of interest as much to locals as to newcomers, the guide is written in a friendly, engaging style and includes listings of the best and sometimes least obvious places to eat, drink and sleep appealing to all budgets. With this guide, explore the ‘Cornish Alps’ or the lonely Rame peninsula, or discover where to listen to world-class musicians playing in tiny rural churches, or see where Cornwall's emblematic bird, the chough, is making a comeback. Few areas offer such geographical diversity – the rugged, storm-lashed north coast and wide, sandy beaches favoured by surfers are rarely more than a few miles from the sheltered creeks and coves and exotic gardens of the southern coast. Wild moorland is dotted with Neolithic standing stones and just 45km from Land’s End, the Isles of Scilly offer an exhilarating blend of exoticism and wild isolation.

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11. Cornwall Outstanding Circular Walks 

Cornwall Outstanding Circular Walks by Sue Viccars

Cornwall Outstanding Circular Walks by Sue Viccars

This selection offers interest, regional variety and a balance of routes in Cornwall providing the best walks in the area. From an easy stroll along Falmouth Bay to the much more challenging walks along Looe Bar, this volume contains something for everyone. It covers popular and little known scenic walks across Cornwall including St Agnes, Tintagel and Portloe. Features 28 great circular walks from 3km to 16km with easy-to-follow route descriptions, large scale Ordnance Survey route maps and GPS reference for all Cornwall waypoints. Additional information includes where you can park, good pubs and places of interest en route. All routes have been fully researched and written by expert outdoor writers with beautiful photography of scenes from the walks throughout.

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12. South West Coast Path - Minehead to Padstow

South West Coast Path - Minehead to Padstow by Roland Tarr

South West Coast Path - Minehead to Padstow by Roland Tarr

The South West Coast Path is the spectacular 1,008km National Trail around the tip of Britain. This guide focuses on the section of the path from Minehead to Padstow, a distance of 262km. It skirts Exmoor National Park, taking in the precipitous harbour towns of Lynton, Lynmouth and Ilfracombe, before heading south west into Cornwall along the surfers’ coast via Westword Ho! and Arthurian Tintagel, to reach the gastronomic mecca of Padstow. Along the way there is the coastal path around Lundy Island, with its puffins, and other arresting wildlife from shearwaters to basking sharks. Featuring colour photographs and information on local history, cultural associations and wildlife. National Trail Guides are the official guidebooks to the 15 National Trails in England and Wales and are published in association with Natural England, the official body charged with developing and maintaining the trails.

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