Geography of Cornwall

Those moments, tasted once and never done,

Of long surfing breaking in the midday sun.

A far-off blow-hole booming like a gun –

The seagulls plane and circle out of sight

Below this thirsty, thrift-encrusted height,

The veined sea-campion buds burst into white

And gorse turns tawny orange, seen beside

Pale drifts of primroses cascading wide

To where the slate falls sheer into the tide…

From ‘Cornish Cliffs’ by Sir John Betjeman

The shape of Cornwall


Cornwall was given its geological shape many millions of years ago. Before the onset of the Ice Age, the Cornish coastline extended five miles further than it does today, the Isles of Scilly were part of the mainland and Britain was physically joined to Europe. The seas rose gradually until around 6000 years ago when the Channel was formed.

The climate started to cool around 1000BC and became much the same as it is today. This resulted in the damp, peaty ground of the moors, encouraging people to move to lower ground.

Cornwall’s geology has had a significant influence on its built environment. The great slabs of granite that are everywhere on the moors were used by prehistoric peoples to erect standing stones, round house remains and burial chambers.


Places to see in Cornwall

Cornish castles


Impressive fortifications like Castle-an-Dinas near St Columb Major, Castle Dore near Fowey and Castle Canyke at Bodmin were built during the Iron Age. ‘Cliff castles’ were also build on headlands – Dodman, near Gorran Haven and the Rumps, near St Minver are both good examples.

The Roman occupation had virtually no effect upon the Cornish landscape – nor did the Anglo-Saxon settlement. Most Cornish people spoke Cornish and lived in scattered hamlets. By 1086, when the Domesday Book survey took place, there were many well-established estates – Launceston Castle is an impressive symbol of that Anglo-Norman era.


Visit a Cornish castle

A change takes place


The plague swept through Cornwall in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

At this time the population decreased and many lowland farms became vacant, resulting in farmers from the poorer upland areas moving into them.



Cornwall began to industrialise in the middle of the eighteenth century when mining for copper and tin began in earnest. One hundred years or so later, the majority of mines had been abandoned – leaving behind dramatic, rather eerie landscapes punctuated by the engine houses that are so much a part of the county’s modern day image.

The effect of granite and slate quarrying on the landscape can be seen in areas like St Breward and Cheesewring on Bodmin Moor and Delabole.

The china clay industry based around St Austell is characterised by what used to be white pyramids but are now largely grassed-over mounds. The famous Eden Project is situated amongst them – one of the best places to visit in Cornwall.


Places to visit in Cornwall

A map of Cornwall....


A map of Cornwall today shows that it is still deeply rural with lots of high open country and dense wooded valleys

Two thirds of the population live in rural areas, Truro is its only city and the county has more ancient monuments than any other part of the UK.


Explore some Cornish Landmarks