“I like Cornwall very much. It is not England,” wrote DH Lawrence. That was more than 80 years ago, but the ancient Duchy of Cornwall remains stubbornly distinct from the rest of England, not just in its dramatic and spectacular scenery, but in its strong Celtic heritage. The landscape is dotted with ancient monuments, crosses and holy wells, and ancient legends – especially those relating to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – appear to have been hot-wired into the Cornish psyche.
Cornish people have been recognised as a separate identity by the Commission for Racial Equality and they have their own distinctive and attractive dialect. According to the Cornish Language Board, around 2600 people still speak Kernuack, the original language of the peninsula. A firm in Helston occasionally publishes books in the ancient language and Kernuack has been recognised as a living language by the European Commission. Elements of Kernuack still survive in the names of Cornish places and people – as Sir Walter Scott put it: “By Tre-, Pol- and Pen- ,You shall know all true Cornishmen.”
One simple fact about the county helps to explain its distinct character. Wherever you are Cornwall in Cornwall, you are never more than 20 miles from the sea. Maritime trade started early here– in the days of King Solomon, the Cornish people were already trading tin with the Phoenicians. Cornish eyes, it seems, were always turned seawards rather than inland, and the people’s cultural affinity was with the Celtic diaspora of Ireland and Brittany rather than their mainland neighbours.
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