With its varied landscape, unique culture and dramatic history, West Cornwall has inspired as many writers as it has artists. Many of our West Cornish walking tours pass through famous literary settings or authors’ homes. Here are a few literary connections to be aware of while you’re walking the Cornish coast path.
Much-loved author Rosamund Pilcher was born in Lelant near St Ives, and went to school in Penzance. Many of her novels are set in Cornwall, which brought our beautiful county to a wide international audience (many German visitors come here on the Pilcher trail). If you take our walking holiday from St Ives to Perranporth, you’ll pass through the pretty village of Lelant with its old church and estuary views.
Novelist and one-time intelligence officer John le Carre (David Cornwell) lived in St Buryan for over 40 years, until his recent death aged 89. He had worked in the secret service in the 1940s, and began writing spy novels during the Cold War. Le Carre moved to Cornwall for its tranquillity and relative privacy, and loved living here. The route from St Just to Penzance is one of the best walks in Cornwall (we think!), and passes through le Carre’s favourite spots.
The author of The Minack Chronicles lived a mile away along the coast path from John le Carre. Derek Tangye and his wife left the rat race to live with their beloved menagerie in a remote Cornish cottage. His popular books tell the stories of their idyllic Cornish life, and if you take the footpath near Lamorna, you pass by the nature reserve set up by Derek and Jeannie.
The novelist and his wife Frieda lived in Zennor near St Ives during the First World War. It didn’t go well: treated with suspicion because Frieda was German, and accused of signalling to enemy submarines, the Lawrences were expelled from the county in 1917. War Horse author Michael Morpurgo later bought the same cottage, and enjoyed rather more peaceful stays in Zennor. Walk along the path between St Ives and St Just to see the alleged signalling spots.
This much-loved author spent most of her life in Cornwall, and her famous works including Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman’s Creek have Cornish settings. She mostly lived (and died) in Fowey; however, the coves around Penberth and Porthgwarra in the west are like the one where Rebecca kept her boat… Our walking holiday from St Ives to Porthcurno passes by these gorgeous little bays.
Manchester-born Winston Graham lived in Perranporth from 1925 until 1960, and famously set his Poldark books in Cornwall. It’s always entertaining to spot the Cornish placenames Graham borrowed for his lead characters: look out for Demelza, Warleggan, Poldark Mine and Carne. If you want to visit the locations for the BBC1 adaptation of the novels, the mine scenes were filmed way out west. The St Ives to Marazion walking tour passes through several Poldark sites.
West Cornwall continues to attract authors, and contemporary novelist Patrick Gale lives with his farmer husband near Land’s End. Many of his works are set in Penwith, capturing the culture and personality of West Cornwall as well as the landscape and heritage. He is patron of Penzance LitFest. Walk from St Ives to Mousehole via the moors to appreciate Patrick Gale’s wild Penwith landscape.
Not strictly speaking an authorial connection; however, Penzance has a significant connection to some of the most famous writers in the English language. Maria Branwell, mother of the famous Bronte sisters, was born in Chapel Street in Penzance. She left Cornwall in 1812 when she married the Reverend Patrick Bronte; however, you can see reminders of her prominent family around the town, including Branwell Lane, now home to Tesco (the St Just to Porthleven walking holiday route passes near both Chapel Street and the supermarket).
Mary Wesley lived in Cornwall as a child, and again after her divorce in the 1940s. Her most famous novel, The Camomile Lawn, is set on the Roseland Peninsula, a bit out of our territory; however, as the South West Coast Path runs next to the house, it deserves an honourable mention.
If you know of any other famous West Cornish literary connections, please let us know! Please also get in touch if you’d like to know more about the walking holidays mentioned in this blog, or if there’s a specific literary setting you’d like including in a walking itinerary.
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