A Cornish Reading List – my Favourite books about Cornwall

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I have been meaning to compile a reading list of books about Cornwall for a number of years, and now seems the perfect opportunity! If we can’t physically get out there and explore at least we can find inspiration in these pages – and make lots of plans of the places we would like to visit!

I have been collecting books and pamphlets about all things Cornish for about 25 years. Consequently I have literally hundreds of books, big and small, ancient and new, famous and forgotten, lining my shelves.

Cornish reading list

However, this post is not in any way meant to be an exhaustive guide, it is just a glimpse into the Cornish themed books that I love and that have influenced me. So I hope you enjoy my choices, I tried to include something for everyone!

These books are my personal picks – the books I go back to again and again, the ones I love like old friends and the ones that I feel capture the energy and beauty of Cornwall.

I have tried to cover a wide range of genres, eras and authors. But I am certain that there will be books that you will feel I should have included, so please feel free to add a comment below! This is a great way for us all to discover books about Cornwall we didn’t know were out there . . .

So, here goes, in no particular order here is my pared down Cornish reading list:

Over Sea, Under Stone – Susan Cooper

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I first read this book in 1989 and quickly devoured the whole five book series known as ‘The Dark is Rising Sequence’. But Over Sea, Under Stone is the one that I read most, and strangely I have returned to it again recently. I find that some books are like old friends, they are a safe place when things get difficult.

This fantasy adventure is set in Cornwall and the atmosphere and landscapes of the region are integral to the plot. A group of children discover an old map which starts them on an action-packed, and at times dark and tense, adventure to try and stop age-old forces of evil escaping into the world. This is supposedly a children’s book but as Robert Macfarlane wrote in the introduction to the 2019 edition: “These are not books for children – they are books for people . . . new fears – climate breakdown, civil wars, mass extinction – menace the minds of children. The dark is always rising and the work of the greatest stories is to hold it back.”

Buy it HERE

Rising Ground – Philip Marsden

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Philip writes like I wish I could. The Bodmin Moor he captures is one that I easily recognise and hanker for, and yet there is so much that is new to discover within these pages. On the surface the book is about Marsden’s move to a run down farmhouse in Cornwall but for me the book is really an exploration of the landscape of Cornwall, and the people that did and do inhabit it. This is a book about belonging. It dips into myth and legend as well as nature writing and memoir, bringing to life the many varied voices and spirits of place. Pure escapism for me.

Buy it HERE

Cornovia – Craig Weatherhill

cornish reading list

My ultimate field guide to Cornwall’s prehistoric sites. This was one of the first books I bought about the ancient monuments in Cornwall back in the 1990s, and since then it has become my go-to when I want to know the facts, the vital statistics, about a particular site. Accessible, thoroughly researched and concise it is a fantastic introduction to archaeology in Cornwall without being in any way dry and, along with it’s sister book Belerion, has provided me with endless enjoyment and inspiration! Craig is still very active within the Penwith community and it is always a proud moment for me when he comments on one of my posts, he never fails to add interest and insight.

Buy it HERE

A Week at The Lands End – John Thomas Blight

Cornish reading list

I have two copies of this book, a reprint which I use as my ‘everyday’ copy and a first edition from 1861 which I treasure. One of the things I love most about this little book is Blight’s gorgeous illustrations throughout and of course the wonderful nuggets of information he includes.

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This author’s life story is a particularly tragic one, he died in poverty in Bodmin Asylum, and that is something that I always have in the back of my mind when I read his words. He was clearly a man with great sensitivity and insight who’s love of Cornwall just jumps of the page, and I always try to imagine him walking the Cornish coast in sunnier, happier days.

Buy it HERE

The Almost Island – Des Hannigan

Cornish reading list

I am a huge fan of Des and have books that he has written about historic trackways as well as some of his travel writing and his most recent book The Long Deep. But The Almost Island is my favourite. A collection of musings, poems, and short articles which were published during the author’s time as a journalist, this is a book you can dip in and out of, or wallow in. Des, who has lived in Cornwall for more than 50 years, writes in the foreword:

“A journey through the pages of this book will take the reader from the spectacular cliffs of West Cornwall to the lonely reaches of the Celtic Sea in the company of fishermen, lifeboatmen, coastguards, rock climbers, famous writers and artists and a host of everyday characters in their often extraordinary element.”

I would have to add however that as the reader you are really in the company of Des and luckily he is just wonderful to be around!

Buy it HERE

Popular Romances of the West of England – Robert Hunt

Cornish reading list

Hunt is a figure that has fascinated me for a number of years. Although this is the publication he is most famous for he also wrote the first manual for photography in the English language, invented his own photographic process, worked at the Poly in Falmouth for a number of years, was one of the founders of Camborne’s School of Mines and also wrote poetry and fiction. Popular Romances, first published in 1881, with illustrations by George Cruickshank, is an absolute treasure trove of myths, legends, superstitions and remedies. Hunt began gathering the stories in his childhood and then added to them over the years while travelling around Cornwall as part of his work. It is a classic!

Buy it HERE

The North Coast of Cornwall – John Lloyd Warden Page

Cornish reading list

When I am writing I love to gather together as much information as possible from as many different sources as I can find. This book, published in 1897, is packed with snippets that I love, with a focus as the title suggests on our wild north coast. Warden Page also includes his own thoughtful pen and ink sketches – some are a little fanciful at times, which just makes me love them more.

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The guide is designed to take the reader ‘step by step’ from the Devon border to Lands End but along the way the writer is informative and beautifully descriptive, often drifting inland to sites of interest.

My old copy is fast coming apart at the seams because I love it so much and go back to it repeatedly! I might have to invest in a second copy . . .

Buy it HERE

Figgie Hobbin – Charles Causley

Cornish reading list

This book was read to me as a child but as I have become older I have come to appreciate the work of this wonderful poet more and more. (I think I would like his poem Eden Rock read at my funeral in fact.) Figgie Hobbin is Charles Causley‘s comical collection of verse written especially for children but I think I can guarantee that any adult will get a great deal of joy out of this whimsical, hilarious book too. One Day at a Perranporth Pet Shop is one of my favourites . . . and his poem of a conversation between Dodman Point and Ramhead should be essential reading!

Buy it HERE

Bodmin Moor – E. C. Axford

Cornish reading list

This list would not be complete for me without this little book. It is not exactly a page turner but I find Axford’s insights into Bodmin Moor invaluable. Again this is one of the books that I turn to over and over, when I am planning a walk or researching a piece, I can rely on Axford to add to my knowledge and understanding of this landscape. His writing combines detailed geology and archaeology with history and myth to add depth and endless interest to what has erroneously been called “barren and naked country”.

Buy it HERE

The Ancient Woods of the Helford River – Oliver Rackham

Cornish reading list

This is a new edition to my bookshelves, in fact I haven’t even finished reading it yet. But I just know that it is going to be an amazing source of inspiration for me. I have always loved a niche book, a book really focuses on a particular subject or place, digs deep and unearths those hidden treasures.

This particular book has been published posthumously. Oliver Rackham was a man who appears to have dedicated his life to the study and preservation of wild places and after his death in 2015 a number of unfinished manuscripts were discovered and combined to create this fascinating and unusual book. It describes the geology, history and flora of 25 individual woodlands close to the Helford river.

Buy it HERE

Final Thoughts

I am sure you can appreciate how difficult it was for me to limit myself to just 10 choices and this list by no means represents all of the books on my shelves that I treasure! That would be a very looong post! But hopefully I have given you some inspiration. As I said before I would love to hear about the books you would choose, so please feel free to message me below!

And Happy Reading!

Oh and you can find lots more reviews of books by local Cornish writers such as Natasha Carthew, Christian Boulton and Alex Langstone on my Reviews Page.

Author’s Note: If you decide to buy any of these books, where possible I have added links that direct you to the publishers or similar organisations. You can of course find most of these books available from larger online shopping websites, but do please try to support local writers wherever possible as best you can. ** I have not been paid for and will not benefit financially from this review.

I provide all the content on this blog completely FREE, there's no subscription fee. If however you enjoy my work and would like to contribute something towards helping me keep researching Cornwall's amazing history and then sharing it with you then you can DONATE BELOW. Thank you!

10 thoughts on “A Cornish Reading List – my Favourite books about Cornwall

    1. Oh so many, there’s lots of different ones to choose from, A L Rowse has written a couple, anything by him is worth a read, and The Story of Cornwall by Hamilton Jenkin is very readable, and there’s another by Ian Soulsby . . .

  1. esdale77 – I was amazed to read your Cornish reading list. Kernow has been my spiritual home for the last 60+ years. My parents took me to Perranporth annually from when I was a small child. I have done similarly with my 2 daughters (different mums)… the love affair is thus continued. Over the last 20+ years I have collected many books on Cornwall (especially – initially – those from ‘Cornish Editions’ by Philip Payton and others… I was a subscriber to some of them. I also have many books on the archaeology of Cornwall – Journey to the Stones; Romance of the Stones…. Cheryl Straffons books the Holy Wells of Kernow; Pagan Cornwall etc. etc. I will explore your list with great interest and probably purchase many of them!!! An excellent tonic for this protracted lockdown…. It is my ambition to visit and photograph all 218 parishes in Cornwall (incl. Scilly Isles). Last June I did the first 45 – all those in the old Caradon district… two highlights (of many on a rather wet five days camping just east of Liskeard) were the hamlet called ‘Caradon town’ and the beautiful ‘fairy-tale’ church of St. Winnow on the river Fowey…
    Keep in touch!
    Mike

    1. Hi there Mike ,
      Thank you so much for your comment! And good luck with your plans to visit all the parishes, I have started on a similar less ambitious quest to visit all the tors on Bodmin Moor! And yes, St Winnow is magical, was the little cafe and farm museum open when you went?
      Cheryl Straffons Pagan Cornwall was one of my first purchases back in the 90s and I was delighted to meet her a couple of years ago at the dolly dunking at Venton Bebilbell well.
      Thanks again for your comment! All the best!

  2. Please move on to fiction next – would enjoy seeing your selection very much – especially if you celebrate earlier authors and include all the Quiller-Couchs!

  3. @ESDALE77, your list of books are interesting and informative for learning more about Cornwall. I will definitely checkout ‘A Week At the Lands End’! It must have been an even more magical place before it became so popular.

    One of the areas of Cornwall I find most fascinating is the area of Falmouth to Truro, going up the Carrick Roads. It was then such a surprise when browsing books a couple of years ago I cam across the book ‘Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain’, by Stephen Taylor. The Captain is Edward Pellew is a Cornishman (although he was born in Dover), from a Cornish family and spent much of his naval career based in Falmouth. He rose from penniless seaman to Admiral. The book, albeit about the man, is also a look at Cornwall’s naval history.

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