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10 books to read to escape to Cornwall

In the absence of being able to literally escape to Cornwall, how about a literary escape instead.

We may be physically confined to our primary residences but it doesn’t mean your mind has to be – we’ve rounded up a few favourite books set in Cornwall. Let us know any more of your holiday go-tos that we need to include in the comments.

The Chamomile Lawn by Mary Wesley

The cousins have one last carefree Cornish summer holiday at their aunt’s house (the TV adaption chose a house on the Roseland Peninsula at Veryan, Truro) before WW2 changes all their lives forever. After this last hot summer they go their separate ways, but the scented chamomile lawn and the clifftops at the house in Cornwall takes on increasing significance, representing their once innocent childhood freedoms. Mary Wesley’s celebrated novel follows the twists and turns of the family until they are reunited in Cornwall nearly fifty years later.

Bonus – watch the TV adaptation on Channel 4

A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn

Veronica Speedwell is an intrepid lepidopterist with a mysterious past in Victorian England who finds herself solving high stakes mysteries a la Sherlock Holmes. Her partner in crime is a tortured, bad tempered but oh so virile natural historian by the name of Stoker– will they or won’t they ever admit their feelings for each other?

In book four of the series, A Dangerous Collaboration, Veronica and Stoker are invited to a house party on a remote island off the tip of Cornwall. It quickly becomes apparent that there is more to this house party than meets they eye, and they find themselves investigating their hosts wife’s mysterious disappearance from their own wedding three years previously. An incredibly well-written series with a delicious slow burn romance, each book is a perfect escape, but the writing is so intelligent it’s a guilty pleasure that’s calorie free. 

The Poldark Saga by Winston Graham

The saga which surely needs no introduction spans 12 novels and straddles two centuries (the late eighteenth and early nineteenth) and follows the life and troubles of Ross Poldark (synonymous now with Aiden Turner, obvs) the principled and brooding young man who has returned home from the American Revolutionary War to find his father dead, his copper mine failing and his childhood sweetheart, the beautiful Elizabeth Chynoweth, engaged to his cousin.

Intrigue, drama, betrayal, and romance / love-triangles ensue, with Ross falling in love with Demelza all the while fighting his arch-enemy, the swaggering and ruthless financier, George Warleggan.

Bonus – catch up on the BBC TV adaption of Poldark on Amazon Prime

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

Nominated by the British public in 2003 as one of the top 100 novels in the BBC’s Big Read, The Shell Seekers follows Penelope Keeling’s examination of her life both past and present in Cornwall with the story centered around her father’s painting, The Shell Seekers, which turns out to be now worth a small fortune.

Now in her sixties, reflecting on her bohemian childhood in Cornwall with her artist father and much younger French mother, Penelope starts to see her children for what they are, and must decide how to move forward.

Blue by Lisa Glass

One for your teenage kids, or at least the young adult aficionados. Blue is a trilogy set on the beaches of Newquay. A coming-of-age novel the action focuses on the relationship between teen surfer Iris and pro-surfer Zeke whom she meets one day in a yoga class. Like all good teen sagas, there is an ex-boyfriend, a best friend and plenty of drama.

Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier is one of Cornwall’s most famed authors – and many lists would include her novels Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn, to name but a few. I’ve been enjoying this work of non-fiction which explores Cornwall history, exploring the legends, landscape and people that combine to make Cornwall such a special place, alongside photographs by her son and ancient maps . I picked up my copy second-hand online but it’s also available on the Kindle. Failing that, any of her novels make a compelling read and Frenchman’s Creek is next on my list for re-reading.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

One summer Raynor and her husband Moth find themselves homeless at the same as Moth receives a terminal diagnosis. With nowhere else to go and spirits at an all time low, they spend their remaining cash on a tent, basic camping supplies and start walking. For the next weeks and months, ‘home’ becomes something of a different concept as they start tackling step by step all 630 miles of the South-West Coast Path. This is a tale of losing everything and then finding yourself between the elements of sea and sky.

Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore

While I hesitate to keep recommending books set in times of trouble, it does seem to be rather a theme with people seeing Cornwall as a place of safety.

Zennor in Darkness is also set in wartime, this time the first world war. It is 1917 and among the characters living in Zennor that the young artist Clare encounters are D. H. Lawrence and his German wife Frieda, who have fled from London to an isolated farmhouse. Dunmore’s debut novel explores the events which led to Lawrence’s expulsion from Cornwall (on suspicion of spying) as well as describing the beautiful West Cornish countryside.

A Cornish Affair by Liz Fenwick

If you’re a fan of a romance novel which also happens to be set in deepest most beautiful Cornwall then pretty much any of Liz Fenwick’s books will be right up your street. In A Cornish Affair, Jude runs out on her wedding, flees to Pengarrock, a crumbling cliff-top mansion in Cornwall, and takes a job cataloguing the Trevillion family’s extensive library. Exploring relationships, friendships and learning to love ourselves, fans of Liz Fenwick’s books enjoy her beautiful descriptions of the Cornish countryside (in this case, the Helford River) almost as much as the plots themselves.

Summer at the Cornish Cafe (Penwith Trilogy) by Philipa Ashley

If the names and themes of the Cornish Cafe books seems familiar, it might be because this is Poldark fan fiction – yes, it is a thing. Again set amongst gorgeous Cornish countryside, this light romantic fiction follows the story of Demi who ends up helping local hottie Cal (recently returned from overseas to find his ex marrying someone else) renovate his holiday resort, Kilhallon Park.

As I’m sure I’ve already written once in this piece (!) intrigue, drama, betrayal, and romance / love-triangles ensue – will Cal fall in love with Demi? Who can predict! Lighthearted escapism abounds.

Any suggestions you think we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!

Additional words Carina Covella

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4 comments on “10 books to read to escape to Cornwall”

  • Sally March 25, 2020

    The Ingo series of books set in St Ives by Helen Dunmore – great for older children/young teens.

    Reply
  • Alice Armstrong Evans March 25, 2020

    Hi – reading material – I absolutely loved Catherine Alliott’s ‘A Cornish Summer’. Yet it is chick lit, but posh and Cornish!

    Reply
  • Alice Armstrong Evans March 25, 2020

    Oh, and Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘The King’s General’ for anybody interested in how the people of Cornwall supported King Charles I against the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. Lots of our local towns and villages and beaches mentioned, and the old Cornish families and whose sides they were on. It was absolutely fascinating and it also is a love story.

    Reply
  • Jacqui Jaffe March 26, 2020

    Patrick Gale !! Eg Notes from an Exhibition, Rough Music, A Perfectly Good Man.

    Reply

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