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10 Cornish Museums to visit

It's not just restaurants that open up inside this week! On International Museum Day here are ten Cornish favourites that we're looking forward to visiting again.

Cornwall has an immense heritage, both gritty and magical and so is spoilt for museums exploring the past – including (and not limited to) sea-farers, artists, smugglers, pirates and sailors, tin miners and arthurian legends.

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives

Top of my list is one of the most peaceful places in Cornwall, despite it also being the place of her death, with the studio and garden being largely as Hepworth left it the day before fire consumed the studio in 1975. One of the UK’s most influential artists, Hepworth began creating her stone and later bronze sculptures in the garden tucked out of the way at Barnoon in St Ives in 1949 (she left London to escape the war a decade earlier but didn’t start work at Trewyn Studio until much later). Walking around the garden and the small museum dedicated to her life and influences in what was her simple whitewashed studio is both magical and inspirational. A haven of tranquility just moments from the bustling St Ives high street.

National Maritime Museum, Falmouth

Head to the harbourside in Falmouth where you’ll find the Maritime Museum at Discovery Quay, which opened in 2003. The building is the result of an architectural competition and the museum aims to promote an understanding of boats and their place in people’s lives, and of the maritime heritage of Cornwall. Explore the centuries-old myths and legends, when chance sightings and odd appearances led to tall tales of deep sea creatures. Learn how, even today, these stories continue to capture imaginations, fuelled by fake news and conspiracy theories. Don’t miss the rather fascinating tidal zone which gives a unique underwater perspective on Falmouth harbour.

Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle

This tiny museum on the harbourside at Boscastle, on the north coast, is home to the largest collection of witchcraft related artefacts held anywhere in the world. Exploring the history of witchcraft and magic in Cornwall and also Britain, new for 2021 is the postponed In the Land of the Bucca exhibition, which shows some of the many rich and strange stories from ancient Kernow to modern Cornwall.

PK Porthcurno (Formerly the Telegraph Museum), Porthcurno

This communications museum is set in what was once the largest telegraph station in the world. Most people think of the beach at Porthcurno as the star attraction (and it *is* gorgeous) but is also the location of a communications revolution since 1870. With sub-tropical gardens, underground WW2 tunnels and extensive exhibitions to captivate enquiring minds, it makes a great afternoon out. 

Shipwreck Treasure Museum, Charlestown

The Shipwreck Treasure Museum in Charlestown is a museum of peril and possibility, where a seabed of salvaged stories waits to be explored – Life and loss at sea. The lure of the search. The reveal of the find. As you’d expect from a county bordered almost exclusively with coastline, Cornwall has seen a lot wrecks, and here you can view 8,000 finds from over a hundred of them – fascinating particularly for little ones obsessed by pirates.

Geevor Tin Mine, Lands End

Set in the wide open spaces of the Lands End peninsula on the dramatic Atlantic coast, the stunning Cornish coastline around Pendeen was once at the heart of the Cornish tin and copper mining industry. Geevor Tin Mine gives you the opportunity to visit a real mine and learn what life was like for a Cornish miner. Head deep underground and find out what life was really like for the men and boys who worked the mines between 1911 and 1990 during which time it produced about 50,000 tons of black tin.

Dark Walk, Bodmin Jail

Using state-of-the-art technology and the latest theatrical effects, the Dark Walk (age 10+) – a major addition to the attraction and the first of its kind in the region – sends you on an immersive, spooky and interactive discovery of Cornwall’s most haunting histories. Stories of Cornwall’s murky past are retold, and you’ll be transported to life within the walls of the 18th century prison. If that wasn’t chilling enough, Bodmin Jail is also home to the only working execution pit in the country and delves into the myth of the terrifying Bodmin Beast. Pre-booked timed entry slots essential & leave the littlies at home – this one is a bit noisy and might make you jump. Not spooky enough? Terrify yourself with late night ghost walks, scary cinema and paranormal tours. (Late night events suitable for 16-plus)

Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance

Built in 1865, as the home of the Branwell family, this fascinating museum / art gallery in Penzance gives insight into Cornwall’s other artists mecca. The Newlyn School artists were also making their way in the art world, famous for painting outdoors, ‘en Plein air’. Artists were drawn to Newlyn for the light and ease of living and became fascinated with the fishing way of life, chronicling this in their work. The current main exhibition is that of Laura Knight who was among the most successful and popular painters in Britain – the exhibition considers some of her work including Sennen (above).

Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro

If Cornish life and culture is of interest, then the Royal Cornwall Museum in the centre of Truro might make a fascinating day out – particularly as this museum in Cornwall’s capital includes contemporary stories of how Cornwall has responded to Covid-19 as well as a look into times past.

Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum, St Austell

St Austell Clay country

Think of Cornish mining and you’re probably thinking metal (Copper, Tin or maybe even Lithium), but china clay is actually Cornwall’s largest mining industry – and along with the the Poldark-esque mining shafts, the spoils of the china clay industry have shaped Cornwall’s landscape for the past 250 years (think the ‘white’ pyramids that surround St Austell). Super kid friendly, the museum at Wheal Martyn is a fascinating insight based in two Victorian era china clay works, now protected monuments.

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