Cornwall is ‘almost an island’

The visitor to Brittany cannot fail to notice the number of presqu’îles, or ‘almost islands’ dotted around its coasts. These are usually peninsulas jutting into the sea with only a narrow strip joining them to the land. We have no equivalent term in the English language but the whole of Cornwall could be viewed as almost an island. Indeed, this representation has been widely employed, especially by two groups that on the surface might seem to present a contrast.

A recently published article points out how, on the one hand tourist promoters, and on the other, those favouring political devolution to Cornwall both emphasise Cornwall’s ‘almost island’ status.

The idea that Cornwall is almost an island is deeply embedded in modern Cornish culture

Accentuating Cornwall’s islandness also accentuates its difference. This is useful for the tourism marketer who therefore makes it a more interesting destination. In fact it has been part of the successful ‘branding’ of Cornwall since the late 1800s. For the Cornish nationalist Cornwall’s almost-islandness underpins claims to a distinctive identity, allowing comparisons to be made with unambiguous islands such as the Isle of Man or Guernsey which enjoy some constitutional independence.

Yet, while sharing this representation, for each group the implications differ. For the pro-autonomy activist Cornwall’s near islandness presents a mixed opportunity and carries an air of wistfulness. If only the Tamar went the whole way, if only … For the tourist-promoter the importance lies in the ‘almost’; the fact that Cornwall is not actually an island and can be reached quickly and painlessly from the ‘mainland’. The activist would prefer Cornwall to be a real island; the tourist lobbyist would be horrified if it were.

For a more critical review of the academic article on which this is based see Cornwall as an ‘almost island’

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