by Enza Ferreri
Cornwall is the Wild West of Britain, or at least England.
This county at the extreme south-west corner of Great Britain, the county where England ends and the Ocean starts, has some astonishing natural beauty in its coastlines, dramatic cliffs followed by miles of desolate moors, wind-beaten country roads protected by high hedges.
Its moors are the subject of legends, like the Beast of Bodmin, and the setting of novels by great West Country authors, such as Daphne Du Maurier.
It doesn't surprise me that this rugged, mysterious Cornish landscape has inspired so much fantastic and spooky imagination.
I remember once, when I was on holiday there over Christmas, in Polperro, the TV showed a 1920s silent film with Rudolph Valentino, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which we watched comforted by the living room fire.
The next day, when after a daytrip we were returning to our holiday flat overlooking the small canal in Polperro in the evening, we were driving in the dark along these country lanes, so narrow that you have to find a layby to make way for a car coming from the opposite direction.
The weather was awful, torrential rain and gales were flagellating the road. With the memory of the old film we had watched, we were half expecting to see the four horsemen appear from the black hole of the countryside around us and flash quickly in the sky like some of those storm lightnings.
Land's End (pictured right) must have contributed to all this apocalyptic feeling. Pubs, shops, hotels and restaurants with names like "The first and last inn (or grocery, or garage) in England" do give a sense of ultimatum.
How appropriate that the end of millennium celebrations in 1999 were enhanced in Cornwall by a total solar eclipse on 11 August 1999.
True, locals and visitors alike are now complaining about the transformation of Lands End into a theme park, but the addition of the complex does not alter the essence of the place, does not ruin its fascination, its wild beauty, the strange experience of being at the edge of the world.
Penzance, which Gilbert and Sullivan remembered in their operetta The Pirates of Penzance, and the island of St Michael's Mount (see top picture), which at low tide can be reached by foot (if you're quick), are other popular attractions in West Cornwall, as is St Ives, a seaside resort with beaches and a local artistic community, home of a Tate Gallery. St Ives is also very lively on New Year's Eve with street parties in fancy dress, and its many pubs and clubs feature live bands of folk and other types of music throughout the year.
Mousehole, nearby, is particularly renowned for its spectacular Christmas lights, surrounding the whole harbour area and placed even on the water.
But Cornwall isn't just dramatic scenery, it's also fun: beaches for kids and adults. Surfing in Newquay may not be as hip as surfing in the USA, but it attracts a lot of sea-bathers and sun worshippers.
The Eden Project near St Austell is a big environmental complex. It is made up of two huge domes emulating a natural biome, containing plant species from all over the world. One reproduces a tropical environment, the other a temperate, Mediterranean environment. It opened in 2001, but has rapidly become one of the main attractions in the UK for number of visitors.
That Cornwall is becoming more and more popular is illustrated by the fact that property prices there are going up and skyrocketing.
Not long ago a sea-front house in the village of Rock, on the Cornish north coast, because of its impressive sea views was sold for a record price, believed to be the highest ever price outside London.
Indeed, it beat the London prices. The price per square foot paid for the Rock property outstripped that paid by Lakshmi Mittal, Britain’s wealthiest man, for the country’s most expensive house, his home in Kensington Palace Gardens, in London.
Rock, once a sleepy village on the Camel estuary, has transformed to become a fashionable resort for Londoners, to the point that it's now called Chelsea-on-Sea and Costa del Sloane. Rich young visitors have earned Rock those nicknames. Among them are Princes William and Harry.
The traditional Cornwall cottages so much favoured in self catering holidays are now near these high value properties.
The record sale has increased fears about the boom in second homes, which is pricing locals out of the market. New pension rules due to be introduced, which will hand investors a tax discount when buying property, are expected to worsen the problem.
The government has established the Affordable Rural Housing Commission to recommend ways of stopping the spread of second homes in areas including Cornwall, which is one of Britain’s poorest counties.
Some of these houses are built in stone, and they are made by London property developers to resemble the style of London's very own suburban terraces.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian web author living in London, and former journalist.