Dreaming of a white Christmas? Cornwall might just prove to be something of a disappointment. Its winters are more noted for the number of swimmers than for snowmen and, as its many tender plant species confirm, even frosts are rare.

There are times, in the depths of January and February, when a precocious sun turns the sea to turquoise and you could begin to believe in fairies. On such days the coastal footpath is at its incomparable best, and it is nothing unusual to have a complete beach to yourself.

This Cornwall inspired the Poldark novels, full of passion and intrigue, while Daphne du Maurier and Sir John Betjeman reflected their deep attachment to the Duchy in their writings.

But winter is also a time when the elements can choose to reassert themselves with an unforgiving fury. Stand at Land's End or at Lizard Point, when storm-force winds provoke the sea to tumult, and you'll stand in awe.

A remarkable clarity of light dancing over woods, hills and sea has attracted artists for over 100 years - a heritage celebrated with the opening of the Tate Gallery of St. Ives. This outstanding gallery complements the Barbara Hepworth Studio and Bernard Leach Pottery in the same delightful resort, while the Penlee Gallery, Penzance, shows paintings of the Newlyn School. Crafts, dance and lively local theatre continue to reflect the character of an ancient Celtic race.

Log fires, good cheer and hearty yarn-spinning make Cornish pubs ideal places to linger until winds mellow. You'll often hear a song strike up. Traditional legends told to music and rich sea shanties are given full throat by the same voices that are the heart of the great Cornish choirs.

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