A Cornish mile and a Cornish saint

Chris White asked what a Cornish mile is, and since I’d never heard of it, I turned to Google and then asked around.

Let’s start with the asking around bit: According to J., it’s one of those flexible distances people use when a car stops and the driver rolls down the window and asks how far it is to Saint Whoosit.

Cornwall has lots of towns named Saint Whoosit, and Saint Whoosit is always a mile from wherever that car stops. At least that’s what J. tells me. Or else the turn to Saint Whoosit is a mile away, right by the bent tree (we have even more of those than we do of St. Whoosits), and St. Whoosit itself is a mile after that.

And ten minutes later, when the car still hasn’t gotten to St. Whoosit, the turn, the tree, or another person to ask? It’s traveled a Cornish mile.

Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: Flower from our back yard. The bee's blurred, but if you look closely you'll see where the snails hide--something I didn't know until I looked at this on the screen.

Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: A flower from our back yard. The bee’s blurred, but if you look closely you’ll see where the snails go to hide–something I didn’t know until I looked at this on the screen.

On the other hand, according to Wikipedia (never mind a link—the contents will have changed by now), the old Cornish mile measured 3.161etc. to nine decimal points miles. And in case you need to know this, a Cornish gallon was 10 pounds, but a Cornish apple gallon was 7 pounds.

How do you measure a gallon in pounds when you don’t know if it holds a gallon of water or a gallon of honey? It’s a unit of weight, not volume, that’s how. You have to admire the English language. It’s not only inventive, it’s downright hallucinatory. Maybe it was something in that honey they were weighing.

The entry also defines a Cornish lace, which is 18 square feet. Or 18 feet square. I can’t see why there’d be any difference between the two, but since I’m mathematically incompetent we shouldn’t trust me on the subject.

According to the Financial Dictionary, though, a Cornish mile is 1.5 miles. Why a financial dictionary’s defining an out-of-date measure of distance is beyond me, but it may tell us something about economists that its definition doesn’t match the other definitions. Not that everyone else’s agree, but they might want to report that other opinions exist. (I don’t seem to hold Wikipedia to that standard, which tells you something about my expectations.)

The two sources do agree on the Cornish gallon, in case that’s relevant.

The Cornish mile could also be (and sometimes is) taken to refer to any number of places in Cornwall where road signs tell you it’s, let’s say, 3.5 miles to Saint Whatsit and then a mile or so later you find another sign saying you have 3.5 miles left to go. Exactly what that tells us about the length of a Cornish mile isn’t clear, but it’s one of the things people talk about when the topic comes up. Some can even cite exact locations for the signs. I can’t, but I did find one when Wild Thing and I were on the way to Saint Whatsit last year.

On the VWT4 Forum (no, I have no idea), Lord of the T4s wrote, “At the junction at the top of Port Isaac, the village which is used for the Doc Martin TV series, there is a signpost on one side of the road which reads, “ ‘St. Teath 5 miles’ and ‘Wadebridge 9 miles.‘

“Don’t move from where you’re standing and look to the other side of the same junction, and another signpost indicates that it’s now 5 1/2 miles to St. Teath and 9 1/2 miles to Wadebridge.”

Two comments down, Maude explains it all. “It’s basically 9 1/2 miles to Wadebridge from there—but if you hurry you can do it in 9.”

Maude, whoever you are, I love you.

St. Teath, by the way, is pronounced teth, not teeth. She lived in the fifth century (and once again I’m drawing from Wikipedia) and was recognized as a saint in Cornwall and Wales. She was also known as Saint Tecla and Saint Tetha, as well as by a variety of other names (Tethe, Thecla, and so on to another nine decimal points). She was a virgin (why anybody had any business asking I don’t know, but folks back then did seem to be obsessed with a small and useless bit of the female anatomy) and one of the missionary companions of Saint Breaca, who jointly brought Christianity to Cornwall. She may have been the daughter of a Welsh king, which also says that she may not have been. Unlike some of her companions, she wasn’t martyred, and according to one theory her name was inserted into the list of companions by accident.


If you’re considered a saint but you got saintified by accident, are you still a saint?

Regardless, it’s still pronounced teth. And she got a town named after her. Take that, all you other companions of Saint Breaca.

What does this have to do with a Cornish mile? Not a thing, but I felt like I owed you a few more paragraphs. And now that you have them, I’m entertaining suggestions for topics you’d like me to write about. In a perfect world, they’d be related to life in the U.K. or U.S., but you never know what will get me going. If you expect anything sensible, don’t ask about physics, math, astronomy, or anything that looks like it might fall into that same category. I also wouldn’t suggesting asking about lace making, carpentry, fashion, hair, car repair, or raising children–especially that last one, because although people who don’t have kids offer lots advice it tends to be useless in real situations.

However, if you don’t expect anything sensible, it’s open season.

I don’t promise to write about your topic. Some things work and some don’t, and I don’t always know in advance which is which. I haven’t written about either stiles or tipping. I’ve tried, and they’re perfectly good topics, but so far they haven’t gone anywhere. I’ll give them a bit more thought and see what happens.

So ask me questions. Or make suggestions. I’ll address as many of them as I can. And I appreciate getting a push in whatever direction. As long as the train isn’t coming.


57 thoughts on “A Cornish mile and a Cornish saint

  1. You are a wonderful person for taking the time and trouble to research what a Cornish mile is. This makes it all the worse when I tell you that I actually meant a Cornish mill. Sorry. It was a typo. Meant mill and it came out mile. How embarrassing. 😕

    Just kidding!! 😁 Chris.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’d love to know how to understand British understatement. Like, I’ve heard that “at your earliest convenience” means “RIGHT NOW,” but I don’t really know how it all works.


  3. I really enjoyed this post. I love directions, and all the ways in which human give them so that the result is complicated and useless. I think the early explorers had it easy. They didn’t know where they were going, but if they bumped into something, they were deemed a success. I still haven’t tried making the sticky pudding, so I don’t think it would be fair to ask another question.


  4. Cornwall used to be famous for its lack of (and inaccurate) signposts, as was Wales. Because of this, I often thought I was in Wales when I was in Cornwall; furthermore, after a few hours of following Cornish signposts to Saint Whoosit and Saint Whatsit, I usually was.
    There’s been a marginal improvement in the forty years that have passed since, but visiting Cornwall a few weeks ago, I noticed a signpost on the link road which pointed to a side road. It said “Witchcraft Museum,” but didn’t mention Boscastle, which is where the witchcraft museum is located.
    Cornwall is a stubbornly foreign country.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m reaching for some sort of joke about the witchcraft museum and what happened to the sign, but I can’t seem to get at it. Or maybe it’s that the ones in reach aren’t funny. But I’ve always been mystified–not just in Cornwall but in Britain in general–by what signs point to and what they don’t. If you’re really going to rely on them, you have to memorize the name of every town and village on the way to where you’re going. And those not on the way but nearby.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s that fantastic bit in “Cold Mountain” where he asks directions of an old lady sitting on her porch, maybe eating onions. She points in both directions, with an onion in each hand. And if it is not like that in the book, then it should be!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You lost me in paragraph 8 (and the preceding 7) when you mentioned a Fictional Dictionary which I found quite a superb play on words. However, on second glance, it’s FINANCIAL Dictionary not Fictional. However, on third glance, my slant makes more sense. So, I’ll leave you to it…carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh, I do like the idea of a fictional dictionary and I’d propose collaborating on one, but if we did it wouldn’t be entirely fictional anymore–it’d be a real dictionary with (presumably) fictional definitions. I think. Anyway, I’m relieved to know I didn’t type “fictional” by mistake.


  7. The definition of the Cornwall mile feels like the “Southern” mile. Whenever you ask directions in any of the Southern states, it is always down the road “a pace,” near the barn make a right, etc, etc. I truly enjoy your posts because it is interesting to me that people may be separated by distance but at heart, they are very similar.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Okay, because of that barn, I’ve got to tell you about a friend’s mother, who was from northern Minnesota. Her directions ran something like, “You turn left where the barn used to be.” She was great with recipes too. I asked her about how to make her pancakes once and she said, “Well, you start with enough milk for pancakes.”

      “Edith,” I said, “it’s not going to work.”


      • I know what you are talking about Ellen. The people giving the directions assume you know where the old barn used to be. If you did, you wouldn’t be asking them for directions! As for the pancakes, you were right terminating that discussion. You could have never recovered the time that would have been wasted. 😆

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I think I’ve been around a country block or two with directions similar to what were found here. Never get lost without a map….there’s got to be a map somewhere. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • The most memorable time I was lost with a map, I asked my passenger to look at it. He told me he couldn’t read maps. I could in a general sort of way, but I’d recently started to need reading glasses and hadn’t realized I needed them in the car, so in a specific sort of way I could read it even less than he could. I can’t remember what we ended up doing but we’re not still there, so I can only assume we asked someone. And the place where I was supposed to drop my passenger off? It was a mile down the road–even though we were in Minnesota, not Cornwall.


  9. What a fun read! I love Doc Martin, well really Martin Clunes. I wish I could visit the UK someday. But that probably will never happen. So keep writing about your country. One of my visiting sons was telling me about the process and differences in the alcohol content of bitters, ales, beers and stouts. I am sure there are many here who would love to learn more. Although I don’t ( I am sorry to say) not a fan of beers, mu son and his friend is starting a small beer company. I would love to share anything you write about the subject with him. I did love the James Herriot books and love all things U.K. Thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: What the world wants to know about Britain, part eightish | Notes from the U.K.

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.