A guide to sport in Cornwall

Surfers at Watergate Bay | Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Whether you’ve only recently settled in Cornwall, have been here a while, or indeed lived here your entire life, you may not know about some of the distinctively unique Cornish sports. So, if someone asks if you want to go and play some shinty, or take part in some Cornish wrestling, with the help of this guide, you might just have an idea of what they are talking about.

Easing you in, let’s start with the familiar.

Rugby is largely more popular than football across Cornwall, though football is building more of a following. If you are looking for a local club to follow then Truro City Football Club, founded in 1889, may be the team for you. They are currently playing in the Southern League Premier South and won away to Yate Town on 15 September. Truro City FC are the highest-ranked football club in Cornwall.

The Bottle match between csm and rsm is the second oldest rugby varsity match in the world

If rugby is what you prefer, then the Cornish Pirates are the side to follow. The RFU Championship kicked off on 17 September with the Pirates’ first match against Richmond being played at home on Saturday 18th. With the championship’s start coinciding with the start of the academic year, and Truro City’s campaign not beginning too long ago, it is a perfect time to become acquainted with your local teams.

Even closer to home than Truro and Penzance are the university teams that play and complete regularly in football and rugby as well as hockey, netball, lacrosse, badminton, and more. The Bottle Match between CSM (Cambourne School of Mines) and RSM (Royal School of Mines) is the second-oldest rugby varsity in the world and will certainly be one to go and watch.

Cornwall and surfing go hand in hand for good reason; Cornwall is the UK’s surf capital and attracts surfers from all across the world. Both the north and south coasts boast magnetising and varied waves in locations such as Newquay, Praa Sands, Towan, and St Ives. If the actual surfing does not appeal to you, then there are plenty of competitions hosted on Cornish beaches that you can spectate at. Coming up at Perranporth beach from 16-17 October is the English Interclub Surfing Championships that have been eagerly anticipated. It’s certainly a date to remember, and the surfing is guaranteed to be spectacular!

Now, let’s turn our attention to lesser-known side of Cornish sport.

Shinty, which is Celtic in origin, was popular nationwide since approximately the 16th century and was one of the most favoured games in Cornwall. Shinty is in some ways akin to field hockey, but importantly, both sides of the stick (called a caman) can be used, and the ball can be played in the air. Naturally, the aim is to get the ball in the opposition’s goal. Shinty’s popularity has unfortunately dwindled since the 19th century onwards. However, clubs do still exist. The Cornwall Shinty Club, aptly named The Pasties, have their home ground at the Dracaena Centre, Falmouth, and recently won their first trophy of the season in Bristol. They are one of the few shinty clubs outside of Scotland, competing with shinty teams nationwide and training regularly.

A BANNER DEPICTING CORNISH WRESTLERS WAS CARRIED AT THE BATTLE OF AGINCOURT IN 1415

Perhaps the most exclusively Cornish sport is Hurling the Silver Ball, which is also known as Cornish hurling. Despite being of unknown origin, Cornish hurling dates back at least one thousand years. Though it shares its name with Irish hurling, the two sports are entirely different. The aim of the sport is for a side to keep possession of the silver ball until the game concludes. As such an aim suggests, it’s a very physical sport. It is now only played in two locations in Cornwall: St Columb Major and St Ives. In St Columb Major, the games occur on Shrove Tuesday, and in St Ives, Hurling the Silver Ball occurs on the first Monday after the third of February as part of the St Ives Feast. Less regularly, Cornish is played at Bodmin every five years. Despite its decline, it is still considered Cornwall’s national sport, and it’s my opinion that any sports fan living in Cornwall should be aware of its cultural importance!

Cornish wrestling is the other sport considered to be Cornwall’s national sport, alongside Cornish hurling. The sport has a rich and incredibly interesting history. For example, at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Cornwall’s fighting men carried symbols showing wrestlers as described in the poem “Poly-Olbion”. The objective of Cornish wrestling is to throw the opponent on the ground and make them land as flat as possible on their back. The wrestlers typically wear canvas jackets to make grappling onto each other easier. You cannot hold your opponent down on the floor as you must be standing for it to be considered a victory. Cornish wrestling, unlike Cornish hurling, is still played regularly, with clubs across Cornwall. Maybe you could try your hand at some Cornish wrasslin’?

There’s a whole world of Cornish sport out there that I have only scratched the surface of. It is wonderfully varied and holds possibilities for both land and sea lovers. So, get involved and immersed, and enjoy the delights that Cornish sport can provide you!