LAUNCELLS, NEAR BUDE
John Betjeman described this hidden gem as the ‘least spoilt church in Cornwall’. It is full of wonderful Cornish woodwork, from high wagon roof to imposing Georgian box pews and glorious Tudor bench-ends. They are virtually unrivalled throughout England.
ST MORWENNA, MORWENSTOW
This simple Cornish church, situated in a magnificent position overlooking the sea and high cliffs, is of Norman origin (as the ancient font indicates), though a Saxon place of worship probably once stood on the site. The famous poet, parson and eccentric Robert Stephen Hawker was the vicar of the parish for much of the Victorian age. Among other things, he wrote the Cornish National Anthem, “And shall Trelawny die”. Ancient relics abound in the churchyard, including the graves of 28 sailors whom Hawker buried after shipwrecks. On a nearby cliff is Hawker’s Hut (the National Trust’s smallest property) where he wrote poems and smoked opium.
COLLEGIATE CHURCH OF THE HOLY CROSS, CREDITON
Conveniently situated on the beautiful A3072/A377 route between Bude and Exeter, the Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross at Crediton (it stones as red as the earth of Devon) is well worth a visit. We spent ages there seeking out medieval tombs, monuments, seats (pointed out here by Rupert) and a carved Flemish chest used as an altar. And it was impossible to miss the huge neo-Gothic screen built as a memorial to Sir Redvers Buller, a soldier revered in Devon despite his disastrous performance in the Boer War.
COME-TO- GOOD MEETING HOUSE, FEOCK
Just south of Truro, we found the tiny 18th century Quaker meeting-house at Come-to-Good. The thatched cob building is as evocative as its name. Still used by local Quakers today, it is kept open so that you can go inside to view its bare walls and uncushioned benches. A little-known gem.
ST JUST, ROSELAND
The Roseland Peninsula can be reached either by road or by the King Harry ferry crossing. Overlooking the Fal estuary is this 13 th century church surrounded by an exotic sub-tropical garden planted by Edwardian botanist John Tresider. The whole peninsula is worth exploring for its spectacular views – and perhaps you’ll be more successful than we were at finding the elusive St Anthony Church on its southern tip.
THREE SPECTACULAR CHURCHES AROUND THE EDGE OF BODMIN MOOR
All are within easy driving distance of Bude. They are clearly marked on the road atlas and it is wiser to be guided by this rather than a sat-nav which, in our experience, can lead you down treacherous lanes marked (too late for retreat) ‘Unsuitable for Vehicles’.
ST PROTUS AND ST HYACINTH, BLISLAND
Set just off the green of this pretty village on the western edge of the moor, this granite Norman structure seems almost to be slipping down into the valley of the Camel River. The interior was restored by Victorian architect F. C. Eden, a favourite of John Betjeman’s, and is dominated by a rood screen blazing with colour and gilt. The village green is surrounded by Georgian and Victorian houses – and the Blisland Inn looks inviting.
ST NEOT, IN THE VILLAGE OF THE SAME NAME
This church is justly described by Simon Jenkins as ‘a granite jewel-case on a southern slope of Bodmin Moor’. After walking through a porch protected from the Devil by Cornish crosses, you will be astonished by the glow of its stained glass windows, which are among Cornwall’s hidden treasures. The medieval ones are the finest, depicting Old Testament stories such as that of Noah – it also reveals much about ship design and sea-faring in old Cornwall. Look, too, for windows celebrating the local families who donated them and also for St Neot himself. After your exploration of these wonders, you may feel like some refreshment at the adjoining village pub.
ST NONNA, ALTARNUN (APPROACH FROM NEARBY A30 RATHER THAN NARROW LANES)
Diagonally opposite St Neot, on the north-eastern side of Bodmin Moor lies a church often described as the ‘Cathedral of Cornwall’. Situated in an attractive village on the River Inney, St Nonna serves a large rural parish, the richer inhabitants of which must once have paid for the carving of the 79 remarkable bench-ends for which the church is now famed. All made by the same hand in the 16th century, they depict religious symbols such as those of Christ’s Passion as well as ordinary moorland sheep, lewd jesters and a variety of grotesque creatures. Pagan associations can also be found in the fierce faces and serpents carved on the Norman font which must have terrified medieval parishioners.