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Gwithian church - north coast of Cornwall

The autumnal colours in the roadside ferns and other plants give a wonderful contrast to the blue of the sky: one of those dry but windy autumn days in Cornwall that make you feel pleased to be here - crunching leaves and looking across the bay to the wild ocean - rather than anywhere else.

Looking north-west at the spire of the church
The spire of St Gothian's church

This approach to the parish church of Gwithian - a small village on the north coast between Camborne and Hayle - is more akin to a journey through time. Walking south, and not far from the bridge that carries the single-track main road across the course of the Red River, one passes near the site of St Gothian's chapel, the church that served this area prior to the building of the current church in the 13th century, and which is now lost beneath the blown sand. Excavation in the early 19th Century, and documentation long before that - by John Leland in 1540 - suggest it was a small construction, not dissimilar to that seen at Madron; details can be found in the wonderful booklet by Charles Thomas, written in 1964.

Churchyard cross - probably 13th Century

The present-day church - to the south of this sand-consumed older brethren, and presumably located on higher ground so that it did not share its fate - has a wonderful atmosphere. The rounded churchyard enclosure is defined by stone walls on three sides, and to the east - away from the road - the wall is much lower, or absent, and the boundary is delineated by a vigorous stream, lending an 'island' aspect to the enclosure.  Most apt, as here one feels quite detached from modern life, and the wonderful granite churchyard cross - dated to around the same age as the foundation of the church here in the 13th century - stands comfortably amidst the accumulated graves, and seems as much a part of nature as the many mature trees in the hedges that bound the site.

The fabric of the existing church was extensively rebuilt in the mid-19th Century, as the local sandstone and slate used in its original construction was beginning to seriously deteriorate.  The tower - added in the 15th Century - was not amended, and in its walls one can enjoy a fine array of the local geology: sandstone, granite  and slate (locally called killas), the latter altered by mineral-laden fluids, responsible for the occurrence of the tin, copper, lead and other minerals which have provided the basis for Cornwall's identity. 

Sandstone arches and principals in the lychgate.

Entering and leaving the churchyard, one passes through the lychgate, added during the mid-19th century restoration by the Penzance-based architect Mr Edmund Sedding, who was both a talented musician and scholar of Gothic and Norman architecture. In an inspired move, he incorporated two complete sandstone arches and principles from the 15th Century church in to the lych-gate, maintaining a tangible link through the centuries between the existing setting and those which have gone before. One feels connected with the past here, and in such a serene and verdant setting, it is very easy to feel thankful for the present.

Gwithian - Charles Thomas, MA, FSA. First published 1964. Copies may be available second-hand via Kowsva (

Alfred J Michel -French Mariner - is buried here: find more information here.

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