In search of St James: Cornwall to Compostela

Every adventure needs a name, and one of my first ideas was Cornwall to Compostela. I was excited, it seemed to perfectly describe the challenge I was undertaking. I performed a quick google search to check it was available and was surprised to see it belonged to a book published in 1989 entitled In Search of St James: Cornwall to Compostela, by a lady named Ada Alvey. She was of Cornish/ Spanish ancestry and completed the pilgrimage in 1983, arriving at Santiago de Compostela in time for St James Day on 25th July.

There was one copy on Amazon and I bought it straight away. It arrived a few days later and I read it with interest. The beginning of the book focused on pilgrims in Cornwall and included a map and pictures of interesting sites around the county. In the past, pilgrims from Ireland and Wales would land on the north coast of Cornwall and make their way across land to get to the southern ports of the county and leave for France or Spain to continue their pilgrimage. According to Alvey they would leave from Mousehole, Fowey, Looe or Saltash.

In the book, Alvey mentioned a church in north Cornwall dedicated to St James.The church also had a statue of the saint, and it seemed to me to be the best place to start my adventure, so on an overcast Sunday in June, me and the dog took a drive to Kilkhampton to visit the Parish Church of Saint James the Great.

Interestingly, despite the poor forecast, when we left the house it was bright and sunny. That morning I had read in a book that “If the apostle is sending you such good weather, he is accompanying you on your way.” I felt blessed, until we pulled into a parking space by the church and the heavens opened.

We waited for the rain to ease off and then made our way to the church. The statue was easy to find, I was expecting it to be more hidden, but there was St James, standing tall with his hat, cloak, staff and scallop shell.

Statue of St James in Kilkhampton

Once we located the statue I thought it would be appropriate to take the circular walk around the village from the church.

OS map, Kilkhampton circular walk

It was a nice walk, out the grave yard and across some farmland down to a stream, (and the sewage works). The hill down to the stream was almost vertical which created a certain amount of anxiety for what the climb back to the village would be like, however the ascent wasn’t too bad and I was surprised to see a glimpse of the sea once we got to the top.

Sea views in beautiful Cornwall

The next part of the walk went past a few farm buildings, across a road and then back up a field towards the village. We got in some trouble as we crossed the field unfortunately as we couldn’t open the gate. I was able to climb over but it was a case of can’t get over it, can’t get under it for the dog. I lifted him, he wriggled, he was happy to be on the same side of the gate as me, but my shoulder was not happy about the sudden movement.

Despite the sprain we made it back to the church and this time I took a quick look inside, (the dog waited patiently in the car with the windows open). The entrance was set up with a hygiene station which was reassuring and as I walked into the dark church I was surprised when a motion sensor light came on.

Hygiene station in the church

It was smaller on the inside than I expected but it was nice to be in a quiet space. I was keen to light a candle but in the world of Covid 19 I didn’t have any money on me to donate- stealing from a church didn’t seem like the best start to a pilgrimage!

I was also unable to buy the church guide book, but I had a flick through and was happy to see reference to the pilgrimage. I had been expecting to see more information about it in the church but I hadn’t seen any thing apart from the nameless statue on the outside. The guide book included this poem by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet.

My staff of faith to walk upon,

My Scrip of joy, immortal diet,

My Bottle of salvation,

My gown of glory, hope’s time gage;

And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.”

Sir Walter Raleigh 1552- 1618

After looking round the church and going back to the car for a pic nic I decided to change my plans. Initially I was going to check out other spots mentioned in Alvey’s book, but instead I decided to go to the starting place of My Cornish Camino, St Germans Priory.

St Germans Priory in the village of St Germans near Saltash, is a place of pilgrimage and has been for centuries. Recently a walk called the Cornish Celtic Way was developed and when I realised that this walk, starting just 7 miles from my home, existed, I knew straight away that this would be the beginning of my Camino.

Entrance at St Germans Priory

The Cornish Celtic Way has its own guidebook and passport, and I’m currently waiting for them to arrive, once it’s been delivered, I can finally set a start date!

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