St Just in Penwith, shaped by its industrial mining past, is the most westerly town in England and began as a medieval settlement called Lafrowda. It is surrounded by dramatic landscapes of wild moorland, wind-shaped carns and Bronze Age remains. The town made its fortune from tin and the marks left by the boom of the mid-1800s still dominate. There are two squares – Bank (with its 1931 clock tower) which was the business centre (and where the miners would have collected their wages) and Market where the shops and pubs are located (and where the miners would have spent their wages).
The grass amphitheatre behind the clock tower is Plen-an-Gwary (Old Cornish for ‘playing place’) where Miracle plays would have been performed 500 years ago. In more recent times it has been used to stage the full cycle again in 2004 and also to hold the Gorsedd, an important Cornish festival.
The Parish Church was built in 1334 on the site of an earlier building. There are several interesting features inside including some lovely stained-glass windows, two medieval wall paintings, (one of St George fighting the dragon was a subject of Miracle plays and the other ‘Christ of the Trades’ date from the 15th century) an ancient chapel ‘font’ and intricately decorated pillar capitals with a variety of patterns, which include shields, grapes, vine leaves, quatrefoils and roses.
Leading to the old churchyard from Market Square is the quiet Church Square, home to some of the oldest dwellings in the town. The churchyard is being managed for wildlife and from here you get magnificent views of the Tregeseal valley. The countryside continues to delight with granite moorland and an unspoilt patchwork of ancient fields. But don’t be fooled by this cornflower blue sky – the wind was howling on this particular day and it was freezing unless you found a sheltered spot.
The town has a free car park, regular bus services to Penzance, a library, butcher, bakers, greengrocer, pharmacy, small supermarkets, several pubs and an excellent café which also sells used books so you can feed your mind and your stomach at the same time. The Cook Book is definitely worth a visit. The area has a thriving community of artists, potters, sculptors and other craftsmen and their work can be seen in the many galleries and craft shops in and around the town.
If you enjoy a walk, long or short, then have a look at Jo’s site where you are welcome to join in.