LAUNCESTON: A LIVING HISTORY
PUBLISHED: 17:05 19 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:33 30 August 2017
A visit to Cornwall's
Watched over by a 13th century castle, the historic capital of Cornwall sits proudly near our border, and is fast becoming a must-see for culture vultures
Boasting great architecture dating back to the Norman conquests, the town of Launceston is brimming with
history. Drag yourself away from the keep built by the powerful Earl Richard, brother of Henry III and head into the town to marvel at the Eagle House Hotel, whose twin eagle statues were written about by Charles Causley, the town museum at Lawrence House.
Famously home to the almost poet laureate Charles Causley, Launceston has begun to embrace its literary past and create new cultural highlights. It’s highly successful Charles Causley Literary Festival attracts an incredible array of writers and thousands of visitors. Fellow poet Sir John Betjeman – who made is Cornwall home in Rock further west, called the town, “the most perfect collection of 18th century town houses in Cornwall.
'Causley was a deeply humane writer, I think, he wanted to speak directly and he wasn’t interested in using his considerable gifts to put his writing on show. It’s obvious from his work that he loved Cornwall, and there are poems written for sheer enjoyment and this comes over directly to the reader.'
The town has appointed its first Charles Causley. Kathryn Simmonds worked in children’s publishing and was first published in 2004. Her collection Sunday at the Skin Launderette won the Forward Prize for best first collection in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines and broadcast on Radio 4, and she has written an afternoon play for Radio 4 Poetry for Beginners. Her second poetry collection The Visitations is published by Seren, who will also publish her first novel Love and Fallout in 2014.
The plan for future years is for the poet-in-residence to live in Charles Causley’s house in Launceston, but £162,000 refurbishments are still in progress Kathryn will be staying just outside the town.
“There will be opportunities for me to give readings and I’m also hoping to do a schools workshop, but the main focus of the residency is on writing. I’ve just finished a second poetry collection so am very much
looking forward to beginning fresh work, and as writing usually gets squeezed into the corners of everyday life it will be great to put poetry at the forefront.
“Causley was a deeply humane writer, I think, he wanted to speak directly and he wasn’t interested in using his considerable gifts to put his writing on show. It’s obvious from his work that he loved Cornwall, and there are poems written for sheer enjoyment and this comes over directly to the reader. He loved narrative and he loved rhythm and rhyme, which is why he was so well suited to ballads. As a reader, I’m particularly struck by the way he used imagery, the freshness of his approach, for example The sky whitens as if by three suns’ (Eden Rock). “If you write poetry, that’s the sort of magic you’re after.”
The trust has also launched a new Charles Causley Poetry Competition, which will be judged by their patron, Sir Andrew Motion. With a first prize of £3,000 it’s expected to attract entries from across the globe.
From the street:
“Launceston is a great place to live because
it has a good community, some real characters,
plus it’s easy to get anywhere in the country
using the A30 but it’s even better coming
“What is my favourite thing to do in
Launceston? That’s easy. Eating out at my
local pub the White Horse Inn: great food
and good company.”
Jacki Ellis-White, co-runner (with Cherry
Warne) of community website
launceston-2020.co.uk and @launceston2020
Grab a picnic, brave the weather and head for the wonderful mound that surrounds the 13th century castle for an incredible view of the town. Head inside for a great slice of ancient history.
For prices and opening times go to: englishheritage. org.uk/daysout/properties/launceston-castle/
Head to the Launceston Steam Railway for a journey to remember with a five mile round trip along the old North Cornwall Railway running from Launceston, through the glorious Kensey Valley, to the hamlet of Newmills (try out the cream teas at the café and come home with a copy of the Railway Rabbits, the series of books based inspired by the railway by Georgie Adams). launcestonsr.co.uk
Check out the 101 things to do when it rains in Cornwall on the Visit Launceston website visitlaunceston.co.uk
Let your imagination run wild in the ruins of the 12th century Launceston Priory (founded 1126) dedicated to St Stephens. The priory and its associated buildings, were excavated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Head to the town square surrounded by listed buildings dating back to the Tudor times. Head for the White Hart Inn, its door plundered from the 12th century. Let your imagination run riot in the narrow lanes and alleys.
Short Town Trail – a self-guided walk around launceston which provides fascinating history and information about various locations around the town, including St Mary’s Church, Southgate Arch, Town Hall and Guild Hall, people associated with the town and how the town has evolved since Norman times. Approximately 1.5 miles in length and takes about 1.5 hours to complete if visiting the castle and museum (both has seasonal openings times).
Long Town Trail – again a self-guided walk around Launceston, taking in the historic Newport area with its steam railway, priory ruins, St Thomas Church, notable buildings plus links to Charles Causley, such as his birth place. Approximately 2.5 miles, taking about 2.5 hours to complete if including a trip on the steam railway (seasonal opening times apply).
Antique Chairs & Museum – just outside of the town – a fascinating exhibition of chairs covering a 400-year period. This is a “live” museum in that most of the chairs are for sale.
Launceston is also the start (or finish) of two long distance trails. Both trails link with other long distance paths. Launceston is also a popular stop off point for walkers and cyclists travelling between Land’s End and John O’Groats. Tamar Discovery Trail linking Launceston with Plymouth via the Tamar Valley, a distance of 30 miles. Two Castles Trail between the castles of Launceston and Okehampton a walk of 24 miles
Launceston now has three podcasts available to view on the TIC website featuring Lawrence House Museum, Launceston Town Centre, and lastly the Newport Area.