North Cornwall has many hidden gems and sometimes, on your way somewhere else, taking a wrong turn down a narrow winding Cornish road can lead you to discover one of them.
St Juliots church near Boscastle is an ancient church nestled in a timeless setting overlooking the Valency valley in a tiny hamlet that is recorded in the Doomsday book.
In 1870 Thomas Hardy, then an architect, was sent to plan a restoration of the church. At the nearby rectory (now a B & B) he met Emma Gillford, the sister-in-law of the St Juliot vicar. Their romance blossomed in the local area before they were married in 1874. Sadly the marriage was not a happy one but after she died Thomas Hardy wrote several poems reflecting their meeting and romance in the area around St Juliot and also had a memorial made which can be seen in the church.
Thomas Hardy’s plans for the restoration can be seen in the church, together with information and books on Thomas Hardy . There is also a delicate etched window, designed by Simon Whistler, with scenes from Hardy’s journey from Dorchester to St Juliot, and reflecting two poems set in the area; ‘Under the Waterfall’ and ‘ Beeny Cliff’.
“O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea,
And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free-
The woman whom I loved so, and who loyally loved me. ”
The churchyard has a timeless beauty with views out over the valley. It is full of bluebells in spring, and has interesting ancient gravestones that reflect several generations of local parish families together with three old Cornish wayside crosses. You can read about these in the church.
St Juilot church is well worth taking a detour for, but perhaps the best way to find it is via a walk through the Valency valley, travelling the same paths as Thomas & Emma Hardy.
There is a good circular walk from Lesnewth to Tresparrett that takes you past St Juliots on iwalkcornwall: https://www.iwalkcornwall.co.uk/walk/lesnewth_to_tresparrett