St Gunwalloe – or St Winwaloe – is surely one of the most romantically-sited of all Cornwall’s churches, tucked into the dunes. Simon Jenkins gives it ** and calls it ‘a hermitage marooned on a beach’. It is also called ‘the church of storms’.
Legend has it that the saint arrived from Brittany and built a cell in the dunes, where the unusual detached bell tower now stands.
The interior is a joy with a row of columns that appear to be leaning to the north, no doubt buffeted by the winter gales. It is a simple church with rough whitewashed walls, light and airy on a glorious sunny day.
The church was largely re-built in the C14 and C15 with further work by the Victorians in 1869-71 when, amongst other things, they replaced the nave and north aisle roofs. Thankfully, they left much of the south aisle’s lovely wagon roof with its carved ribs, almost sand-blasted clean.
There is a comforting crackle under one’s feet as you walk around, the wind-blown sand reminding you close you are to the beach.
Strangely, there are two fonts, one a simple one from the C12 and a larger C19 one which is filled with stones.
Two pieces of the original C15 rood screen survive. They have been turned into interior doors for the north and south doors. Eight apostles adorn their lower halves.
There are two curiosities. The rood stair exists in the south aisle but there is no matching opening in the arcade which is too low anyway. This is, perhaps a remnant of the re-building in the C14 or C15.
The other is a strange thickening of the north and south walls of the chancel which may reflect a previous structure.
Two stars: perhaps a tiny bit generous given its interior but five stars for location and charm.