Mention the name Temple and most people in Cornwall will probably conjure up images of summer traffic jams. It’s the part of the A30 on Bodmin Moor that’s not yet dual carriageway (work to rectify the problem is promised soon) so, at the moment, it’s a perfect bottleneck. Many of us will have sat in our cars frustrated by the extra journey time, focused solely on the road ahead and paying scant attention to the beautiful open countryside lying both sides of the tarmac.
I’ve certainly been guilty of that mentality so, in my ongoing bid to get to know Cornwall better (a sorry admission from someone who has lived here most of their life), I made Temple my destination rather than the butt of some fairly ripe expletives. Carol, my sister-in-law, joined me on the adventure and together we very soon discovered that turning right off the main road as you head north is a moorland experience not to be missed (even if you have managed to do so for fifty plus years!)
Temple owes its title to the Knights Templar, a religious and military order active at the time of the Crusades who provided hospitality and protection to pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. Churches and hostels were built for travellers across Europe and it’s thought that Temple Church was one of these, offering refuge to those from the west of Britain and Ireland who were crossing the moors to sail from the south coast.
After the Reformation during the reign of Henry VIII, the original chapel is said to have become notorious as a place where marriages could be performed without banns or licenses – much like Gretna Green. As a result it was described as ‘lying in a wild wastrel, exempted from the Bishop’s jurisdiction where many a bad marriage bargain is yearly slubbered up.’ What a great verb that is: ‘slubbered up’! Apparently it means to do something imperfectly or coarsely. As far as I’m concerned, choosing to wed regardless of convention is quite a romantic concept and as for ‘lying in a wild wastrel’, today’s church, which was re-built on the same site as the original using some of its features and stones, could hardly be in a lovelier spot. Surrounded by moor and farmland, yet in its own tranquil, sheltered hollow, it’s a beautiful place to visit and reflect on days gone by.
Unlicensed marriages became illegal in 1752 so ill-starred or careless lovers could no longer use it and for more than a century the “lawless church...where are wonte to be buried such as wrought violent death on themselves” became derelict. In 1883 all that changed when 2000 people attended its reopening and consecration by the Bishop of Truro. Gone is the reputation that made it a magnet for outcasts from standard religious process but its Knights Templar origins are still apparent in the number of engraved crosses and emblems that appear in the stained glass windows and the wall and roof of the small stone store outside.
Carol and I spent ages wandering round, entranced by its history, location and reminders of past lives in the small, well-kept graveyard. You’d never believe that the main route through Cornwall was relatively close – you certainly couldn’t see or hear it.
On returning to our car we took the moorland route towards Warleggan. I wanted to see the tiny hamlet because the signpost was said to have inspired Winston Graham when he was looking for a name to give his evil banker in Poldark. About 200 people live in the oblong shaped hamlet, described as one of the most remote areas in Cornwall, but the residents clearly have a sense of humour. Below the sign that announces their village is another that says they are twinned with Narnia. Maybe their wardrobes really do have a lion, a witch and a Mr Tumnus in them!
After a wonderful couple of hours exploring places like Mount and St Neot, I can thoroughly recommend turning off at Temple if you can. Forget gripping the steering wheel in a rage and discover instead ancient paths and byways that take you back in time.
Better still, abandon your car and walk. You’ll see and experience far more. Perhaps even Ross, striding across from Nampara...