Bewnans Kernow, Cornish Culture Association, Cornwall, Cornwall Today, Festivals, Fisherman's Friends, Gool Peran Lowen, Heritage, History, Kernow, Kernow bys vykken, Perranporth, Shout Kernow, St Piran's Day, Truro Cathedral
For Cornish people around the world, St Piran’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate everything that is glorious about Cornwall. The patron saint of Cornwall is remembered on March 5 each year and during the preceding week, known as “Perrantide”, parades, festivals and all manner of festivities are held. There’s also the excellent “Trelawny Shout”, a pub singing event, which for the past couple of years has tried to get 20,000 Cornish men (and women) singing communally at 9 pm. Do look up your closest pub (see below) and get amongst it, it’s great fun and raises much-needed funds for the Cornwall Community Foundation. It’s got the backing of St Austell Brewery, is championed by those lovely buoys from the Fisherman’s Friends and is always featured on BBC Radio Cornwall and BBC Spotlight.
While singing and – erm – drinking with the Fisherman’s Friends can be an almost religious experience, if you fancy marking this most meaningful of days in a more thoughtful way, you may consider a making a pilgrimage to St Piran’s Oratory in Perranporth. St Piran, by all accounts, didn’t mind a drink or ten (hence a well-known saying “to be as drunk as a Perraner”) and allegedly met his death by falling down a well after imbibing a little too enthusiastically. As he was also the patron saint of tin miners it’s also alleged that in days gone by, some miners would enjoy this holiday by following in St Piran’s lead and bunking off work for the day to enjoy the festivities in the sanctuary of the local pub.
These days, on the Sunday closest to March 5, hundreds of people congregate in the sand dunes near Perranporth to enjoy the St Piran’s Play, a procession and three-part miracle play. Spectators are welcome to enjoy this portrayal of the Saint’s life, from his arrival in Cornwall, to his rediscovery of how to smelt tin and his Christian ministry. As March 5 is on a Sunday this year, the play will be held on St Piran’s Day itself and all are welcome.
But for one man, St Piran’s Day is an opportunity to venerate St Piran with an overnight walk from Truro to Perranporth. Cam Longmuir has been making this pilgrimage for over ten years and I met up with him to find out why.
We first met several years ago on the Three Wells Walk, which is held in May and takes in the West Cornwall holy wells of Sancreed, St Euny and Madron. Back then, Cam was homeless and living in the hedgerows of the Roseland, researching Cornish saints and visiting ancient churches and holy wells. He’s now living in Devon but travels to Cornwall as often as possible to continue his pilgrimages, and also runs “pardons”, which are celebrations held at Cornish saints’ holy wells on their traditional feast days.
Cam, whose Mum is Cornish, was brought up in the Midlands but moved to the Duchy when he finished school. “My mother was into archaeology and I never really went into churches until quite recently but during my homelessness, I had a thirst for water so I’d search for springs all across Cornwall, and realized some of them were holy wells, and my interest just escalated from there.”
And the inspiration to walk to the Perranporth celebrations at came when another homeless friend heard about them and decided to go. Cam was intrigued and went along to see what it was about and has been attending ever since, usually leaving from Truro but on occasion walking on his own from Falmouth to Perranporth. “It took me two days to walk from Falmouth, with the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced, and I was sleeping rough”.
How did making these pilgrimages affect him? “They helped me to feel more connected – to everything – especially the faerie energy of the places. And the water that you can drink along the way is important too. Science has discovered that water can hold memory and I believe the water connects us to our ancestors. When we drink from the springs and the wells it connects us to our history”.
Talking to Cam is fascinating, his knowledge of – and passion for – his subjects is obvious. But what would he like to do with the information he’s collected over the years? “I had a nasty head injury when I was 15 so I struggle a bit with computers, but I do have a wealth of resources I’d love to share with people.” All evidence to the contrary; Cam underestimates his ability to communicate his vast knowledge, and the multitude of Facebook groups and pages he runs is a testament to this.
“I want people to do traditional things again, like going to feast days and following the saints, and I guess a sense of community comes out of that. When I first went out on pilgrimage, I experienced what I would call religiousness, and I don’t think people experience that anymore. It would be amazing to have more people join us this year, but it’s difficult for people to get out of their usual comfort zone and into a completely different one, by walking through the night.”
“Cornwall is called the land of the saints, and I’d love to see them celebrated properly. St Piran’s Day should be about St Piran, and it would be great if the general public could learn more about him and the other Cornish saints. I want people who possibly don’t know much about the reason why they’re carrying the St Piran’s flag to know that I care so much about St Piran that I’ve walked through the night to be there.”
As our interview concludes, the strains of Jeff Buckley singing “Hallelujah” float through the café and I can’t help feeling a bit evangelical about wanting to help Cam and his cause.
This year, the “Cornwall’s Pilgrims” group will meet on the steps of Truro Cathedral at 9 pm on St Piran’s Eve (March 4) and leave at 10 pm. They will take about four hours (with stops along the way) to walk the eight-mile distance through the night, mostly through country lanes. But a word of warning – in true St Piran’s style, participants enjoy a drink along the way so it’s not a purely pious event (Cornwall Today, of course, advocates the responsible consumption of alcohol, even on the Duchy’s patron saint’s day). Anyone is welcome to go and wave them off, or to join in the pilgrimage; if you have any questions you can contact Cam via his Facebook page (see below). Cam suggests leaving a car (and tent) at Perranporth in advance of the pilgrimage, then taking the bus into Truro, which allows for a much-needed soft landing at the end. The group rests at Perranporth until 2 pm on Sunday when it meets for the procession over Penhale Sands. However you choose to celebrate, Gool Peran Lowen!
PS (This is the last column I’ll be writing for Cornwall Today a while; I’m spreading my wings to bring you even more stories from across Cornwall and the South West via my new website http://www.harbourlightsmedia.com – standby for it to go live very soon).
At a glance:
Facebook – search “Cornwall’s Pilgrims” for more information or to contact the organisers
Perranporth Tourist Information Centre ph 01872 575254 or see www.perranporthinfo.co.uk
St Piran’s Trust
© Sally Bell 2017
Originally published in Cornwall Today