St Enedoc's church

Literary Locations: Trebetherick


Trebetherick is a small village on the north coast of Cornwall where John Betjeman spent many a happy summer holiday, as he recounted in his verse autobiography Summoned by Bells, sharing with us a world of sandwiches and sand-dunes. Keeping these childhood memories sacred, he retained a home here throughout his adult life and was buried in the nearby graveyard of St Enedoc Church (pictured above) when he died in 1984. As a child, he saw it as a place of refuge, a happy interlude between harsh terms at public school.

The local beaches of Polzeath and Daymer Bay, linked by the headland of Greenaway, were the inspiration for much of Betjeman’s poetry. Now, tourists and surfers also appreciate them for their wild glory but express their admiration in different ways and, across the river, celebrity chef Rick Stein sells expensive fish dinners to the boating fraternity.

The area has not only Betjeman to thank for its place on the literary map. In 1914, Laurence Binyon wrote the most enduring of war poems, For the Fallen here. Although many have forgotten his name, his words have resounded through the years and are still recited at memorial services (We shall not grow old…).

Betjeman returned time and time again, recording the impression the place made on him in poems such as the one he gave its name to, Trebetherick:

We used to picnic where the thrift
Grew deep and tufted to the edge
We saw the yellow foam flakes drift
In trembling sponges on the ledge
Below us, till the wind would lift
Them up the cliff and o’er the hedge.

And Greenaway:

I know so well this turfy mile,
These clumps of sea-pink withered brown,
The breezy cliff, the awkward stile,
The sandy path that takes me down.

Betjeman built his reputation as a popular poet. He appeared on television regularly and canvased for the restoration of famous Victorian landmarks such as St Pancras Station. Most of all, though, he will be remembered for producing verse which could be enjoyed by all. Trebetherick is where he felt most at home.