Two Small Pilgrim Places

Two Small Pilgrim Places

Some of you may already have come across the Small Pilgrim Places Network (SPPN).

In January 2017 a good friend of the Tamar Dowsers, Terry Faull – a local author and historian – talked to us about the network, of which he is a supporter and member. This inspired my wife, Ros, and I to see if a couple of its designated sites in Cornwall might be of interest to us as dowsers like us. We chose the parish church of St Winwalloe at Gunwalloe and Portscatho Methodist/United Reformed Chapel.

If the objects of the SPPN are to acknowledge and preserve distinctive and diverse places of private pilgrimage, then these two sites have both in abundance.

Ros and I had visited St Winwalloe, the Church of the Storms, almost on the beach at Chapel Cove on the Lizard peninsula previously. However, in the light of Terry’s talk, we went back to experience it in a new light.

More practical dowsers, such as myself, usually have to ask about the strength of the invisible forces and presences that elevate an interesting place into a very special one. Gunwalloe Parish Church needs no such mechanistic confirmation. If you approach sites such as this with an open heart and an open mind, the sense of being somewhere significant – sacred, if you wish – is quite palpable.

Thumbing through the visitors book and listening to the comments of others on site that day, it was apparent that even those who were just passing, or maybe just sheltering from the strengthening east wind, could feel the spirit of place.

For the dowser, this is not at all surprising. No fewer than five strong leys run though this ancient place. Four traverse the main church building itself, while another is tangential to the south wall, but crosses one of the other leys beneath the tower, which is separated from the mother church by a few metres of path.

A stand-alone church tower is not unique – there are half a dozen in the far south west – but it is unusual.   Even where towers were once discrete buildings, covered passageways have often been added over the centuries for protection from the elements. Here at Gunwalloe, the tower is still a one-off – looking a little like a Cornish Cleopatric needle with added bells, emerging from the dunes.

The tower dowses as being the oldest part of the complex, and the crossing leys there indicate a location of intrinsic importance. The guidebook also implies that historians concur that it may have hosted the first structure on the site – and that a hermitage may have once nestled in its base, now used as a storeroom.

Of the leys in the main church building, three of the four (as well as the external tangent) dowse as being energy leys. The other, and the only one to pass directly through the altar and the nave, is a ‘line of consciousness’ dating to around 1200.

Additionally, six lines of earth energy enter the church, some of which are associated with the leys already mentioned (think Michael and Mary lines winding around the St Michael Ley).

With flows like these in and around the pilgrims, the congregation, the built environment and the surrounding llan, it is not surprising that this place has a powerful presence, which may have aided its survival through momentous times and tempestuous weather.

The unusually frank information pamphlet also acknowledges that this place was once revered by Iron and Bronze Age communities, and probably by Neolithic people too – all of which can be comprehensively confirmed by the dowser.

Our other Cornish SPPN visit was as different as chalk is to cheese. The Methodist (now also United Reformed) Chapel at Portscatho on the Roseland peninsula is so tucked away amongst a row of former fishermen’s cottages that it took us a small pilgrimage of our own to find it. Just before we resorted to the rods, our intuitive pull encouraged us to walk a bit further up an unprepossessing side road – and there it was, all white and blue, discreet and purposeful.

Dowsing in the inviting, but empty, chapel, we discovered that the site had not been chosen for its energetic signature, yet nor was it the only building plot available at the time. Whether the founders were aware of its inherent quality is doubtful, and from its 18th Century inauguration right up to the present day, apparently no-one has even considered the merits of the site from an earth energy perspective. I have a feeling that such concepts are something of a fault line between the essentially social/ethical approach of the Non-Conformists and the more ritual/spiritual worldview of the Anglo-Catholics.

However, I did have to smile when I started to dowse. There are no leys anywhere near this site, but one broad energy line courses through the neat little building (and probably much of the rest of this seaside haven) like a golden sash. At over 12 metres wide, it encompasses most of the seating area and is so positive (almost 9 out of 10), that it is almost ‘too good to be true’! This doesn’t make the chapel unique, nor is it any more favourably endowed than the buildings around it, but on a sunny morning in January, it did feel like an excellent place just to be. There was next to no detrimental energy – just an insignificant patch rising from the edge of a water line running under the centre of the chapel.

Having little experience of dowsing modern chapels, I assumed that the benign feel of the site was due more to the devotion and enthusiasm of decades of Methodists, but the rods gave no indication of this. As far as I know, the non-conformist outlook tends to eschew the sacredness of place, procedure and hierarchy – and my dowsing implies that there is nothing that would imbue this site with the kind of enigmatic self-awareness you can sense at Gunwalloe.

The founder of Portscatho Chapel, the Reverend Edward Billing, is buried within, close to the south wall – and can easily be dowsed. Unknowingly, he also left a remanence (dowsing as a circular patch with wavy edges) near the east wall. Yet his spirit has long since moved over, and he now has (apparently) nothing to do with either the feel or the longevity of the building through socially and financially troubled times.

Gunwalloe may be classically of more interest to the earth energy dowser, but Portscatho begs and conceals so many more questio 

For more information about the SPPN, please see


Nigel Twinn