John Betjeman walk around Trebetherick

Betjeman walk
The North Cornwall coast from Trebetherick. Picture: Aysha Bryant

By Aysha Bryant

‘Too many people in the modern world view poetry as a luxury, not a necessity like petrol. But to me it’s the oil of life.’- Sir John Betjeman

Off I went, on a walk about the late Poet Laureate John Betjeman. Although originally from London, Betjeman spent many holidays in Trebetherick, North Cornwall and later moved here with his family. It was in this village that Betjeman became a part of the community – as we visited people’s homes on the walk, they welcomed us with open arms.

Everybody was so eager to tell us stories about John’s life and their connections to him, in fact,that the walk took longer than expected. We sat down in each house and listened to the history and memories surrounding this poet. 

First we were taken to Cobb Cottage, where artist Joan Cockett reminisced about her time spent with John. Her words about his funeral were very strong: “It was a beautiful May in 1984, but on the day of his funeral we had terrible, terrible weather – so bad there weren’t even any onlookers.”

They prompted a powerful image in my mind: a stormy, dark sky with rain and wind battering down against grieving people standing on the barren landscape of the North Coast. Betjeman must have made quite an impact on people’s lives for them to stand in a storm to remember his life.

I had no idea where we were being led to next. We climbed over a sty, through bushes, to be led out in to an open space. A strange mixture of wild, barren terrain with a trimmed golf course right in the middle. Around the corner was the prettiest church I’d ever seen; something straight out of a fairytale, it was that perfect.

Inside it was cosy and comfy – something that I don’t usually feel in churches. The church warden told us how he knew John. He spoke with such fondness. Once more I was in awe of the impact one man, one life, had made on a whole community.

I was the last to leave the church and cemetery: I would have liked to have a look around on my own, to soak it in. I visited Betjeman’s grave, which has a beautifully, intricately decorated headstone.

We walked around back to the village, up and down the lanes of Trebetherick, hearing more tales of the villagers, and came back to where we started at Trefelix. I’d learnt a lot more than I’d imagined I might during that hour and a half; a lot more about the life and times of John Betjeman, his friends and family, and the village he loved.

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