Last Updated on January 12, 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Just over three miles from Padstow you’ll find a small village, Little Petherick, nestled in the picturesque wooded valley of Little Petherick Creek, a tidal tributary of the River Camel. Little Petherick is served by a modest looking parish church whose exterior conceals what ‘The Buildings of England- Cornwall’ by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner/Peter Beecham describes as – “one of the architectural highlights of Cornwall”.
Origins of the name Little Petherick
The village was first documented as Nasfonteyn, a Cornish word meaning ‘valley with a spring’ in 1274, but, it wasn’t until 1708 that the spelling that we recognise today was first recorded. ‘Petherick’ is a derivative of Petroc who was a Saint active in Cornwall during the 6th century.
‘Little’ (Minor) being used to distinguish the church and parish from the larger settlements at Padstow and Bodmin.
Who was St. Petroc?
St. Petroc is one of the patron Saints of Cornwall and in iconography is often portrayed with a stag. This alludes to a legend where he protected a deer being hunted by King Constantine of Dumnonia and which led to Petroc converting the king to Christianity. His feast day is 4th June.
Little is known about his life, but, it’s believed that he was the son of a Southern Welsh king and, after completing his education in Ireland, he travelled to Llanwethinoc (Padstow) on the North Cornish Coast where he founded a monastery.
He and his followers went on to found many churches in Kernow (Cornwall) and Dewnans (Devon) amongst the Britons of Dumnonia as well as Wales and Brittany and these remain dedicated to Saint Petroc.
Of notable importance is the ecclesiastical settlement he created at Bodmin which to this day houses the 12th-century casket containing his relics; and of course, the small subsidiary settlement near Padstow which is now known as Little Petherick.
The village of Little Petherick
The small village is set within a designated conservation area and is bisected by the busy Padstow-Wadebridge Road (A389). It’s dominated on one side of the road by The Old Mill Bistro and the church on the opposite side.
The Old Mill is a small Bistro and B & B which is set within a former corn mill of which parts date back to the 16th century. With a warm friendly vibe and great food, it’s certainly worth a stopover if you fancy spending a few days discovering North Cornwall. Little Petherick is situated on the Saints’ Way and as such provides great walking opportunities.
The Saints’ Way
Spanning approximately 27 miles the Saints’ Way is a trail that starts in Padstow to the north and passes through Little Petherick until finally reaching Fowey in the south. It’s strewn with ancient footbridges, Celtic crosses and historic churches set amidst diverse countryside and jaw-dropping views.
It loosely follows the route that pilgrims took during the Medieval period as they cut across the land to avoid the perilous journey around Land’s End en route from Wales and Ireland to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, Spain.
The Church of St Petroc Minor, Little Petherick
The modest exterior belies the magnificent and one of the most extravagant interiors to be found in any small British Church of England village church. It’s a fine example of high church patronage that was prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The 14th-century church was largely rebuilt in 1858 by William White for Sir Hugh Molesworth who was both rector and Patron at the time. Sir Hugh was a Tractarian whose beliefs were very similar to those of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1898 John Athelstan Riley, the English hymn writer became a Patron of the church and like his predecessor was active in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England. He engaged one of the last great Gothic Revival architects Sir John Ninian Comper, who was to have a longstanding commission that started in 1908 with the construction of the rood screen and loft across the aisle and continued sporadically until 1947.
The interior is, to quote ‘The Buildings of England – Cornwall’ yet again! – ‘The realisation of a Puginesque vision in miniature”.
Things to do near Little Petherick
Rock – A charming town that’s extremely popular during the summer months, once there you’ll find a mouthwatering selection of cafes and restaurants overlooking the Camel Estuary to Padstow.
Padstow – Just a short hop on the ferry from Rock. Padstow needs no introduction!
Church of St. Enodoc – The small quaint church named after a Welsh woman, Wenedoc, and the final resting place of the great poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman.