Causley’s Launceston: a Brief Guide, and a Poetry Walk

Launceston is a beautiful and historic town, whose ancient centre is filled with some of the most important architecture in the county. This is perhaps unsurprising when one learns that this small, unspoilt town was once capital of the Duchy of Cornwall.

Launceston Castle

The Normans started work on a castle here soon after the Conquest. Its famously round keep was built in the 13th century by Earl Richard, brother of Henry III and one of the most powerful men in Europe.

Nearby Castle Street, just downhill through one of its two surviving gateways, has what Sir John Betjeman called “the most perfect collection of 18th century town houses in Cornwall.” One is now the Eagle House Hotel, whose twin eagle statues star in a spooky but good-humoured Causley poem. Close by, Lawrence House is the town’s museum (run by volunteers and open on particular days only). It houses a number of fascinating and attractive displays, including some dedicated to Causley’s life, work and achievements, as the town’s best-known resident.

Launceston Town Square, and The White Hart Hotel

Launceston’s Town Square is surrounded by listed buildings, dating back to Tudor times and earlier. The White Hart Inn has a doorway plundered from the 12th century Launceston Priory (some ruins of which still exist, near St. Thomas Church and the River Kensey), and a plaque showing how Launceston figured in the stories of the Battle of Trafalgar and Admiral Nelson. There is also a large and touching War Memorial in the Square.

Explore the several narrow lanes and alleys of the town, leaving the Town Square. They hold a variety of architectural sights from the past. For example, St Mary Magdalene Church is one of the finest parish churches in Cornwall. Founded by Edward, the Black Prince, the church is noted for its unique exterior carvings — with one statue high on the east wall and its local legend (involving landing a pebble on the reclining Mary Magdalene’s back, and thus winning a new suit of clothes) being the subject of a delightful Causley poem.

Guided walks around the town, focusing on its history and buildings, and/or on Causley and his poems, are sometimes given by local writers and historians, such as during the Charles Causley Festival, each summer.All of those guided walks are free, or you can just enjoy a quiet individual stroll – a fine way to enjoy Launceston’s history, sights and world-class architectural heritage. That can be random, or self-guided with a little help. Pick up a full town map at Launceston Tourist Information Centre.

Here's a 'Causley Way' town trail map, linked to 10 poems (shown below). Causley wrote many poems either directly about specific Launceston locations, or other aspects of living here. This walk -- on good paths, with a few inclines (Launceston isn't flat!) -- will take about an hour, including stops to read the poems.

They (and many others ) can be found on the stated pages of Collected Poems 1951-2000 (Macmillan), or Collected Poems for Children/I Had A Little Cat (Macmillan).

'The Causley Way': a scenic and poetic walk around his home town of Launceston

This simple town centre walk is based on a walk devised by Charles Causley and Richard Graham in 2003.

1. 'Mary, Mary Magdalene' (CPs, p.228)

Try a local custom! At the church's east end, you'll find a relief of a reclining Mary Magdalene up on the wall; the poem explains the legend. Then go around to the tower and main porch/door, where you'll see the Trecarell family crest.

2. 'A True Ballad of Sir Henry Trecarell' (CPs, p.60)

For an optional detour, walk from the church porch down Tower Street and then down through the car park. To the right of the toilet block, you'll find a short set of steps. Go down, and turn left along the pathway. Before the descent starts, look over the road and you will see the entrance to Launceston’s famous Zig-Zag footpath.

3. 'As I Went Down Zig-Zag' (CPsFC, p.150)

The Zig-Zag Path was refurbished and reopened with due ceremony in 2007, after a period of closure. Return to the church and walk right down the hill. Facing you is the Eagle House Hotel.

4. 'Eagle One, Eagle Two' (CPs, p.211)

Spot the two stone eagles resting on the gate pillars at the entrance to the Eagle House Hotel. Turn left up the slope to the grounds and ruins of Launceston Castle.

5. 'On Launceston Castle' (CPs, p.286)

The Castle is the setting for this powerful and evocative reflection. The poem, the castle, the town and the surrounding countryside are best appreciated if you can manage the steep climbs up to the very top of the Keep!

6. 'Mr Pennycomequick' (CPsFC, p.361)

Whether you've climbed up the castle or are standing near the entrance hut, just look down from -- or up at! -- the Keep, to imagine this poem!

7. 'In the Willow Gardens' (CPsFC, p.443)

Go down the Castle Green to the long low wall overlooking a road. The fields opposite once held the allotments described in this atmospheric poem.

8. 'Pepper and Salt' (CPsFC, p.36)

Look further right down the road to see the old National School, where Causley both attended as a boy and then taught in for much of his working life.

9. 'The Quarter-Jacks' (CPsFC, p. 20)

Leave the castle through the main West Gate. Opposite are the Town Hall and Guildhall, with the two quarter-jacks alongside the clock set into the tower. Wait for one of the four times an hour that they strike!

10. 'I Saw Charlie Chaplin' (CPsFC, p.8)

Now turn left up the slope, alongside the high castle wall and round to the left, into the Town Square. Opposite is the White Hart Inn, with a Norman door and a plaque telling how Launceston is part of bringing the news of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson to London. The main square centres on the town's large and moving granite War Memorial.

We hope you've enjoyed your visit to Launceston, this 'Causley Way' walk, and its Charles Causley poems! Come back soon: maybe after reading more about Causley, his poetry and the town.

For an account of Causley's life and work, please click HERE.

For a bibliography, please click HERE.

Covid-19 updateThe Causley Trust Staff are working from home until further notice and can be contacted by email as usual. We hope you all stay safe and well.