"A flying visit....." Launceston by leics

Launceston Travel Guide: 10 reviews and 54 photos

I stopped off at Launceston on my way back from Cornwall, simply because I had never visited before (at least, not as an adult) and because i knew it had a castle.

As it turned out, it was not the castle which most interested me but the magnificent late-Medieval church of St Mary Magdalene (see below and tip).

Launceston is an ancient place, a Saxon settlement (known as Dunheved) and almost certainly a settlement in prehistory too. Its name comes from the Cornish 'Lannstefan', 'the church of St Stephen'. St Stephen's was a monastery outside the town and for centuries the castle and town kept its Saxon name.

Launceston castle was built around 1070 and is a cracking example of the Norman motte-and-bailey castle style. It stands on a huge mound, dominating both the town and the surrounding countryside, and is very much the symbol of power and control it was intended to be.

It is largely ruined, of course, and was not fully open when I visited. But even so it is a sight worth seeking out if you are in the area.

Launceston itself is a typical small English market town, with the usual chainstores and a selection of independent shops. Much of the town centre architecture is Georgian or Victorian, but there are one or two older buildings and a little of the town wall remains, including the South Gate.

I'd never come across a church quite like St Mary Magdalene. Built in the Tudor period, between 1511 and 1524, the exterior is pretty much original and absolutely wonderful.

It is almost completely decorated with carved granite stones. There are scenes from the Bible, crosses, shields, ribbons, trees, foliage. Granite is such a very hard stone this is a magnificent achievement, taking many hours of hard work by many craftsmen.

The interior of the church has been renovated and changed, so it is largely Victorian. But it really is worth visiting Launceston to look at the exterior: you won't find any (any?) other churches in England with this type of decoration.

I did not spend long in Launceston and, in truth, it does not have a vast amount to interest visitors. But it is a pleasant, typically-English, small market town and, being o the county border, would make an excellent base for exploring both North Cornwall and south Devon.

But it's worth a visit just to see St Mary Magdalene.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Unique church, castle, good base for exploring
  • Cons:None that I came across
  • In a nutshell:A good base worth a short visit for itself.
  • Last visit to Launceston: Jan 2012
  • Intro Written Jan 21, 2012
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leics

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