Langarrow: Cornwall’s Sodom & Gomorrah

Tales of lost worlds and underwater cities are the stuff of our fantasy, myth and imagination.  The legends of Atlantis and Avalon have become a part of our psyche. Ingrained in our culture. 

Since I was quite young I have been told the stories of the magical land of Lyonesse. The city of Arthurian legend that is said to have vanished into the ocean somewhere between Lands End and the Isles of Scilly.

Recently I learnt of another disappeared place when I bought a box of old books about Cornwall at auction.  (Old books are a bit of a weakness of mine.) Tucked inside one of the volumes were a number of old newspaper cuttings. Snippings for newspapers that the previous owner had clearly felt needed keeping.  The picture below shows one of them. It sparked my interest straight away. (I have no idea of the date of the cutting or which newspaper it came from.)

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But this was a story I had heard somewhere before. . .

On further investigation, it was always the same, the books all told me that 1000 years ago there was a great and wealthy city somewhere on the coast between Crantock and Perranporth.

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The story of Langarrow

But unlike the Shangri-La existence we imagine in Avalon, Langarrow was a city of vice and excess. The inhabitants were work-shy and selfish.  And just like a Cornish Gomorrah, God decided to punish them for their evil ways (Genesis 19:24).  For 3 days and 3 nights a vicious storm raged along the coast.  It covered everyone and everything in a thick layer of sand.  Langarrow was no more.

Between Crantock and Perranporth there is a huge area of rolling dunes. Walking along that part of the coast the sand undulates in great mountains for as far as you can see.  It makes for tough going on a hot day.

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Any evidence of this so called great city is impossible to find (perhaps just wistfully in my mind’s eye). But it was said to have had 7 large churches and legend has it that on a stormy night you can still hear their buried bells toll.

You can find the ancient Christian chapel known as St Piran’s Oratory close to Perranporth.  This unusual place can be found out in the dunes, struggling to stay above the sand.  Whether this buried church has any connection to the Langarrow legend isn’t clear but it is an interesting place to visit.

Sadly however it no longer looks like this early photograph. It has now been surrounded by an ugly concrete shell “for it’s protection”.

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Whether Langarrow ever truly existed, whether it was a great city full of riches or just a tiny hamlet of farming folk doesn’t really matter to me.  The story is enough.  And it gives me an excuse to get out and walk along this wonderful coastline, searching for a church tower sticking up out the sand.

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Miles and miles of dunes viewed from Cubert

Further reading

Armorica – The Mass Migration from Cornwall to Brittany

Mermaids sighted in Cornwall (honest!)

Cornwall’s Leviathan

8 thoughts on “Langarrow: Cornwall’s Sodom & Gomorrah

  1. It looks a great place and a great story true or otherwise! I like Gunwalloe church which is nestled against the sand dunes and also the church near the beach when Betjeman is buried though I can’t remember the name of the village on the north coast side.

  2. Given the age of the story, it is possible that the ‘city’ of langarrow is connected with the earlier settlement that produced the Barrie on Cubert common? The common is sandy ground underneath, indeed there is a ‘secret sand pit’ that local kids play in…

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