St Samson's Cave, Golant, Cornwall
St Sampson’s Cave: Golant, Cornwall
It is known that Sampson lived for a time in Golant in Cornwall and his well still exists by the church built over his prayer oratory on the hill. There are records of him confronting and destroying an evil serpent which was terrorising the local inhabitants. In some records it refers to the creature as a fire spitting dragon. Apparently, this serpent lived in a dark cave on the banks of the River Fowey at Golant, from where it went hunting for prey and terrified the people.
I’d heard that the cave still exists and have been hunting for it for several years. I finally found it, hidden in undergrowth behind the railway line which carries the china clay trains to Fowey docks.
It is dangerous to get to today, as you must cross the railway line and long clay trains still operate. I visited late in the evening, after the last train had been through and gone at around 7.45pm in July when the evening is light. But if you ever visit, you MUST be careful.
The opening is obscured and quite small, so it’s a surprise to realise the cave goes back beyond the reach of natural light. I forgot a torch so didn’t venture far in, as water covers the rocky floor and it was pitch black.
It certainly felt the kind of place a dangerous serpent could lurk. However, in some accounts it is recorded that Sampson also spent time living in the cave for a while, perhaps after killing the serpent. It wasn’t unusual for the Celtic monks to lead ascetic lives of deprivation, even praying whilst standing up to their necks in cold water.
The cave is situated right on the banks of the River Fowey and opposite where Penpol Creek joins the main river. It’s interesting because St Cyric’s Creek at Cadix is just up Penpol Creek, so these two sites of prayer were very close together geographically. It’s possible even that they existed simultaneously. The monks liked to live within a manageable distance of each other so that they could hear confession. It would have been just a short journey by boat. St Veep and St Winnow, likewise, are also nearby.
After leaving the cave and enjoying the view up Penpol Creek from the riverbank, imagining what it would have been like in Sampsom’s day without the fields having been cultivated and the boats moored, I started to make my way back along the footpath.
However, I’m always mindful in these places to be aware of God, so I was asking Him if there was anything remaining from Sampson’s legacy or that He’d like to show me. I’d walked about 20 paces from the spot opposite the cave when I walked into ‘something’.
How can I best describe what I experienced? A sudden, heavy, unnatural hush surrounded me, as though I had walked into a bubble of deep peace and all the outside sounds of the river were muffled. I paused, not wanting to break the beautiful moment and became aware that God’s presence was very tangible. I lingered a while before going to sit by the river. But I returned after a few minutes and the same thing happened. Perhaps it's an angel stationed by the ancient place of prayer. I found myself immediately worshipping spontaneously, singing praise and adoration of Jesus and an exultant joy rose up. The hush and peace were still very evident, and I knew that there is still something of God’s legacy in this spot. I will be returning.