Writer: Tia Jade Woolcock
Jane Stevenson

The Sacred Koos

It’s easy to forget that nature is alive—but not here
not in this sacred koos
born of restless, wild thickets
and wandering tendrils that wreathe
around the living churchyard of St Hugh’s.
Lichen-crusted milk churns
gather along the narrow lanes of palimpsests,
tracings of shop windows
still furrowed in brickwork.
The arboreal trail ends
in corn crops quivering under October’s breath.

Quethiock, pronounced “Quethick”, is thought to derive from the old Cornish cuidoc, meaning wooded or forested place. In one ancient manuscript it seems to appear as “Graedik”, as there is no Q in the Celtic alphabet. 

I was clueless about this on that Sunday afternoon when we parked beside a quiet residential road. I hadn’t done any research by this point but decided to drive down just to get a sense of the place. Not that any of that mattered once we arrived. The village let me in, expressing its true self with every step along its overgrown, arboreous trail. 

Leaving the car, we walked to a small crossroad that ended in fields of spiring corn crops and a parish hall, signposted “The Masons’ Arms: open occasionally since 2018”. Quethiock is the locus for a parish dating back as early as the 6th century and the arrival of monks from Ireland and Wales. These included saints Piran and Cadoc. The arable land has made a home for farmers and livestock for centuries.

We turned back, my dog pulling ahead, as we searched for the heart of the village. Ambling down narrow lanes roofed in towering thickets that swayed under the October breeze, we passed rows of stone cottages. Palimpsests of a time before – Maids House (an old almshouse), Great West (a farmhouse) and Old Pound Cottage (a home for farm labourers). Outside The Old Shop, traces of shop windows can still be seen within the brickwork. 

At its heart, St Hugh’s Parish Church, all sandstone with slate roofs, is encased in untamed boughs. Unusually, the staircase of its slender tower starts not from the ground but from a slate-covered gable half-way up. Legend has it that just outside the church wall lies St Cadoc’s Well. 

I noticed a small message at the entrance stating that this is a living churchyard managed with wildlife in mind. These grounds are only cut a few times a year, leaving the flowers to thrive and the grasses to seed. The primroses that blossom here in spring are renowned. At the end of the churchyard, past the mossy mounds and lichen-crusted gravestones, stands a 14-foot granite cross, the second tallest in Cornwall. 

Forest clearings with the presence of water were often sacred spaces in ancient times. I couldn’t find any streams while scouring the village, but in later research I discovered that further down there is a wildlife walk with streams and a waterfall. So, in essence, Quethiock can be seen as a sacred koos (Kernewek for forest or woodland). 

In my poem, I wanted to capture how nature flourishes within this village. Woodland management has become part of Quethiock’s identity, which truly spoke to me that Sunday while spotting giant garden snails trailing down a time-worn, red phone box, moss-freckled milk churns and centuries-old hedgerows. Hidden within the shrouded, circling trails are walnut trees and the finest whispering oak. 

Quethiock was quiet that afternoon. But if you listened closely enough, you could hear the faint whirring of tractors reverberating beside a blackbird’s sweet song.

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