For fear of robbery and vandalism, many churches are now closed to visitors, not so St Cadoc’s Cheriton. Set deep in a tranquil valley, and built in the early 14th century, the stocky, limestone church is probably the most lovely on Gower. There’s real peace here, just the sound of the stream running the length of the churchyard, and birds calling in the high sycamore and ash trees. A distant cuckoo calls. I follow a brimstone butterfly along the path to the church; it disappears over the boundary wall passing the grave I’ve come to visit again. The simple inscription on slate reads:
William Henry Nairn Wilkinson
1932 to 1996
Of Pill House Llanmadoc
Naturalist and Defender of the Countryside
Such a short epitaph hides the life and achievements of a truly great man, whose wisdom and influence changed the way government in this country thought about wildlife conservation.
In the church porch there’s a table and a notice offering water and soft drinks to walkers and visitors, and the door to the church is open. Inside is cool air and silence. Beautifully painted ceilings, part of a restoration in 1974, are quite wonderful. A single candle burns on the altar guarded by six brass candlesticks, all protected by a modern digital security system. I read the inscriptions on the walls of children, just weeks old, buried here in the early 18th century. On the north wall a plaque records the names of all the rectors dating back to the very first in 1649.
Outside again I rest on a wooden folding chair, again provided by the church, soak up the peace and sunshine, listen to the cuckoo and wonder how Sir William, from such an illustrious family, came to have a connection with a tiny village in this remote part of Gower. I always forgot to ask him.