Dartmoor National Park in the south west of England is somewhere that could hardly be more different to the sea and coastline most associated with Devon. Even if they have not visited the area, many people will be familiar with the moor through reading ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ – perhaps the best known story about the detective Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The moor is also home to what was at one time one of the harshest prisons in the country used for some of the most brutal and worst kind of offenders. Less well known but a good reason for visiting is the Church of St. Michael de Rupe (St. Michael of the Rock) that stands on top of a hill on the western edge of Dartmoor, around five miles north of Tavistock. Believed to date back to the 13th or 14th century, it is thought that it was once used as a beacon tower to warn of approaching enemies coming in from the sea. This tiny church can only seat around 40 people and although a larger church exists today in the village, St Michael’s does hold a Christmas and Easter service as well as evensong during the summer. Christianity has been practiced throughout west Devon from the 6th century and just after the departure of the Romans.
Visitors to the church can see stunning views all around the county in fine weather and when fog descends on the moor the church takes on an eerie aspect. Standing 1,110 feet above sea level on an ancient volcanic cone, it is surrounded by an Iron Age earth walled hill fort.
St Michael’s is the fourth smallest parish church in England, consisting of a nave, chancel and north porch. There are doorways in both the north and south walls which for a church of its size is very unusual. On the east wall is a stained glass window depicting St Michael holding the sword and scales of justice. Since the church was built it has also had additional work done over the centuries.
The church was struck by lightning in 1995 and much damage was done to the tower which has fortunately been repaired.
Standing inside the church is the octagonal granite basin font which stands on its pedestal of the same shape. It is the only piece of furnishing that dates back to before the restoration of the church in 1890. In the Middles Ages, churches were ordered to keep all fonts locked in case the ‘blessed water’ was stolen to be used in black magic rituals.
On the south side of the tower is a stone sundial which is one of the oldest in Devon and situated at the top of it is a strange figure of a mythical creature half imp, half angel wearing a flat cap with outstretched wings. At the foot of it is the name Walter Batten, dated 1694.
The Brentor churchyard has never been officially closed but due to the lack of earth and problems with the local rabbit numbers it is not suitable for modern-day burials.
This churchyard was used as a filming location for the BBC TV drama, ‘Jamaica Inn.’ Dartmoor is a beautiful location and thousands of visitors go to the area every year. It is, however, remote in parts and the terrain can be challenging. On a beautiful sunny day you can see for miles all around the county and beyond but during bad weather the moor takes on a very different character.
The Brentor church has been visited by a number of paranormal groups that claim to have experienced supernatural activity.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
B3357 (Rd), Higher Longford, Moorshop, Tavistock
Devon, England, PL19 9LQ
+44 (0)1822 618 672
- Address: Butcher Park Rd (to) School Rd, Brentor, Tavistock, Devon, England, UK, PL19 0NP
- GPS: 50.60338056,-4.16235
- Phone: 0044 (0)1822 810 287
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: PL19 0NP
- Entrance Fees: Free access
- Disabled Access: Very limited
- Visibility from Road: Excellent
- Image Credits: Header Image: Helen Hotson