Brent Tor @ Devon

After stocking up our car with the groceries at Tavistock, we headed towards our next destination, Brent Tor, approximately four miles (6.5 km) north of the town…

A term “tor” is commonly used to describe a rounded hill summit or ridge crest in the South West of England…

Brent Tor surged up in the landscape resembling the crest of a wave which was yet to swell up to the summit before breaking.

The sun was already setting when we arrived at the adjoining car park. ‘Oh nooo! We must hurry!!’ Hubbie, who wanted to capture the sceneries before losing all the natural light, was scrambling to get a camera and a tripod out of the car…

Our struggle with a slippery footpath leading up to the hilltop was rewarded with a beautiful sunset…

The rich auburn of Bracken fern diluted with the straw yellow of autumn heath softly shimmered in the distance…

A granite building perched on the outcrop was the Church of St. Michael de Rupe…

Oh well, it was a bit of anticlimax, wasn’t it? In fact, Hubbie and I blurted out our disappointment as our car approached the site. ‘Isn’t it typical?’ ‘We came all the way only to find the church covered up with scaffolding?!’ Oui c’est la (bloody) vie…

The church is also known as St. Michael of the Rock. The current church was built by Robert Giffard, the lord of Lamerton and Whitchurch, between 1155 and 1162. Apart from building a church, he also donated some surrounding land to Tavistock Abbey as a perpetual gift.

The site encircling the church is an ancient site. A large scale archeological research is yet to be conducted in the area but the earth discovered on the site belongs to an Iron Age (150BC – 50AD)…

A relatively fresh tyre track and a cart with building material were found at the bottom of the paved footpath which led me to the gate of the church…

A close-up of the church…

The place looked deserted. Then, a couple suddenly emerged from the church door and I was rightfully alarmed. ‘Hello there!’ It turned out that they were curious visitors like me and decided to investigate the inside of the church. ‘We couldn’t find any light’, they conferred. So I turned on a flashlight app on my iPhone and gave the once-over but couldn’t locate any light switch on the walls. ‘Oh well, the place must be lit by gas lamps I guess’. A man shrugged his shoulders and headed to the exit…

The church was really tiny – later I found that it was the fourth smallest church in England – and dark as a tomb. If the corrugated iron sheets weren’t blocking the light, a stained glass window with St.Michael could have been seen. What a shame it was. By the way, you may wonder why this church was dedicated to St.Michael? Apparently, it was a common practice to choose the saint as a patron if the churches were built in the uplands. The same principle applys to Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy then, I wondered.

Behind the rows of the wooden pews, there was a small shelf displaying postcards and Christmas cards. The woman next to me suggested if I should take some as souvenirs. ‘Oh no, I carry no change with me’. Then, she said nonchalantly, ‘It’s only 20p and they won’t mind’. Was she suggesting that I should take it without paying for it?? ‘I am not a religious person but I can’t possibly steal from the house of God!’ We laughed and walked out of the church (with no postcard, obviously).

There is a local legend regarding how the church was built on the hilltop…

One day, a wealthy merchant was caught at sea in a violent storm. His boat was tossed around by gigantic waves and it was about to capsize. Out of the desperation, he vowed that if any god or deity delivered him to a dry land safely, he would build a church on the first land he saw. His prayer was answered. He stepped ashore unharmed and the first tract he saw was the outcrop of Brent Tor. By keeping his promise to the god, he built a church on the ridge.

It must have been a pretty tough promise to keep. Because the hilltop was so windy and cold. Very unforgiving…

The church receives more than a few requests a year from couples who want to get married in the hilltop chapel with Dartmoor as a backdrop. However, the church officials discourage them strongly because of possible dangers and hazards due to the location of the church. In fact, one bride did slip up on the wet path in the past and she went sprawling in the muck in all her finery. Unless the couple decide to get married in anoraks and walking boots, tying the knot at the church won’t be as easy or romantic as they imagine. Also the guest list for the ceremony will have to be limited to fit and able bodies only as walking up to the summit alone will be too challenging for some.

A few graves were found on the slope of the church…

Another story attached to the church is that of the floating coffins. Because of the very shallow soil on top of the tor it was difficult to bury the dead in ground so they were kept in the crypt. Many years ago a violent storm hit Dartmoor and the rain was relentless. Once the storm had passed over it was noted that the crypt had become flooded and all the coffins were floating around like boats on a paddling lake. Oh dear, it just sounds too gruesome.

Hubbie was clicking away his Leica pointing towards gently rolling terrains around Brent Tor. ‘Will you be long?’ I called out to him as I slogged the muddy path down to the car park. ‘No, I’m done. The light is too dark now’. He unscrewed his tripod.

The sun was finally set…

You can find a calendar for the service at the church here. I would love to come back during the summer and see their holy communion…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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