Day out: Brentor, Devon

This famous medieval church is the fourth smallest in England. It is also the highest, and comes with its very own legend

St Michael de Rupe, Brentor, Devon

Built 335 metres above sea level on the remains of an ancient volcano in Devon is St Michael de Rupe (St Michael of the Rock).

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The views across the surrounding Dartmoor countryside from the summit of Brentor are breathtaking, but perhaps what’s most captivating about this small church is its ability to command attention from both land and sea. 

Brentor, Devon
Stunning winter light illuminating the snow covered slopes of Brentor on the western edge of Dartmoor ©Aalmy

When the valleys are masked in fog, Brentor is likely to be the first land seen from Plymouth Sound, and the highest on a clear day, making its church-topped summit the most visible feature for miles around. Legend says a wealthy merchant, known as Robert Giffard, was caught in a storm at sea and prayed to St Michael, promising to build a church on the first and highest land he saw if he survived.

Closer to Heaven

It’s a steep, but relatively short climb to the summit, with spectacular views from start to finish. There is plenty to see on the way up, including the remains of an Iron Age earth-walled enclosure on the slopes of the tor.  

The little church itself – at only 11.3 metres long and 4.4 metres wide – is steeped in history and receives thousands of visitors every year. The original chapel was built around 1130 and was much smaller than the current one; it was rebuilt and enlarged in the 14th century. At 9.8 metres high, its low unbuttressed tower is home to five bells, two of them dating from the 14th or 15th century. It has seating for around 70 people but can fit up to 90. Another 40 lie buried beneath the church’s granite floor. 

Lydord Gorge walk

Stretching for 1½ miles – not far from Brentor – the steep-sided Lydford Gorge is a spectacular chasm in the hills. At one end lies the impressive Devil’s Cauldron whirlpool, while the 30m (100ft)-high White Lady waterfall is at the other.

Find out more about the walk

Lydford Gorge ©Getty

On the south wall of the tower, a stone sundial, dated 1694, is thought to be one of the oldest in Devon. Guarding over the dial is a strange figure, half-imp, half-angel, with outstretched wings. A number of memorials are set on the nave wall.

Despite the steep climb from the car park, St Michael de Rupe is a popular church for those who enjoy a ceremony with a view, including a 3pm carol service on Christmas Day. Don’t forget to take your sledge for the return leg.

Words: Claire Frances

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Main image ©Alamy