I was speechless. I was breathless (and not just because there is no road leading up to the church)! From the moment you first spot the tiny 13th Century church of Brentor (patron saint St Michael) in the distance, it is clear that you are approaching somewhere special.
It is set atop of an extinct volcano, after all!
What at first glance looks like yet another oddly shaped rocky outcrop of granite known locally as a ‘tor’, actually turns out to be the church’s lone bell tower emerging from the granite. The church is not only on top of an extinct volcano but also on a ley line.
Although, often mis-sold as ‘the smallest church in England’, the church can still only seat a modest 40. Set atop a now extinct volcano, the only way to reach this architectural feat is by foot. There are even many stories about brides having to walk up through the mud in their wedding gowns to reach the church.
As soon as you cross the road and enter the pedestrian gate to walk up to the church, you are greeted by incomplete iron age earthworks. These are fairly rare examples due to the fact that fortifications were normally created at the top of a rocky outrcop so as to be easily defensible.
In popular legend:
One legend about how the church was built goes like this: There was a merchant sailor who was sailing toward the coast during a terrible storm. The crew informed him that the ship was certain to crash upon the rocks.
Upon hearing this, the sailor threw himself to the deck and begged his patron saint, Michael to save him. Michael saved him and his crew. As thanks, the sailor vowed to build a church at the nearest high point he could find inland. He proceeded to start the build, using the majority of his wealth to do so.
The devil was angry at being cheated of victims and so attempted to sabotage the build. Each night when the construction workers returned home, he would climb to the top of the mount and throw the stones back into the valley below. However, Saint Michael, angry at the turn of events, came down to the site and threw rocks at the devil, injuring him and forcing him to flee the site, never to return.
Tips for visiting Brentor:
- There is a public carpark at the bottom of the hill on the opposite side of the road to Brentor church. There are public toilet facilities available.
- Check the weather before visiting; what may look like a sunny day on Dartmoor can soon turn bleak and dreary if the mist suddenly descends.
- Bring a picnic.
- Bring a warm coat/ gloves/ scarf- the top of the hill is incredibly windy!