The powers that be once named the stretch of the A38 that runs between Exeter and the fringes of Cornwall ‘The Devon Expressway’. Perhaps it was for tourism purposes, most likely it was to detract from the fact that there is no motorway in this part of the country. Whatever the case, the name didn’t really stick with the locals, but the road still remains one of the busiest in the west country today. And along one stretch of the road, somewhere between Ashburton and Ivybridge, constantly whipped by the wind from perpetual traffic, sits the long-forgotten Church of St George the Martyr and the village of Dean prior.
Church of St George the Martyr
Within sight of the A38, there has been a church on site for almost a thousand years. The first church in Dean Prior was likely of Norman origin, though little to none of this structure remains to this day. Historically part of the priory of Plympton, the majority of the church you can see now was constructed during the Victorian era, though parts of the tower date back to the 14th-century.
17th-century poet, Robert Herrick was vicar of the church in the 1600s. Apart from during the Cromwell years, he led church services between 1629-1674. Today, Herrick is allegedly buried in the church’s graveyard within an unmarked grave. Elsewhere in the churchyard, there’s a Great Yew Tree which was planed in 1780.
The village of Dean Prior
Elsewhere in the village, which is located in the South Hams district of Devon and within the Dartmoor National Park authority, there is little else by way of attractions. The population of the tiny village hovers around just two hundred residents, and the village’s many thatched cottages seem as if they have been in situ for centuries.
Much of the village was demolished to make way for the A38. Dean Prior was once home to a school, and many more houses than can currently be found there. All were dismantled for the Devon Expressway and today all that remains of these lost houses are sparse records and recollections.
Tips for visiting Dean Prior and Church of St George the Martyr
The easiest route by which to visit the Church and the rest of Dean Prior village is by exiting the slip road from the A38, just a little way past the turning to Ashburton and in the direction of Plymouth. The turn is a sharp left, and the lane you’ll turn into is a narrow single track.
Directly to your left, you’ll pass the Church. Carry on driving. Just past the ecclesiastical building, on the left-hand side of the road, there’s a fairly large parking space which belongs to the church. When leaving Dean Prior again, make sure to take care when turning back onto the dual carriageway. It’s a left turn only and the traffic moves quickly.
Nearby attractions to Dean Prior
Buckfast Abbey, Buckfastleigh: The modern 20th-century abbey at Buckfast is a stunning example of modern ecclesiastical architecture. Built on the site of a previous monastery, which was abandoned and decommissioned during the time of Henry VIII, the Abbey is free to visit and is well-known for its tonic wine.
Dartington: It’s easy to see why Dartington Hall, Gardens, and artisanal shops are popular with tourists and locals alike. After all, there you’ll find a beautiful park area, a shopping centre filled with independent shops, and the iconic home of ‘Dartington Glass’.
Ashburton: The former stannary town of Ashburton is characterised by its two intersecting main streets filled with independent antique stores and small eateries. It’s the perfect place to pop to for a cream tea (a regional speciality) after a day of exploring nearby moor and coastland.