It's taken a really long time to get here, I've until now only seen it from the A386 Tavistock to Okehampton road, from where it looks very much like a Dartmoor Glastonbury, a Dunnideer, a Beeston, a lone hill with a medieval building on it. I liked the look of it from the A386, so I decided that one day I'd have a look, and with my usual get up and go-ness it's taken well over ten years.
Parking is at the Brentor church car park, parking is free. Then across the road through the gate and there's the Tor with the church perched on top.
If you keep left on the path, your taken through what I hope is the original entrance to the fort, a long bank curves from here around the base of the hill.
But most people, myself included would most likely head straight to the top, to the best view, to the most obvious point of interest, the church.
But on the way I noted a load of other earthworks, including another inner entrance.
Soon enough the wind is blowing, Crows are keeping an eye on all who get to the top, and i'm getting that mountain top feeling.
Really, I didn't even know this was a hill fort until I decided to make this my stop off point. It's just a bonus really, the main thing about this extremely extinct volcano is that you can sit on top and marvel at the world before you, and if you've got any questions God is just over your shoulder.
"God, what are coincidences made of?"
"You wouldn't understand"
We parked in the large free car park and whilst the others stayed in the car – ‘if you think I am walking all the way up there……………….’ myself and Dafydd headed up the path.
The path was a bit muddy at first but soon dried out as we went uphill.
The defensive stone rampart / ditch is actually at the base of the hill and not further up the slope as you would expect. The curving rampart is about 4 metres high in places (from the outside) and 1 metre from the inside. Quite well preserved along the northern section.
We went all the way up to the church and had a look around inside. I picked up a booklet on the history of the site.
It was a misty old day with drizzle in the air and a cold, biting wind.
On a clear day you would be able to see for miles in all directions – but not today!
The tor is best known for the small church perched on its peak, but on closer inspection the remains of a large hillfort or settlement can be found on the northern side of the tor. The guide book in the church says they date from the Iron Age and at present I can find no other info to say if this is wrong or right.
The tor is easy to find (it can be seen for miles around) by heading north out of Tavistock towards the village of North Brentor. There is a good carpark beside the road and the walk up to the church takes you through the remains of the settlement.
Whatever your views on Christianity, a visit to the Church is worth it, if only for the views.
Just to the south-west of the tor there is marked on the OS map a row of tumuli running down from a point called the beacon.
The church, called St. Michael de Rupe in old records, (of which one dates as early as 1283,) is a curious little weather-worn structure.. It stands on the verge of a precipice, and in a diminutive churchyard, containing a few mouldering gravestones. An erroneous idea has been very generally entertained, that in digging burial-places at this spot the rock is found to be so saturated with moisture that the excavation is, in a short time, filled with water..
..[On] the eastern side [of the hill] a spring gushes forth which has been never known to fail..
p10 in A Hand-book for Travellers in Devon & Cornwall, by John Murray (1851).
"The church of Brent Tor is dedicated to St Michael. And there is a tradition among the vulgar that its foundation was originally laid at the foot of the hill ; but that the enemy of all angels, the Prince of Darkness, removed the stones by night from the base to the summit,--probably to he nearer his own dominion, the air,--but that, immediately on the church's being dedicated to St Michael, the patron of the edifice hurled upon the devil such an enormous mass of rock that he never afterwards ventured to approach it. Others tell us that it was erected by a wealthy merchant, who vowed, in the midst of a tremendous storm at sea (possibly addressing him. self to his patron, St Michael, that if he escaped, he would built a church on the first land he descried. If this was the case, he seems to have performed his vow with more worldly prudence than gratitude; as it is one of the smallest churches any where to be met with. Indeed it frequently, and not inappropriately, has been compared to a cradle.
p252 of A Description of the Part of Devonshire bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy, by Mrs Bray. v1 (1836).
Brent Tor was fortified in a manner very similar to Whit Tor; the outer wall has been much injured. In this instance it is not the summit, but the base of the hill that has been defended. As there is a church on the summit, as also a churchyard with its wall, these have drawn their supplies from the circumvallation. Moreover, it has been broken through to form a way up to the church.
A late curate of Tavistock, whose function it was to take the service on Brent Tor, and who found it often desperate work to scramble to the summit in storm and sleet and rain, resolved on forming a roadway to the churchyard gate. But he experienced some difficulty in persuading men to go out from Tavistock to work at this churchway. However, he supplied himself with several bottle of whisky, and when he saw a sturdy labourer standing idle in the market-place he invited him into his lodgings and plied him with hot grog, till the man in a moist and smiling condition assented to the proposition that he should give a day to the Brent Tor path. By this means it was made. The curate was wont to say: "Hannibal cut his way through the Alps with vinegar; I hewed mine over Brent Tor with prime usquebaugh." Few traces of this way remain, but in making it sad mischief was made with the inner wall of the fortress.
On Brent Tor summit it is sometimes impossible to stand against the wind. I remember how that on one occasion a baptismal party mounted it in driving rain. The father carried the child, and he wore for the occasion a new blue jersey. WHen the poor babe was presented at the font it was not only streaming with water, but its sopped white garment had become blue with the stain from the father's jersey.
On an occasion of a funeral, when the parson emerged from the church door he was all but prostrated by the north-west blast, and he and the funeral party had to proceed to the grave much like frogs. "Crook'y down, sir!" was the sexton's advice; and the whole company had to press forward bent double, and to finish the service seated in the "lew" of headstones.
According to popular belief the graves, which are cut in the volcanic tufa, fill with water, and the dead dissolve into a sort of soup. But this is not true; the rock is dry and porous. It discharges its drainage by a little spring on the north-east that in process of ages has worked itself from stage to stage lower down the hill.
In the DARTMOOR MAGAZINE 2003 Summer Edition you can read a good article by Tom Greeves " Was Brent Tor a dark age centre" with the usual stuff diagrams/photo's and a decent enough history of the settlement, although for me it doesn't go far enough.