Walk - Rame Head Chapel
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the entrance to the Rame Head car park take the footpath on the opposite side of the car park, heading along the right-hand hedge and following it around the corner to the right. Going through into the right-hand field, cross it diagonally to come out on the road. Turn left on the road and follow it to the church.
In the reign of the Emperor Valentinian in the fourth century AD - according to a legend retold by Robert Hunt at the start of the twentieth century - the people along the shores of the Tamar had been taught by the local monks that all men were doomed from birth to a life of sin and misery. St German was sent to preach to them about free will and the value of good works. He built a church here, and a poor house, and he performed a number of miracles. He had many followers, but he also had his enemies, and one day a rowdy rabble burst in on his Sunday service and drove him out.
According to the text, 'St German went, a sad man, to the cliffs at the Rame Head, and there alone he wept in agony at the failure of his labours. So intense was the soul-suffering of this holy man that the rocks wept with him. From that day the tears of the cliffs have continued to fall, and the Well of St German attests to this day of the saint's agony.'
Today's Church of Saint Germanus in Rame was first consecrated in 1259, being built on the site of an earlier Norman church, possibly from around AD 981, when Earl Ordulf, owner of vast estates in the West Country and uncle of King Ethelred, gave Rame to Tavistock Abbey (which he had founded). The tower, spire and chancel date from the thirteenth century, but the nave and aisles were added later, and the whole church was restored in 1848 and again in 1886.
Sometime around 1890, Rame Church Battery was built as part of Plymouth's southern defences, along with the Penlee and Pier Cellars Batteries (see the Kingsand Cawsand & Penlee Point Walk). It was disarmed after the First World War, and in the Second World War it was used as a radar station. It was demolished in the 1970s.
- From the church gate turn right and then fork right, turning right at the T-junction, and walk a short distance along the military road to the gap in the right-hand hedge just ahead. Follow the path down the right-hand hedge, crossing another path at the end of the field to the South West Coast Path just beyond it.
The military road was also built in the 1890s and connects the various forts and batteries around the peninsula (see the Kingsand Cawsand & Penlee Point Walk).
- Turn right on the Coast Path and follow it as it travels high on the heathland towards the headland chapel. Carry on past the path by the bench near the mast to continue along the Coast Path to the end of the headland, climbing the steps on the mound to reach the chapel at its summit.
People have lived here since prehistoric times, and there is a Neolithic (Late Stone Age) chambered tomb on the hillside to the northwest of Rame. A greenstone axe from the same period was found on the beach at Cawsand, and other flint tools have been found elsewhere on the peninsula. In the Iron Age, around 2000 years ago, there was a cliff castle, or promontory fort, on the mound ahead, and the remains of the rampart protecting its landward flank can still be seen across the neck of the headland.
The chapel on the mound was licensed for Mass in 1397, and is probably built on the site of St German's original hermitage, although it was later dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, patron of high places. In its earliest days a lamp was probably kept alight in the chapel to warn sailors of the rocks below. In 1588 the first sighting of the Spanish Armada was from this chapel. In the Second World War there were various buildings around the chapel, including a small military camp, gun platforms, and Chain Home Low radar installations with a Ground Controlled Interception hut and a bunker thought to have been part of an anti-submarine acoustic listening network.
- Returning down the long flight of steps from the chapel, this time take the left fork to follow the Coast Path up the opposite hillside. When the Coast Path bears left towards Polhawn and Whitsand Bay, bear right to carry on uphill, back to the car park.
Rame Head Observatory, a coastguard lookout until it closed in 1988, is now manned by volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institute. The NCI was established on Cornwall's Lizard Point in 1994, when two sailors drowned there within sight of the newly-closed Coastguard lookout at Bass Point (see the Lizard Point Walk). Originally there was a Lloyds register lookout on the site, and part of its octagonal outline can still be seen at the southern corner of the current building.
On a clear day you will be able to see, the most famous lighthouse in the British Isles - the Eddystone, built on a small and very dangerous rock 13 miles south west of Plymouth. There have been four separate lighthouses built here. The original steel Winstanley’s tower, was completed in 1698, the first lighthouse to be built on a small rock in the open sea.
In June 1697, England was at war with France. Whilst building the tower a French privateer carried Winstanley off to France. When Louis XIV heard he ordered his immediately release saying that "France was at war with England not with humanity". In 1709 the John Rudyerd replaced it with the wooden Rudyerd’s Tower. It burnt down in 1755 poisoning the 94 year old keeper who swallowed a lump of molten lead as it dripped from the roof.
John Smeaton, a Yorkshireman, built the next tower, out of granite, inventing quick drying cement in the process. 120 years later, in the 1870's, cracks appeared in the rock. The top half of the tower was dismantled and re-erected on Plymouth Hoe as a monument to the builder. The present tower built in 1882 used larger stones, dovetailed on all sides and to the courses above and below. In 1982 the lighthouse was the first to be converted to automatic operation. A helipad was built above the lantern to allow the work to be carried out.
The tower is 49 metres high, 41 metres above the sea at high water. Its white light flashes twice every 10 seconds and can be seen for 17 nautical miles. The fog signal blasts once every 30 seconds.
Cawsand, Kingsand, Maker Heights, Downderry