Walk - St Peter the Poor Fisherman
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.
- Go through the gate out of the National Trust Stoke Point car park and follow the track downhill. Reaching the South West Coast Path, bear left to carry on ahead along the path, descending steeply towards the sea.
- Turn right onto the small path above Stoke Point, signed to St Peter's Church. Follow it along above the rocks, bearing left with it above Church Cove to go into the woodland. Stay on the path as it bears right, continuing ahead along the drive in the caravan park.
- St Peter's Church is on your right just before the phone box and the unusual community hall in a converted Nissen hut.
After Christianity had been established in south west England in the first few centuries AD, it came under increasing threat from the waves of Anglo-Saxons who invaded English shores after the Romans left in the fifth century. Large numbers of Celtic missionaries were sent from Ireland, Wales and Brittany to fight the rising tide of paganism. They established small hermitages around the coast, and these were later rebuilt as formal chapels. Many of these were dedicated to St Michael, the patron saint of high places, or St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. Monasteries were built above the shoreline, too, and the monks often kept a light burning to warn sailors of the rocks below. In the ninth century, Devon's south coast came under repeated attack from Viking raids, and coastal chapels on this part of the coast served an additional function of keeping a lookout for enemy ships.
Revelstoke's Church of St Peter the Poor Fisherman was built in 1226. There is a carved jamb in the east window which is thought to have been part of a cross shaft dating from Saxon times, so there may well have been an earlier church on the site. In the fifteenth century, parishioners successfully lobbied Bishop Edmund Lacy of Exeter for a burial ground beside it. Their parish extended a great distance along the shoreline, they pointed out, and while they were away burying their dead three miles away in Yealmpton, any passing seafarers could take advantage of their absence and plunder the district. Four tomb chests in the churchyard, dating from the eighteenth century, are now listed buildings.
The church continued in use until 1840, when it was badly damaged in a storm. Villagers started to use the chapel of ease in Noss Mayo instead, and the church above the shoreline fell into disrepair. In 1878, novelist Maurice Baring, whose father was Lord Revelstoke, described it as 'a church not used any more, and in ruins except for one aisle, which was roofed in, and provided with pews. It nestled by the seashore, right down on the rocks, grey and covered with ivy, and surrounded with quaint tombstones that seemed to have been scattered haphazard in the thick grass and the nettles.' Nonetheless, the church continued in occasional use, despite its condition, until 1869 when it was finally pronounced unsafe.
In 1862 a licence had been granted for a new church to be built, and 20 years later Lord Revelstoke built a new parish church in the village. Today open-air services are still held twice a year at the old church, which remains consecrated. After visiting the church, carry on ahead along the drive.
- If it is not too wet and you are feeling agile, bear right at the end to take the rough path down to Stoke Beach, using the ropes strung alongside the path to help you where the path is slippery. After visiting the beach turn back and carry on uphill through the park to the main drive out, heading towards Stoke House, above.
Although Stoke was not mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book, as the nearby estate of Membland was, it was in existence by 1198, when Lord of the Manor Richard Revel was Richard the Lionheart's Sheriff of Devon. Stoke House (now known as Revelstoke Park House) was built in the seventeenth century or possibly earlier and it is a listed building.
- At the top of the drive, pick up the South West Coast Path by the parking area on the left. Follow the Coast Path through the top of the woods and back to the heathland, coming out at 2, where you left it to take the path above the shoreline. Turn right, climbing steeply back to the track from the car park.
- When the Coast Path bears left over Netton Down, carry on uphill along the track to return to the car park.