Thursday, 11 March 2010

Exmoor: Stoke Pero Church

"Culbone, Oare and Stoke Pero, three churches where no priest will go", goes the local Exmoor rhyme. Three parishes so remote that, before the days of motor transport, it took for ever to reach them, over some of the roughest and open terrain England has to offer. And of all the remote parishes, Stoke Pero has to win hands down, for even by car it is a difficult place to find. The narrow lanes cross wide expanses of moorland, close to Dunkery Beacon, the highest place on Exmoor. When you arrive at Stoke Pero, there is no cosy village green scene to greet you, for the church serves a widely scattered community. The wind cuts across the open land with an icy blast and even the church seems to be hunkered down against it, squatting in a dip in the land. As you enter the porch an old sign reminds you why.


Once inside the church, the simplicity of its decoration is the first thing that strikes you. Whitewashed walls with little in the way of decoration are the backdrop for ancient, worn pews and the most beautiful barrel vaulted roof. The red of the altar cloth at the far end almost seems an intrusion of colour, a scarlet splash of paint on a plain canvas.

The doorway to the belltower is tiny - so narrow that only the slimmest can enter. Despite its size it has a degree of solidity about it. The main door to the church is the opposite - a massive piece of oak with letters and symbols scratched into its surface. To date, the meaning of these remain unknown. Any ideas, anyone?
Leaving the church, the sun is shining again and the wind has eased. Many of the Exmoor tombstones from the 19th century have verses on them. Was this the fashion of the time or a peculiarity of Exmoor custom? This particular one seemed to me to be slightly malicious - saying "I might be dead but you'll be next" - not a great comfort to the bereaved!





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10 comments:

  1. That was something to see ... thanks for sharing your visit. Loved the barrel vaulted roof and that skinny minny belltower door! Just fabulous.

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  2. Incredibly beautiful! Definitely a place to visit in warm weather!

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  3. Dear Johnson, I do not think there is anything to match the simplicity of an English country church and, in many ways, the more isolated, the better. This posting highlights one important aspect of the countryside, in this case Exmoor, which makes England so very special - the enduring faith of our ancestors.

    Here in Hungary, as you may imagine, a staunchly Roman Catholic community results in churches which are highly decorated and, sadly, not always in keeping with the architecture.

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  4. I love this little church. The simplicity of the interior is beautiful. One of the things that I enjoyed most about traveling to the UK was visiting old churches.

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  5. Yes, I enjoyed visiting here as the combination of simplicity and remoteness is quite special.

    Many years ago, I walked across the moors here, misjudged the time and found myself outin the wilds in the dark without a torch -it was scary. Took me hours to find my way home again!

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  6. This is all very awe inspiring! LC

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  7. Why have I heard of Stoke Pero I wonder? Maybe its in a novel? Its such a beautiful old building- the old old English Churches are amazing testaments to the longevity of the faith.
    Aren't the marks on the door Danish runes? and the PF means something too but I can't remember what. I used to bell-ring in St James the Great Church in Colwall and it sure was a test of your character to get up into the Tower!

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  8. Perhaps it is mentioned in the book Lorna Doone although I don't recall it. Lorna Doone is set on Exmoor and the Doone Valley is not so far from Stoke Pero.

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  9. Ah, I thought you were going to visit the Culbone church. Stoke Pero IS a little forbidding somehow but Culbone is sheer heaven. You probably know it, but for anyone else reading, take THE most heavenly walk from Porlock Weir - through woodland, hearing the sea to your left - and then you come to a tiny coombe with the tiniest church (think it's the smallest in England - could be wrong) at the bottom.
    There always used to be a sort of scout hut where you could make yourself tea (honesty box) but that might have gone.
    My first attempt at children's fiction centred about CUlbone (renamed Kitnor) - its history and mythology is fascinating.

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  10. I haven't walked to Culbone for years, Jane. There used to be a little potter's shop there - I wonder if it still exists.

    As for Stoke Pero, I agree that the journey to reach it isn't for the faint hearted. I was just glad that I had my 4x4, especially the descent through the woods with its hairpin bends and long drops to the river below!

    Johnson

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