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Oct 2009 - Stoke Beach

St Peter the Poor Fisherman

Casting around for clues near Noss Mayo

Now here’s a place you wouldn’t come across by chance.

Today, it is all but surrounded by the leisure homes and car parks of Revelstoke Caravan Park, the church of St Peter the Poor Fisherman, just above Stoke Beach in South Devon, is a quite improbable mixture of construction and destruction phases - and of unrelated architectural styles. The still utilised remains of this bundle of buildings appear to be composed of a courtyard, which would once have been roofed over, with a cloister to the south and a number of chapels and functional rooms leading off on all sides. As an operational entity, it’s a bit of a pig’s breakfast, but as a storehouse of dowsable history, it’s like stumbling into Aladdin’s cave.

The basic dowsing revealed a sacred site, used since around 3,500 BCE, with a first Christian building erected in the ninth century, and a stone replacement built in the 13th or 14th centuries. When the nearest settlement of Noss Mayo, four miles round the coast path, decided to erect first a Chapel of Ease in the 1860’s and then their own full-size church. Stoke church, bereft of a congregation and with insufficient funding was left to rot - and rot it did.

By 1960, it had become little more than a romantic, and probably quite dangerous, ruin. It was rescued from complete oblivion by a group of local volunteers, supported financially by The Churches Conservation Trust. Today it hosts occasional services and is a unique example of a religious building that grew and died organically, without the usual makeovers and restorations to hide the evidence.

Parts of the walls of the structure, which I am sure have been checked by those with engineering skills, lean alarmingly and reminded me more of the jumble in the jungle that is Angkor, than a devotional destination in Devon.

Perhaps because it was off limits until the 1960’s it is a very energetic and enigmatic place. What would have been the nave contains a series of earth energy centres, while two partly-enclosed ‘chapels’ have energy spirals that were huge even before we started interacting with them. Two ancient leys cross the body of the site. Unusually, both run through architectural features, implying that the builders of the respective periods were aware, knowingly or gnowingly, of their presence. One runs though the middle of both the south and the north doors - and also the, now blocked, churchyard gateway. The other takes in the piscina and even the more modern font, which has presumably been repositioned onto it!

The bell tower appeared once to have been separated from the main structure and was later incorporated - and again it had a strong energy centre beneath it.

The first ‘altar’ of the church was in the oldest functional part of the site, now in the north of the complex. However, after the building was extended, this was moved to the west end, where a stone memorial bench now marks the spot and is doubtless a good place to meditate outside of the tourist season. Following the Romanisation of the Celtic tradition, the altar was moved again, to a third site in the east. Each of these locations still has a strong energy spiral. A large, modern wooden cross, also in the east, now marks the focus of the ceremonial activities - and is the only one not to be located on an energy centre.

For a sacred site with such a long history, it seemed obvious to ask if there had been anything structural here prior to the Christian period. A stone circle? - no. A henge? - no. A standing stone? - yes - in fact four of them. The largest, a Menhir perhaps about seven feet high, formerly stood where the first altar was later constructed - and where its powerfully positive interlocking energy spirals remain intact. Two stones stood in the area that is now the roofless courtyard - and these are also marked by spirals. The site of the fourth was once, interestingly, located slap on the ley just beyond the churchyard gate, but is now lost amongst the burgeoning brambles.

During the investigation, a family of visitors stopped to observe the strange activities of the dowsers. With a bit of encouragement, and a few minutes practice, they were all getting unexpected responses from their borrowed rods, which clearly set them thinking about what they had chanced across.

We dowsed that there had once been a small monastic community on site and, given the amount of enhancement and enlargement of the structure over the centuries, it is likely that there was a considerable resident population nearby. Indeed, it appears that at some point about 15 of them were forcibly removed by slavers.

So, for a finale, we asked for the site of the nearest well - and if it had been a ‘holy’ well. The responses were positive, so we set off down the service road. Although we achieved a good consensus on direction and distance, mountainous blackberries blocked our path. The original footpath has been reclaimed over the years by the flourishing flora.

However, a little further down, a set of worn wooden steps appeared intriguingly in the hedge and we made our way carefully down towards the beach. While the actual site of the well was too deep in the undergrowth to permit physical investigation, the energy signature implied that it had crossing water lines, augmented by one associated energy line and one ley - so, a ‘holyish’ source of water. Below the source, a little fissure leads down to the beach itself, implying that the water was probably available from a modified spring, rather than a well, as such.

Just up the coast, and well within sight, an improbably squared off cave dowsed as having once been used by smugglers, indicating that this now genteel part of the seascape has had quite a chequered history.

This is a site that deserves more attention - and is a must for those interested in the sequential redevelopment of historical buildings. Its location just to the seaward side of the South West Coast Path, and with a car park just before you reach the caravan site itself, makes it quite accessible in all weathers. It is well signposted but, judging from those who sought directions from the locals, it is not extensively visited.

Cultures may have arrived, expanded, developed and moved on, but sites like this show that there is still a lot to be learned from the underlying energy of the land.

Nigel Twinn Tamar Dowsers

October 2009


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