Chapel Carn Brea is said to be the first and last hill in Britain. Just a little south of St Just in Penwith overlooking the dramatic rocky peninsula of Lands End and stunning Sennen coastline, this hill is a focal point in this part of Cornwall, and has been for thousands of years.
The summit of this lone hilltop, which rises to 200m above the Atlantic, is covered in ancient remains. From the Bronze Age Cairn, which is of a design unique to this area and the Isles of Scilly, to the ruins of the 13th century hermitage which gives the hill its name.
The Chapel Of Saint Micheal of Brea was built on the top of the ancient cairn during medieval times and was once the home of the legendary Harry the Hermit.
Every year the beacon on the top Chapel Carn Brea is lit to mark the midsummer solstice. In the past, the fire was lit to warn of invading armies, to signal ships passing around the dangerous coastline or in times of celebration. Harry was one of a succession of hermits responsible for the beacon but he is remembered more for his rather unruly behaviour.
He is said to have been in the habit of cursing ships and fishermen who refused to pay their tithes and for apparently calling up storms when angered! And even had three charges of sorcery bought against him by the Dean of St Buryan!
The little chapel on the hill remained in use until 1816 when it was pulled down, having fallen into a dilapidated state. It is likely that it was still there however when the adventurer and diarist Celia Fiennes visited the area in 1698.
Celia describes standing on a hill “about 2 miles from Lands End” where she “came in sight of the maine ocean on both sides”. She also describes being able to see the Isles of Scilly which is indeed possible on a clear day, however her next statement may have involved a little imagination or a very strong telescope . . .
“They tell me that those in the Islands can discern the people of the maine as they goe up the hill to Church (Chapel Carn Brea?), they can even describe their clothes”
. . . The last chapter in this fascinating place’s varied history is that it became home to part of a radar station during the Second World War. But these days all that remains of this past is the crumbling cairn and the vague outline of the ruined chapel. The views from the top howver are still pretty spectacular and well worth the short stomp to the top!
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