Chapel Carn Brea is said to be the first and last hill in Britain. Just south of St Just in Penwith it overlooks 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 First and Last Hill
The summit of this lone hilltop, which rises to 200m above the Atlantic, is covered in ancient remains. From the Bronze Age Cairn, a design unique to this area and the Scillies, 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.
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 on this dangerous coastline or in 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 enjoyed cursing ships and fishermen who didn’t pay their tithes and would call up storms when angered! He even had three charges of sorcery bought against him by the Dean of St Buryan!
Described by Celia Fiennes
The little chapel on the hill remained in use until 1816. Sadly it was then 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. This is 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 was during the Second World War. It was home to part of a radar station. 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 however are still pretty spectacular and well worth the short stomp to the top!
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