Just outside the village of Roche, deep in the Cornish clay country, is a spectacular landmark renowned not just for its beauty but also the myths and legends associated with it. The enigmatic ruined chapel high on Roche Rock is one of the most striking sites in Cornwall and the tales of lepers, witches and hermits also make it one of the most fascinating.
These striking outcrops of black tourmaline granite jutting out of the surrounding moorland were formed some 270 million years ago and in the time of King Arthur are said to have been home to a monk or priest called Ogrin. According to legend it was Ogrin, who had a small hermit’s cell on top of the rock, who helped the famous star-crossed lovers, Tristan and Isolde, in their flight from the furious King Mark. He hid the couple with him on the rock while they tried to escape Cornwall.
The ruined chapel that we see today was built more than 600 years ago in 1409 by the Tregarrick family, who owned the land surrounding the rock and strangely the last resident of Roche Rock is said to have been one of that wealthy family. In the 15th century it is said that Sir John Tregarrick hide himself here for many years after contracting leprosy. His only visitor was his daughter who brought him food and fresh water from a nearby well.
Roche Rock, the place of legends and myths
Dedicated to Saint Michael, Roche Rock was once a place of pilgrimage too with pilgrims on their way to St Michael’s Mount in Penzance stopping here along their journey. Apparently a beacon was lit on its heights to guide the travellers to it but legend has it that over the centuries other visitors have been drawn here too. For many people Roche Rock has a dark atmosphere and in the past it was said to have been a meeting place for witches, while another myth claims that the moans of a giant buried beneath it can be heard emanating from the stones.
The legend of Jan Tregeagle, the notorious 17th century magistrate who sold his soul to the devil, is also connected to Roche Rock. One day Tregeagle, whose ghost was cursed to perform impossible tasks for all eternity, tried to escape from his punishment of emptying Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor with a holey limpet shell. His terrified spirit sped across the moor with the hounds of hell in pursuit. They chased him all the way to Roche Rock where in desperation he took refuge inside the sanctified walls of the chapel. It is said that on a stormy night you can still hear the howls of the hounds and the wails of cornered Tregeagle on the wind.
Roche Rock – popular with rock-climbers and picnickers
These days Roche Rock is a peaceful place popular with rock-climbers and picnickers and makes an ideal place to start your exploration of this little visited area of Cornwall. Now surrounded by a natural reserve, as well as the dramatic landscape of the clay country, the views from the top are well worth the rather scary climb up the old metal ladder!
*PLEASE NOTE there are unfenced sheer drops, hidden holes and uneven ground on Roche Rock, care should be taken at all times when visiting.