St Nectan's church, Stoke, Devon
St Nectan's church, Stoke
The village of Stoke lies midway between the historic house of Hartland Abbey and the old smuggler's port of Hartland Quay.

The glory of Stoke is the parish church, dedicated to the 5th century Celtic saint, St Nectan. The strikingly tall tower of St Nectan's (128 feet) has given the church the moniker, "Cathedral of North Devon". The tower is visible for miles in all directions, and is used as a landmark by ships at sea. In the mediaval period St Nectans was the church for the monks of Hartland Abbey, who walked the mile uphill to the church from the abbey itself for services 6 times every day and night.

Medieval painted screen, St Nectan's church
Medieval painted screen, St Nectan's church
The church dates from 1360, though it was built upon the remains of an earlier building believed to date from 1170. The font of the earlier church still survives.

The rood screen (1450) is the most impressive aspect of the church interior. This is a magnificently carved wooden screen of 11 bays, stretching 45 feet across the nave. It rises to a height of 12 1/2 feet and is almost 6 feet wide at the top. So massive is the screen that at one time the organ and seating were poised on top of it.

St Nectan's Holy Well, Stoke
St Nectan's Holy Well
Alfred the Great is said to have bequeathed Hartland to his son Edward, and later stories associate St Nectans with Arthurian legend. Stained glass windows in the north aisle depct Arthur, Alfred, and William the Conqueror.

St Nectans Holy Well
Just downhill from the church a narrow path leads off the road to St Nectans Well, an old holy well housed beneath a stone shelter. Three flagstones lead to a simple arched doorway set in a small wellhead structure of stone. Padlocked iron barred doors allow you to see the inner chamber where the water bubbles out.

The legend of St Nectan tells that he was on a journey north from Cornwall when he was set upon by bandits. The bandits beheaded the saint, whereupon he picked up his severed head and carried it to this spot. When he set the head down, water sprang forth from the ground. A similar story is told of St Kenelm's Well in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, and other holy wells in the UK.