Where the valley begins to open up and meet the Erme on its way from Dartmoor is the village of Ermington. The church above the river is famous for something that went wrong. There are not many spires in South Devon, and this may have been a salutary warning; shortly after it was erected in the fifteenth century, its poorly seasoned timbers buckled under the weight of its stone tiling. Thus it was that it joined a notorious club of twisted brethren. Fellow members include Chesterfield and, in Devon, Barnstaple.
But what gains the church of St.Peter and St.Paul its place in Gray is a sisterhood - the three Pinwell sisters who in a few years before 1900 learned the skill of carving to decorate the church's fittings. Their father had taken up the living in 1880, and set about restoring the church under the guidance of the London specialist architect John Sedding. Mary, Annie and Violet must have taken to their craft with single-minded dedication, for the pulpit and the large reredos are a riot of life-like and animated figures, illustrating of course Biblical stories; but the joy they took in the work is readily apparent in their inclusion of family faces (not least their own) as angels around the base of the pulpit. What fun they were having!
The centre of the reredos is their work too - this time in alabaster and possibly to a design by Burne-Jones. And the airy pinnacles of the font cover are also theirs. In fact, they so took to the work that they founded themselves a business in Plymouth, and became responsible for the decoration in a number of West Country churches, before the death of the last and youngest sister, Violet, in 1954.
So this church , in a way, became a personal statement. Fortunately it is large enough to set off beautifully such richness of detail. There is little stained glass, but instead the substantial windows have been created with leadwork that resembles airy spider's webs. The Jacobean rood-screens are limited to the minimum of classical wooden columns. This means the three aisles and small lady-chapel are full of light and no detail is lost. The south altar has been repurposed from a Sixteenth century tomb-chest of the Strathleigh family, and their war-helms and banner placed high above, reminders of an earlier generation who called this church their own.
The path from the south porch declines sharply by tombs of decayed slate to the elaborate gateway at the roadside. I pedalled off for home along the meandering flood-plain of the Erme, enjoying the warm sunshine of early autumn.