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Across Dartmoor to Tavistock

I thought we’d take a little break from our Christmas preparations and have a day out.  Therefore I’m inviting you to put the tinsel away, unstick your fingers from the Sellotape, leave the queue in the post office, and take a drive across Dartmoor to the west Devon town of Tavistock.

Tavistock, according to historian, the late W G Hoskins, “is the most delightful town in West Devon, and perhaps the most attractive of all the inland towns of the county … [it] stands mostly on the north side of the river Tavy, itself a decorative feature of the town-scene. ” Hoskins goes on to explain that the town is essentially the product of two owners:  Tavistock Abbey from the 10th century to the 16th, and the earls and dukes of Bedford from the 16th to the 20th.  The abbey created the town; the Russells [family name of the dukes of Bedford] gave it its present appearance and character.  Between them they owned the town from 974 to 1911.

Tavistock was interested in tin-mining from the 12th century onwards and in 1305 it was established as one of the three stannary towns (Ashburton and Chagford being the others) in Devon where tin raised in Devon was to be weighed, stamped, and put on sale.  Hoskins says that “it is curious to reflect that it is substantially a 19th-century mining gtown; such words conjure up visions of Barnsley or Wigan [in the north of England].  But copper and tin did not blacken the landscape as coal would have done, and the dukes of Bedford, with their almost complete ownership of the town and district, ensured the neat and orderly expansion of housing … The Duke remodelled the centre of the town during the 1840s, largely over the abbey site. He erected the guildhall (1848) [photo above] in the Gothic style.”

So we begin our journey from where we live in Torbay to Totnes, then on to Ashburton before crossing Dartmouth in a westerly direction.  Time to stop, perhaps have a drink from a flask of coffee, and enjoy the view.

Dartmoor is lovely at any time of the year, and I have mixed spring, summer and autumn photos for this virtual journey. (I took the above two photos as husband was driving.)

The Guildhall houses antiques markets and also, behind the Guildhall is the Pannier Market. Both are lovely places to visit, and sometimes bargains are to be had.

Inside the Guildhall

Inside the Pannier Market

I could spend hours looking at all the stalls, but always husband says, “C’mon, let’s go and find lunch.”

Between the main street and the Pannier Market there are many shops and eateries, and we sometimes stop here, at Duke’s, for a bite to eat, especially in summer.

This is one of my favourite places to eat, and this is an unusual occurrence:  no people at the tables, they are usually packed and it’s often difficult to find a seat!

Or, if we want a little more comfort (and warmth in early spring or late autumn) we go into the Bedford Hotel, and have a bar meal.

Not a good photo but I was risking life and limb, standing in the middle of the road to take it, as it’s virtually impossible to get a good photo from any other angle.

According to a book I have on Tavistock, “In 1725, a rich Presbyterian  merchant, Jacob Saunders, had built Abbey House on the site of what is believed to have been the refectory of Tavistock Abbey.  He used materials from the Abbey ruins.  Around 1829 it was decided to convert the house into an hotel and the Duke of Bedford called in the famous architect Jeffry Wyatt – later Sir Jeffry Wyatville – to give it a battlemented Gothic façade to match the buildings not far away in Bedford Square.  It was Sir Jeffry who gave Windsor Castle the appearance it has today.”

I would also add that this hotel is sometimes mentioned in the novels of Marcia Willett, as a convenient meeting place for some of her characters.

The bar in the Bedford Hotel

We’ve now had a look inside the Guildhall, the Pannier Market, had lunch either at Duke’s at one of the pavement tables, or in the cosy bar of the Bedford Hotel, so let’s stroll up the main street and have a look at the shops.

N H Creber  is perhaps the most famous shop in Tavistock, its shop front dating back over 120 years.  In recent years the shop has changed to include a discount outlet, but I remember it when the whole store was filled with the most wonderful foods of all kinds, for it is a grocer/delicatessen/wine shop.  Indeed, people used to go to Tavistock ‘just’ to visit Creber’s.

I took these photos above about ten years ago – no doubt the shop has changed since then, but as you can see it’s a wonderful place for speciality food and drink

There are other good shops in the main street, but I love to see the small shops which can be visited up little side streets …

Before we make our return journey across Dartmoor, why not have a stroll in the nearby park?  This, as with Dartmoor, is lovely at almost any time of the year …

And now it is time to make our way home across Dartmoor …

The moors are lovely in spring, summer or autumn.

Cattle, sheep and Dartmoor ponies roam freely across the moors, so one needs to take care when driving. Indeed, there is a 40 mph speed limit across the whole of the moor.

In summer, the gorse makes a lovely sight, and the scent of honey fills the air

And now, it’s time to return to our Christmas preparations. I hope you’ve enjoyed our virtual day out.

Until next time.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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18 comments

  1. Yes, I enjoyed our virtual day out. What a picturesque town! Fascinating to read about a family owning a town, and even more it looks as though there was care and foresight applied. The gorse does look lovely….. as we New Zealanders drive around our country we “tsk! tsk!” when we see gorse growing as it is a noxious weed here. But it looks so pretty in your photos!!!

    • Margaret Powling

      The noxious weed we suffer from is ragwort, which is poisonous to horses, Ratnamurti. It’s a nasty yellow weed, but perhaps we think it ‘nasty’ yellow as we know it’s poisonous. If it weren’t, might we like it, I wonder?
      We love Tavistock, and it’s such a lovely journey across the moors to get there; it’s about 40 miles from our home, so an 80 mile round trip.

  2. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    What a lovely reminder of a town which I haven’t visited in ages. I do remember liking it a lot but had no idea of the history. Your posts always delight and often educate too, Margaret. I’ve not visited the Pannier market, though I know I’d like it because I’ve been to the one in Barnstable several times and enjoy it. Mooching around markets is such a nice way to while away an hour or two. Devon is a county of real contrast isn’t it? Pretty towns, wild moors and the stunning coastline. Dartmoor, beautiful in the sunshine, can seem very wild in bad weather. Lovely photos as ever.
    I am reminded of a postcard I once bought with a picture of the prison and the caption ‘wish you were here’. I can’t remember if I sent it to anyone!

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, the Pannier Market is very similar to the one in Barnsaple. I think these market halls were all built along the same lines, Eloise. Chris enjoyed looking at a stall which concentrated on screws, nails and gaffer tape! How interesting those things can be to the male mind. You are right, Devon is a county of contrasts, the north being very rural, typical farming country and the south more built-up and concentrating on tourism (and with a milder climate, too.) It is a county like no other having two coastlines and two moors (Dartmoor and Exmoor, which straddles both the counties of Devon and Somerset.) I have never managed to take a photo of the prison, nor Princetown, the nearby town to the prison where I expect many of the warders live. Neither are pretty places, I’m afraid. I understand that the Prison has a Museum that one can visit, so perhaps one day I might go there!

  3. Interesting and informative post, Margaret, love your virtual tour. As we live only ten miles from Tavistock it is a favourite place to shop. In fact we were there yesterday! There are lots of individual shops and boutiques which you don’t find in bigger towns and cities like Plymouth. Lots of lovely eateries too. The Pannier market is a wonderful mix of food, crafts, clothing, jewellery,books and lots more, something for all tastes. We always enjoy our visits there, a coincidence that you should write about it today! X

    • Margaret Powling

      You will know Tavistock well, Dot, living only ten miles away. You will have to suggest some more eateries to me, so that next time we got (no doubt next spring or summer) we can give somewhere else a try. I love the cheese shop near the Pannier Market, and also the shop selling pasties in the main street.

      • We often eat at The Origial Pasty House where the pasties are excellent and come with a portion of salad and a few crisps. The jacket potatoes are good too. Sandwiches come on rather thick bread but are well filled and also accompanied with crisps and salad. Waitress service and friendly staff.
        The other cafe we use is Karen’s which is opposite EWM. We usually just have coffee there but the food is good and they have a great selection of gateaux to choose from.
        There is a footpath between Plymouth Road and West Street which goes by the side of the church and there is a nice little cafe along there too. The footpath enters West Street almost opposite The Original Pasty House.
        Further up the hill, The Queen’s Head is now a Wetherspoon eatery.

        • Margaret Powling

          Thank you for telling me about The Original Pasty House, that sounds our kind of place, Dot, and I will make a note of that so that next time we’re in Tavistock, we will have somewhere new (new to us, I mean) to try. Karen’s also sounds a good place. I will have to investigate that footpath where the little café is. Indeed, all the places you’ve mentioned sound just up our street!

  4. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    What a lovely day out for you both, thankyou for sharing, we used to live in Hatherleigh just outside of Okehampton, so regularly visited Tavistock driving through Dartmoor on the way, and also used to love the market, thanks for taking me down memory lane.

    • Margaret Powling

      So glad you enjoyed our little excursion across Dartmoor, Marlene. Hatherleigh is a lovely place, in deepest Devon, the heart of the farming community of the county, I believe. We last visited Hatherleigh in May 2012, on our return from a visit to Barometer World. In the heart of this small town there is a plaque underneath a sculpture of a ram’s head which reads:
      “Anthony Gibson (Director of the National Farmers’ Union) To remind us in the year 2001 farms in Hatherleigh and the surrounding parishes of Meeth, Iddesleigh, Monkokehampton, Jacobstowe, Inwardleigh, Northlew, Highampton, and Sheepwash were devastated by Foot and Mouth Disease. This disease was to mark a change in farming as we had known it in the 20th century. This disease had a devastating effect on local business and touched everyone in the county. This ram’s head was donated by sculptor Steve Hunton”
      And it is a stunning sculpture, too.

  5. What a interesting post (and replies to comments too – always my best bit with your blog!). I’ve loved Dartmoor since I was a child, especially swimming in the rivers, pony trekking (which I last did with my daughter only a few years ago) and just climbing up those Tors. As a child we had years of holidays staying in one of the gates houses to Saltram and with our children we used to stay in a beautiful unspoilt Devon longhouse called Sanders at Lettaford which is owned by the Landmark Trust. The children used to love spending their holiday pocket money at the Pannier market, buying useful objects. I’m especially fond of Powdermills pottery near Postbridge and have you ever treated yourself to afternoon tea at the Endsleigh Hotel near Tavistock. I had my birthday lunch there last year at the end of October and the gardens were on fire with the most colourful acers but they are beautiful and interesting all year round too. I really would not mind living on the edge of Dartmoor.

    • Margaret Powling

      What great holidays you had, Sarah! I know where the Powdermills pottery is but I’ve not visited there, nor have I been to Endsleigh for afternoon tea (those acers sound magnificent) but we have stayed at the Arundell Arms (when Mrs Voss-Bark, wife of the late BBC reporter/newsreader, Conrad Voss-Bark, was in charge there). That was for a special fishing weekend (being taught the rudiments of fly fishing) so that I could write about it for a magazine. But while you would not mind living on the edge of Dartmoor, I think I would find that a bit too isolated, especially in the depths of winter.
      So glad you enjoyed the post and you not only enjoy my posts but also all the comments.

  6. Thank you for the trip around the Devon countryside and towns Margaret, as always the post is both interesting and informative with excellent photos. I really liked the look of the Pannier Market, how I would like to have a good look around all those stalls especially the bottle stall and oh, all those old games, smashing!
    With the festive season rushing at us full speed it certainly made a welcome change.

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, I thought a little trip out for us all would be nice, Elaine! We needed a break from the Christmas festivities, didn’t we? The Pannier Market is lovely and there are bargains to be had if you look carefully. So glad you enjoyed the visit to Tavistock! I used photos going back over several years, I knew that they’d all come in useful one day!

  7. What a lovely day out, thank you.
    I so enjoyed the Dartmoor pictures because they brought back lots of memories for me. Sometime in the 1950/60s my dad bought an old Bedford van and set about converting it into a motor home. From then on summer holidays were spent in and around Dartmoor. This was in the days when you could pull up on the side of the road and spend a night or two in the van. There were so few people about and even fewer cars and nobody seemed to mind where we parked. We had one or two visits from the police, but they were just checking us out and always wished us a pleasant evening or a good day once they were satisfied we were holiday makers. My dad never left home, unless he was wearing slacks, a jacked, a nice white shirt and a tie and often his flat cap and mum would always wear her Sunday best even for camping!

    • Margaret Powling

      My late Uncle Arthur also had a Bedford … a Dormobile, which had seats down each side and I’m sure they could be used as beds should the need arise, hence the name of this van. But we never used it as such. But what wonderful memories, Barbara, of your holidays in Devon. Yes, in the 1950s and 1960s people dressed up to go on holiday regardless of where they were going. People would be in full fig on the beach, men in jackets, shirts and ties quite often. People had fewer clothes for one thing and therefore it was work clothes and then perhaps a couple of outfits for the weekend. So glad you enjoyed the little trip across Dartmoor!

  8. Thanks, Maragerat, I really enjoyed our day out. As much as I loved the smell of coffee in your flask, I’m not a coffee drinker so it’s just as well I’d packed my own flask for tea. And a fine China cup from which to drink it 😉

    I loved rummaging around the markets and whilst I’m sorry your husband was a bit annoyed with us taking so long I’m glad we looked at that last stall as I’m delighted with those two items I bought. I know they might push the weight of my luggage just over the limit on the flight back home to Australia but I reckon I can sweet talk the check-in staff at the airport with my Aussie accent so as to avoid any extra payment. My grandma alway said I was born with ‘the gift of the gab’ !

    Lunch was delightful and the morning and afternoon teas were divine – so I’m glad I wore my elasticised pants again. I remembered to do so after our last catch up as I figure any fine scone or cake left uneaten when out with good friends is a sin ! Having a rest on the beautiful lawn in the dappled shade of the trees and feeling the sun on my face helps digestion – well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Sorry I startled you with my uncouth ways when I took off my shoes and veered off the walking path and onto the lawn but us Aussies can’t resist being up close and personal with nature – and any lawn that isn’t covered with bindis must be savoured (bindis or bindi eyes are an awful weed that produces tiny, sharp barbs that stick into the feet of young children every summer and result in what we Aussies call ‘the bindi ballet’ as you hop on one foot screaming in pain as you try to extract the barbs from the soft skin in the arch of your foot or between your toes !!).

    I’m glad your husband kept his eyes on the road so that we could alternate between chatting, rummaging through our shopping bags and taking photos out of the car window xxx

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Margaret Powling

      Lovely to receive your comments, as always, Lara. Yes, you’d need elasticated pants after a lovely lunch I Tavistock! However, bindis sound awful! A bit like stepping on gorse or those small spiky weeds that we also have on Dartmoor, although I’ve not sure what they’re called. So glad you enjoyed the virtual day out!

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