Devon - Pubs and Inns with a Literary Connection



When Charles Kingsley's swash-buckling, Elizabethan story 'Westward Ho!' was published in 1855 it caught the rising tide of Victorian patriotism brought on by the Crimean War. By the 1870's Kingsley was so popular thanks partly to his book "The Water Babies" that a modern resort close by was named Westward Ho! and a statue was erected to him on Bideford Quay where Westward Ho! is largely set
Persistent local tradition has it that from 1854 he enjoyed a long stay in an old merchant's house which is now embodied as part of the The Royal Hotel. The Royal enjoys a prominent position at the eastern end of the ancient bridge of twenty-four arches built in 1460. Of this spot Kingsley wrote, the River Torridge "joins her sister Taw and both together flow quietly toward the everlasting thunder of the long Atlantic swell".
Steeped in history, the Royal Hotel at Bideford has been a centrepiece of the region's heritage for centuries, and is famously associated with the Court of Assize in the 17th Century. The jail cells where prisoners were kept prior to transportation during the 19th century are still located just behind the present day elegant ballroom. One of the Hotel's most famous features is the oak panelled Kingsley Room with its ornate sculptured ceiling.
In 1904 Josephine Tozier - American travel writer and forerunner in style to Bill Bryson undertook one of her "Little Pilgrimages" and this time the title and objective was to be "Among English Inns". She visited The Royal at Bideford following in the footsteps of Charles Kingsley:she wrote: "During the half-hour wait for the train, while the Matron clasped jumbo to her side, and we had each taken a peep to see if all our valuables were still safe in his embrace, we looked into the room at the Royal Hotel where Charles Kingsley wrote the greater portion of "Westward Ho!" The hotel is beside the station, and was the house described by Kingsley as that of Rose Saltern's father. In the drawing-room, where the author wrote part, if not all, of his noted novel, remains a fine Elizabethan stucco ceiling. It is decorated with garlands, birds, fruits, and flowers, coloured by artists who were brought from Italy by the merchant prince who lived in this house during the time of Sir Francis Drake."

Royal Hotel - Bideford - Devon


At low tide, you can walk across the sandbar at Bigbury Bay to explore Burgh Island and enjoy the delights of the ancient Pilchard Inn an atmospheric storm-beaten smugglers haunt which dates back to 1336. At high tide the island can be reached by the famous sea tractor which can be seen to the extreme left of the picture.
Just a little up the hill from the Pilched and Dominating Burgh Island is the elegant white Art Deco hotel which looks for all the world like a cruise liner beached on dry land. In the 1930s Burgh Island Hotel was extremely popular with the glitterati including Noel Coward, Edward and Mrs. Simpson, Winston Churchill, Amy Johnson and Agatha Christie.
When Christie stayed here she obviously spotted its dramatic potential and, in "Evil Under the Sun" the hotel became the model for the "Jolly Roger" on "Smugglers' Island". The queen of mystery writers also used this location as the setting for the island house party in "And Then There Were None". In this story ten strangers find themselves trapped in a lonely island mansion off the Devon coast. Ten strangers who have nothing in common - except that each one guards a deadly secret.
Luckily the famous detective Hercule Poirot turns up at just the right time to begin an investigation into the murder of a famous actress during what should have been the start of a relaxing holiday for him.
The 2002 TV adaptation of Evil Under The Sun used the island as a filming location and several scenes from the BBC's 1987 dramatisation of Christie's story Nemesis were also shot here in what is still a comfortable upmarket retreat in a beautiful unspoilt location.

Pilchard Inn - Bigbury - Devon


In January 1643 Sidney Godolphin - described by Sir John Suckling, as "one of the most elegant and brilliant of the Cavalier poets", - was with the force that drove Ruthin's parliamentarians across the Tamar into Devon. On the 8th of February, heading from Okehampton towards Totnes, the party was ambushed at Chagford. As Godolphin rode through the town a chance shot from an undiscerned and undiscerning hand struck him above the knee. He was carried from his horse into the porch of The Three Crowns where he died from his wound.
Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies stayed here to indulge his love of country sports and in 1904 Josephine Tozier - American travel writer and forerunner in style to Bill Bryson undertook one of her 'Little Pilgrimages' and this time the title and objective was to be 'Among English Inns'. Her first stop was here at The Three Crowns and she wrote entertainingly about her journey and her experience of the inn and Devon folk.
"The thatched roof, green and brown with creeping moss, hangs thick above the rough gray stones of the walls; while here and there about the windows cling pink clusters of climbing roses. The Three Crowns has been used as an inn for over a century. The old innkeeper who preceded the present host, was noted far and near throughout Devon in his early days for the excellence of his entertainment. Sorrow over the unhappy marriage of a favourite son drove him and his excellent wife to habits fatal to their business, and when that unfortunate party with which I was detained at Yeoford came to The Three Crowns, the care of the visitors was entirely in the hands of a little serving-maid, whose endeavours to please were recorded in the guest-book. Her admirers showed their honest appreciation by touching poems filled with such substantial similes as: "Lizzie's like a mutton chop, Sometimes cold, and sometimes hot, or again:"Good Lizzie had a little lamb, And so had we"

Three Crowns Inn - Chagford - Devon


"And a mighty sing'lar and pretty place it is, as ever I saw in all the days of my life!" said Captain Jorgan, looking up at it.Charles Dickens and his friend Wilkie Collins visited Clovelly in 1860 to gather material for a story they were jointly writing for the Christmas edition of Dickens's magazine All the Year Round. In the story, titled A Message from the Sea, Clovelly is featured as 'Steepways'.
Many Victorians were drawn to this little known fishing village by the descriptions penned by Dickens and Collins and also those of local lad Charles Kingsley. In 1890, on his honeymoon, Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh stayed in the New Inn in the heart of the historic village and wrote to his sister:
We are married and safely at Clovelly.We live in a little room in the garden hanging above the rest of the inn, where we hope to stay for a week Opposite my balcony here is an alcove where my friend the Dean sat and drank cider and gallivanted with a little waiting maid, niece of the proprietor, whom he ungratefully called baggage.
Raleigh later became the first Professor of English Literature at Oxford. Among others, he wrote works on Milton and Shakespeare but in his day was renowned more as a stimulating if informal lecturer than as a critic.
In 1904 Josephine Tozier - American travel writer and forerunner in style to Bill Bryson undertook one of her Little Pilgrimages and this time the title and objective was to be 'Among English Inns'. She stayed in Clovelly at the New Inn following in the footsteps of Charles Kingsley and wrote entertainingly about her experience of the inn and this unique North Devon village.
The New Inn's bar and restaurant naturally get very busy during the season. The bedrooms are bright and airy and each is superbly furnished and decorated with individual character. Seven feature sea views over Bideford Bay towards Saunton Sands and Braunton, 10 miles away. The eighth bedroom has its own private balcony from which there is a delightful view of Clovelly's world famous cobbled street. Three rooms open out onto a nice long balcony overlooking the famous street.

New Inn - Clovelly - Devon


Clovelly's cobbled main street, known very simply as 'up-a-long' and 'down-a-long', tumbles its way down 400ft of solid rock to the tiny harbour and 14th century quay. The Red Lion standing on the quay dates to the 18th century and was formerly three cider houses frequented only by the local fishermen and villagers. Today, in the holiday season, the Snug Bar, Harbour Bar and Restaurant are busy with visitors enjoying seafood brought fresh from the harbour.
Clovelly was a childhood home of the Victorian author and social reformer, Charles Kingsley and the place which inspired him to write his enduring children's classic, 'The Water Babies'. Kingsley also published 'Westward Ho!' in 1855, in which Clovelly figures significantly.
After he had been here only a year Kingsley witnessed the worst fishing disaster in the history of the place; a tragedy which inspired his 1851 poem 'The Three Fishers'. Housed in a cottage in the centre of the village is an excellent museum to the author where you can watch the animatronics display of him in his study, composing a letter to his bride-to-be. The voice-over is a recital of 'The Three Fishers', the story of three fishermen's wives waiting in vain for their husbands to return.
During her stay at The New Inn in 1904, American travel writer Josephine Tozier wrote: "There is down here a stout ruin of an early Roman tower, and the Red Lion Inn". A part of this sober old hostelry was the birthplace of the sailor, Salvation Yeo, given immortal fame in the novel of "Westward Ho!" and always the home of his mother, whom Kingsley makes describe her wandering seaman of a son as: "A tall man, and black, and sweareth awful in his talk, the Lord forgive him!" Here along the side of the Red Lion the sturdy Clovelly sailormen lounge after their work is done, and it is probably on one of these benches that Charles Kingsley spent so many hours of his early youth, listening to yarns and learning sea-lore. Never was a better spot on earth devised in which to rear a poet and novelist! All the pleasure he enjoyed here during the long and lovely Clovelly twilights, Charles Kingsley has given back to the world in his writings.

Red Lion - Clovelly - Devon


Marie Corelli was the most popular author of her day, outselling all others including H. G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle by the thousands. In 1895, with The Sorrows of Satan, she broke all previous publishing records, and by 1906 each new novel guaranteed sales of around 100,000 copies a year. Though she was slated by the critics for her over dramatic style, she was Queen Victoria’s favourite author and her works were collected by King Edward VII, the future King George V and by Winston and Randolph Churchill.
Marie was fond of the Exmoor coast where she set a couple of her novels. The action in The Mighty Atom takes place in Clovelly and in Combe Martin, where Marie is said to have stayed at the 'Pack of Cards' which has a 'Corelli Room'.
The inn, now Grade II listed was built in 1690 as a house for a gambling squire George Ley of Marwood, to celebrate a large win at cards. The building symbolises a pack of cards having 52 windows, 13 rooms and 4 floors, Now a family inn with large grounds, the Pack O' Cards has a garden museum depicting the full story of this fairytale castle.
Exactly when the house became an Inn is not clear. Certainly it was used as an inn early in the nineteenth century. In 1822 one Jane Huxtable was the landlady. It was then known as the King's Arms Inn and was offered for sale in 1831 by that name. The name was changed to the Pack O' Cards on 1st June 1933, although it had undoubtedly been known as this colloquially for many years.

The Pack O' Cards - Coombe Martin - Devon


For centuries the attractive little town of Dartmouth, clinging to the sides of a precipitous hill was one of England’s principal ports. During the 1100’s Knights mustered here preparing to set sail for the Crusades. In its sheltered harbour, Elizabeth’s men o’war lay in wait to pick off the stragglers from the Spanish Armada. And in 1620, the Mayflower put in for a few days before hoisting sail and setting off for Plymouth and then the New World.
A much later visitor was the diamond merchant Isaac Pointz in Agatha Christie’s short story; who arrives in his yacht during the Dartmouth Regatta of 1939. Over dinner at the ‘Royal George Hotel’ (based on the harbour side ‘Royal Castle Hotel’) one of the guests, the lovely Eve Leathern bets that she can make his famous Morning Star diamond disappear. And in full view of everyone, it does. One of Agatha’s less well-known detectives, Parker Pyne, investigates and solves the mystery.
The Royal Castle Hotel, again disguised as the ‘Royal George’, is also featured in Ordeal by Innocence when Dr Calgary visits Dartmouth to tell the Argyle family that their son, Jacko, was innocent of his mother’s murder. When a film was made of this story in 1984, starring Christopher Plummer, Sarah Miles and Donald Sutherland as Dr Calgary; the Royal Castle was one of many locations used in and around Dartmouth.
In Dead Man’s Folly Etienne De Sousa also anchors his yacht in Dartmouth harbour and then boards a river launch to see his distant cousin, lady Stubbs, at Nasse House - based on Agatha’s own home, Greenway House.
The famous and historic Royal Castle Hotel and Inn is situated in the heart of Dartmouth right on the Quay looking towards the River Dart. This wonderfully atmospheric former coaching inn is formed from two houses and dates back to 1669 with a later front added in 1831. The rambling interior includes the pleasant lounge like Galleon Bar on the right and the neatly reworked Harbour Bar on the left. You’ll find well kept local real ales and excellent value all-day bar food from plain sandwiches to good steaks. On a winter lunchtime they sometimes spit-roast on their 300-year-old Lidstone range.

Royal Castle Hotel - Dartmouth


In the 1920s, when the author of Tarka the Otter lived in Georgeham, the village was divided into what was known as Higher Ham and Lower Ham. Each part had its own pub - The Rock Arms (see separate entry) and the Kings Arms respectively. It was for this reason, rather than any joking political reference, that the pubs were known as the Higher House and the Lower House. In 'The Village Book' which Williamson wrote after leaving Georgeham he recalled: "In the Higher and Lower Houses I heard many tales of falcons, foxes, badgers, ravens, men, which afterwards I wrote as stories."
When I called in 2006 the pub had been closed for a while and, as you can see from the photo, they had the builders in. At that time it still carried the livery of the Kings Arms but now it is trading very successfully as a gastro pub under its old colloquial name of The Lower House.
Williamson's cottage is only a few paces away down the hill and, in chapter 1 of the original 1939 edition of '

The Children of Shallowford', he describes his anxiety on an exceptionally dark night when with his wife in labour he had to grope his way up the village street to fetch the doctor who was playing skittles in the pub.
During his first years in Devon Williamson regarded Charlie Overy, the licensee, as a callous badger-digging old ruffian. In later years, when re-visiting the village he stayed with the Overy's, sleeping in a first floor bedroom which is now home to the upmarket restaurant. By now Williamson had come to regard the couple as: "friends of whom the rare word faithful can be used".
The Lower House pub restaurant has been entirely reworked by the current owners and downstairs now boasts sofas, clean-cut décor, woodburner and flat-screen TV. They offer well kept St Austell and local guest ales such as Barum and Exmoor, reasonably priced wines by the glass, daily papers, good food in the comfortably modern new restaurant upstairs plus tables out on small front terrace screened from road.

Kings Arms - Georgeham - Devon


Sometimes referred to simply as the author of Tarka the Otter, Henry Williamson actually published some 50 books not only other novels and stories about animals, birds and the countryside but two long novel sequences; the four volume 'The Flax of Dream' and the fifteen volume 'A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight'. Much of his material was gleaned when chatting to the locals over a pint in the two village pubs.
A Londoner by birth, North Devon was Williamson's spiritual home. He first discovered Georgeham when holidaying with an aunt just before the First World War. After serving in the trenches he returned to the peace of this village to concentrate on his writing career. For the first three years he stayed in Skirr Cottage (named after the sound the owls made as they landed on his roof) and later, a few yards away in Crowbury Cottage, marked by a plaque.
Georgeham was divided into Higher Ham and Lower Ham and each part had its own pub. The Rock Arms appears under its old name of the Upper House in a number of his books, although in 'The Dreams of Fair Women' and 'The Pathway', it becomes the Nightcrow Inn.
The Rock is proud of its association with the author and inside there are drawings of him and photos showing him conversing with villagers. The landlord has framed page 87 from 'On foot in Devon' (1933), where Williamson recalls coming out of the Rock Inn on any clear night and seeing the lighthouse beam.
It is difficult to fault the Rock and I welcome the opportunity to use the term - perfect pub. Originally two cottages, the once separate rooms are now open areas with varying heights of beamed ceilings. The cottagey feel is retained with lots of old pine tables and chairs of different styles and vintages standing on the quarry-tiled floor.Henry Williamson has been largely overlooked by the literary fraternity although the Devon tourist industry has become aware of the potential draw of 'Tarka the Otter', for which he was awarded the prestigious Hawthornden Prize. There is now an established way-marked Tarka Trail following in Williamson's footsteps taken from descriptions in the book.

Rock Inn - Georgeham - Devon - Henry Williamson


Eden Phillpotts's literary career began in 1888 and, by the time he died on 29th December 1960, had encompassed over 250 books, plays and poetry collections. For many lovers of Dartmoor, the eighteen novels in his Dartmoor Cycle are an unrivalled evocation of the Moor and a sensitive and intimate portrayal of its landscape, its changing moods and seasons and the ways of its people.
'The Whirlwind' published in 1907 is set in Lydford and centres on the Castle, the Gorge and the Inn. One of the main characters in the novel is Noah Pearn landlord of the Castle Inn. Saturday night at the pub is a regular occasion for the meeting of familiars and such an occasion calls forth a graphic Phillpotts's picture of a Dartmoor fog where: "Outside the Castle Inn it hung like wool, and across it from the window of the bar, streamed out radiance of genial light. But this radiance was choked within a dozen yards of its starting-point; and, if a door was opened the fog crept in with the visitor."
Built in 1550, the Castle Inn's plain pink exterior offers no clue to the wow factor that awaits you inside. Slate floors, stone walls and low bowed ceilings house a superb collection of high backed settles and curios from every era. The charming restaurant features a great Norman fireplace allegedly originating from the 12th century Castle next door. Established during the reign of Ethelred the Unready, Lydford had a Royal mint producing "Lydford Pennies" original examples of which can be seen in the restaurant.
The Castle Inn's website claims the pub is featured in Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles - which it is not. However, Sir Arthur and other writers (particularly Sabine Baring Gould) were regular visitors to the house of their friend, Mr. T.H. Radford who gave Lydford Gorge to The National Trust in 1943. Mr. Radford's country residence, Bridge House, was just over the bridge from the church. The stable block and walled rose garden now form The National Trust Shop and car park. And it's a very good bet that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have visited the Castle Inn.

Castle Inn - Lydford - Devon


In Eden Phillpotts novel ‘The Mother’, the drama plays out in the Dartmoor hamlet of Merrivale: "Low, grey and black, with whitewashed faces and tar-pitched roofs, Merrivale stood and faced the south. No special feature marked this uneven row of habitations threaded up the hill, save where, in the midst, from a square building of two stories, a sign board hung and swung backwards and forwards at the thrust of the wind… proclaimimg that the brothers Toop were licensed to sell tobacco, snuf and spirits."
The sign board is swung on ‘The Jolly Huntsmen’, Phillpott’s name for this well run and sensitively refurbished 17th century pub. The Dartmoor Inn enjoys a sweeping moorland outlook from where Plymouth Sound & Eddystone Light some 30 miles distant can often be seen. The old pack-horse route across the moor between Princetown and Tavistock passes by the door and, just below is the ancient pack-horse bridge across the river Walkham. Nearby are the Merrivale stone rows, sometimes called the plague market, as it is where farmers left their produce to be fetched by the people from the plague-ridden Tavistock in 1625.
Ruth Rendle, one of the main characters in the story, lives with her cousins, the brothers Peter and Joel Troop who are joint licensees. The greatest strength of Phillpott’s Dartmoor Cycle of novels is his powerful description of the moods of the landscape, as we find here, with Ruth hurrying back to the shelter of the pub just ahead of impending thunderstorm: "Ruth reached the bridge and felt a moments thankfulness, despite sorrows of spirt, that her Sunday finery had escaped the deluge. As she entered ‘The Jolly Huntsmen’ a thunder peal seemed to shake the earth. Glorious ragged rifts of lightening rent the sky with fire; streamed from tor to tor; leapt across the rivers; dropped a brand where the lone stones stuck up blue and wan in the heart of the storm, and slew certain terrified beasts that huddled together there."
The Dartmoor Inn, one of the few freeholds on the open moor is famous for its country wines. There is a substantial lunchtime bar menu from sandwiches and good ploughman’s up and full a la carte available in the evenings.

Dartmoor Inn - Merrivale


The eighteen novels of Eden Phillpotts's Dartmoor Cycle are an unrivalled evocation of the Moor - a sensitive and intimate portrayal of its landscape, its changing moods and seasons and the ways of its people. Phillpotts's 'The Thief of Virtue' is set in and around the hamlet of Postbridge, where, in mid-moor the East Dart is crossed by the Tavistock to Mortonhampstead road. This high road over the Moor passes the Warren House Inn which stands in splendid isolation in as remote a spot as you can find in the South West and at height of 1,400ft it is the third highest pub in the land.
One of the main characters in the story is Gregory Twigg, the Moorman for the East Quarter of Dartmoor and landlord of the Warren House. From time to time, visits are made by various other characters in the novel to this small hostelry standing exposed to the elements. Here we see Gregory in later life at the door of the inn on a day in late December:
"Gregory Twigg grown elderly now, but otherwise unchanged, gazed from the door of his home into a wet and stormy gloaming there stretched wide spaces where once tin miners had worked and deserted machinery the air was full of shouting storm-wind and of driving clouds that shut out all things save the water-logged foreground".
It's not surprising that one of the main features of the bar is the stone fireplace and log fire which has burned continuously since the pub was opened in 1845. The name Warren comes from the farming of rabbits an essential source of protein for the tin miners working the adjacent Vitifer Mines. A full time warrener was employed by the company and the mines official seal incorporated three rabbits chasing each other in a circle.
The Warren House Inn is simply furnished with easy chairs and settles under an ochre ceiling. There are wild animal pictures on the partly panelled stone walls and dim lighting provided by the pub's own generator. As well as shelter, you can expect decent no-nonsense bar food and a choice of six or more well kept real ales.

Warren House Inn - Postbridge - Devon - Eden Philpotts


Robert Cedric Sherriff was born in 1896 and educated at Kingston Grammar School and New College, Oxford. He entered his father's insurance business, but on the outbreak of war he joined up and served as a captain in the East Surrey Regiment and was wounded at Passchendaele near Ypres. Journey's End, his iconic anti-war play was the seventh play he'd written and was based on his experiences of time spent in the rat-infested trenches just outside of St Quentin.
The play was written a decade later when the author was staying in this idyllic country inn. After rejection by many theatre managements, Journey's End was given a single Sunday evening performance by the Incorporated Stage Society in December 1928. Laurence Olivier played the main character of Stanhope on that occasion and, framed on the wall in the bar, is an original programme signed by the cast. In 1929, Bernard Shaw was instrumental in having Journey's End produced at the Savoy Theatre.
Despite the fact that the drama carries an antiwar message - and has "no leading lady" (the title of Sherriff's autobiography) - it was an enormous success, in both Europe and America. It enabled Sheriff to become a full-time writer and provided a very good reason for the pub to celebrate its association by adopting the name.
One of the oldest buildings in Devon, the Journey's End pub was originally used to house masons working on the nearby church, over 600 years ago. Then it became one of Elizabeth I's 'New Inns', established to encourage travellers and merchants in Tudor England. When I called in the late spring of 2007 it was being run by a very interesting and chatty couple. He is American, retired from the movie industry and turned out to be Marlene Detrich's grandson! His wife is the chef responsible for producing the selection of wonderful meals, home-cooked from fresh local produce, as well as a good range of bar snacks.
This superb pub has a large garden and conservatory and separate dining room. There is a blazing open fire in the winter and a range of well kept Real Ales? If you want to stay a while and experience the tranquility Sherriff enjoyed there are also double and family rooms available.
The play continues to attract audiences on Broadway, in the West End and in provincial theatres and village halls around the country. There have been TV versions and films including Aces High, which changed the setting from the infantry to the Royal Flying Corps.

Journey's End - Ringmore - Devon


All the other hostelries featured in R. D. Blackmore's epic adventure Lorna Doone are simply referred to as an inn or an ale house, but The George Hotel in this historic market town is featured and mentioned by name.
One of the main characters in the story is the blacksmith turned highwayman Tom Faggus. Tom lived and had his smithy in tiny North Molton 3km away and "loved a maid of South Moulton (a currier's daughter I think she was, and her name was Betsy Paramore). On the day Tom is preparing for his wedding a lawyer's writ is served on him and, fearing he will shortly be arrested he saddles his horse and gallops to South Molton; "looking more like a madman than a good farrier" but when he reaches the town the news has preceded him as: "South Molton is a busy place for talking", and the doors are closed against him.
Jeremy Stickles, Kings messenger, also plays an important part in the novel. His job is to investigate the anti-papist movements that led so many men from the Exmoor area to the fatal battlefield of Sedgemoor. In chapter 12 of the novel Stickles explains how he was struck by a bullet but only shaken in his saddle: "I happened to have a little flat bottle of the very best stoneware slung beneath my saddle-cloak and filled with the very best eau de vie from the George Hotel, at South Molton. The brand of it now is upon my back. Oh, the murderous scoundrels, what a brave spirit they have spilled."
While the book was taking shape in his Teddington home R. D. revisited the locations in Devon and Somerset. We know he spent some time in Lynton in 1865 and we also know he stayed at an inn in Porlock which is now a private house. We hear of him occasionally during the 1860's in Withypool where there is a framed letter of his (addressed to the landlord) in the bar of the Royal Oak.
Although in Devon, South Molton is described as 'The Gateway to Exmoor' and a very convenient starting point from which to explore the area. The George is a family run 17th century grade 2 listed building ideally situated in the town square. I think it's a very good bet that Blackmore stayed here. I have two theories for why he chose to mention it by name. The first is it could have been a thank you - by way of a little advertising - for a pleasant stay. The second is it could be to make up for the gossiping door shutting (busy place for talking), slur.

George Hotel - South Molton - Devon - R.D. Blackmore


The wonderfully eccentric Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould was an antiquarian, novelist, travel writer, collector of folk songs and writer of hymns including 'Onward Christian Soldiers'. John Herring (1883) his rich comedy novel is sub titled 'A West of England Romance' and is partly set here in the village. In chapter 24 we learn that: 'There is a very tolerable inn in Zeal, if you do not mind descending a steep hill to reach it the Oxenham Arms.'

Zeal is a quaint village of one street, that street being the high road from Exeter to Launceston. Since the time of which we speak the high road has been carried by a new line above the village, which has been left on one side forgotten, and has gone quietly to sleep. In the midst of the street stands a small chapel built of granite, and before it old granite cross mounted on several steps. The houses are of ' cob,' that is, clay, whitewashed and thatched, with projecting chambers over the doorways resting on oak posts or granite pillars. Below the chapel stood the stately mansion of the Burgoynes facing the road, with vaulted porch, mullioned windows, and sculptured doorways. The Burgoyne family has gone, and now there swings over the entrance a board adorned with the arms of the Oxenham family. The manor-house has descended to become the village inn.

First licensed in 1477, The Oxenham Arms is indeed a very tolerable inn with a wealth of romantic associations which have worked their magic to inspire a number of novelists. In Charles Kingsley's 'Westward Ho!' we read of the Oxenham family and their legendary white-breasted bird. In his novel 'The Beacon', Eden Phillpotts describes the journey of London hotel barmaid Elizabeth Densham from the capital to her arrival in this Devon village. Elizabeth is to be the new barmaid of the Oxenham Arms and the future heroine of the book.

The pub's own publicity claims as a fact that: "Charles Dickens stayed at the Oxenham Arms throughout November 1836, and whilst snowed in wrote part of the Pickwick Papers". Though unable to confirm this, Derek Mortimer of the Dickens Fellowship says: "Dickens's work for the Morning Chronicle, which continued to November of that year, while he was working on Pickwick and other assignments, might well have taken him there. I suspect that the supposed connection with the inn might be one of those which are likely to remain unconfirmed for ever."

Oxenham Arms - South Zeal - Devon - Eden Phillpotts - Charles Dickens - Charles Kingsley


In the 1100's the effects of increasing prosperity and population began to spread Totnes beyond the walls of the town. In 1210 a stone bridge was built across the river Dart and in 1215 a chapel of ease was erected at the far end. By 1260 came a second chapel with a chantry and a priest house. In those times it was customary for religious houses to provide hostelry accommodation for pilgrims and travellers - and display a sign of seven stars when the mother church was dedicated to St. Mary.
By 1660 it was noted that this establishment was beginning to function more as a commercial inn rather than an ecclesiastical hostelry. In 1686 George Rooke, a local merchant and mayor of the town acquired a lease of the premises and garden of the old priest house at an annual rent of a pair of spurs. Rooke considerably extended and improved the facilities and when his daughter Elizabeth inherited she continued the good work. By the time Daniel Defoe put up here for a few days in 1720 it was a very pleasant place to stay.
Writer, journalist, and spy, Defoe gained enduring fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Indeed, he is notable for being one of the earliest practitioners of the form and is even referred to as the founder, of the English novel. His famous non-fiction work; A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, gives a matter-of-fact account of various places including Totnes where we read: "They have a very fine stone bridge here over the river, which, being within seven or eight miles of the sea, is very large; and the tide flows ten or twelve feet at the bridge. Here we had the diversion of seeing them catch fish with the assistance of a dog. We were carried hither at low water, where we saw about fifty or sixty small salmon, about seventeen to twenty inches long, which the country people call salmon-peal; and to catch these the person who went with us, who was our landlord at a great inn next the bridge, put in a net on a hoop at the end of a pole, the pole going cross the hoop (which we call in this country a shove-net)".
The Royal Seven Stars is a lovely place to visit and a good value place to dine. All the comforts are modern but the antiquity is immediately apparent and the sense of history is tangible.

Royal Seven Stars - Totnes - Devon - Daniel Defoe
Two Bridges


Eden Phillpotts’s novel The River depicts a four year cycle of life deep in heart of Dartmoor between the years 1889 and 1893. It is set here at Two Bridges where the River Dart flows through the moor’s central depression. At that time the scene you see in the photograph was entirely different. Only the centre section of the present day hotel - now masked by the clump of trees in the foreground - was here. It was a small hostelry called ‘The Saracen’s Head’ built in the late 1780’s by Judge Buller which became renowned as a very comfortable fishing inn. In the novel, Phillpotts changes the name to ‘The Ring o’ Bells’.
‘The River’ was written between February 1901 and February 1902 when the author was living in Torquay but his base when on Dartmoor during the books creation was the ‘Two Bridges Hotel’. Phillpotts recalled good times there with the popular landlord Henry Trinaman, known to his numerous friends as ‘Trinny’. Fascinating accounts of the inn at that time may be found in ‘Countryside Tales from Blackwood’ under the respective headings of ‘Salmon days on Dartmoor’ and ‘Trinny’s’, both by T. C. Bridges. Imediately before Trinny the little inn was kept by a woman named Smith and her two sons and can easily be identified as the central section of the ‘Two Bridges Hotel’, which embodies the present day main entrance.
Phillpotts’s ‘The Ring o’ Bells’, and its landlady, Betty Bradbridge, feature on many occasions in the book, providing the reader the opportunity to become acquainted with the local characters. The wisdom of the grizzled water baliff, Merryweather Chug, the oddities of Sorrow Scobhull and the amusing conversation of minor worthies all add an authentic touch to the narrative. The impecunious Mark Trout was drawn from life. He was George French, the ostler at the ‘Two Bridges Hotel’ who eventually lost his life when he fell into the Dart one dark night after leaving the inn.
This lovely place nestles besides the sparkling dart river in 60 acres of grounds. It is sumptuous without being pretentious with deep leather armchairs, a wealth of antiques and it gleams with copper.

Two Bridges


Prolific author Eden Phillpotts was for many years President of the Dartmoor Preservation Association and cared passionately about the conservation of this special place. He wrote many books with a Dartmoor setting. His most famous being the novel 'Widecombe Fair', which was inspired by an annual gathering at the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor and provided the scenario for his comic play 'The Farmer's Wife' which went on to become a 1927 silent movie of the same name directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
The novel is in some respects a complex one; for it is a narrative of varied events affecting scattered homesteads around the wide-spread village community of Widecombe, which events nevertheless, are cleverly combined together to constitute a composite record of historic and aborbing interest. The hub of the action is the village centre with its Village Green, Church, Church House and Olde Inn:
"Crossing the village green upon the northern side of the church, Tryphena Harvey and her companion found themselves at the centre of Widecombe. Upon one side of the space wherein they stood rose a lichgate, and springing from it extended an ancient Church House partly used as dwellings for the needy and partly as a school. Before it ran a heavy porch on granite pillars above cobblestone pavement; beside it lay Widecombe's treasure, a fragment of the village stocks. In the midst of the central square a yew-tree stood, perched on a triple row of granite steps, while westerly appeared the smithy behind a formidable frieze of ploughs and harrows, and the Old Inn, a comfortable and ancient house, whose entrance was beneath the level of the road. Here Arthur Pierce was licensed to sell beer and spirits, tobacco and snuff."
This attractive old pub in the beauty-spot village underwent extensive building and refurbishment work in the 1970s. Today it is friendly and cosy with stripped 14th century stonework and big log fires in both bars. There is a concentration on a wide choice of reasonably priced food served in the newish prominent restaurant area. It has a good big garden but both pub and garden get very busy with tourists in the summer so, if you can, it might be best to visit out of season or alternatively see the entry for The Rugglestone!

Old Inn - Widecombe - Devon


The most famous of Eden Phillpotts’s 18 Dartmoor novels is titled Widecombe Fair, and was inspired by an annual fair at the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. He later adapted the scenario for his comic play The Farmer's Wife which went on to become a silent movie of the same name, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and filmed in 1927.
Even for those people who do not know Dartmoor most have heard of Widecombe Fair and the cast of characters who were heading there in the rhyme about ‘Uncle Tom Cobley and All!’ It is this connection that helps attract coach-loads of tourist in the summer season to the centre of the village with its village green, church, church house and the ‘Olde Inn’. For those in the know, there is another pub nearby which is less crowded but just as enchanting.
"Behind St Pancras Church a road ran away south-east of Widecombe to Venton, Chittlefold and Blackslade under the hills. The way crossed Webburn river at a little bridge, where the stream on her journey through the Vale meandered amid meadows lighted now with kingcup and cuckoo-flower."
If you take that road out of the centre of the village you will shortly cross the little bridge over the east Webburn and pass on your left the Rugglestone Inn – the car park is a little further on round the sharp bend on your right. In the story The Rugglestone Inn was home to Timothy Turtle and his daughter Sally, beloved of stonemason Pancras Widecombe. The Rugglestone, from which the pub takes its name, stands just above the inn and beneath the more and it is where the dramatic ‘Riding to Water’ incident takes place:
"Here stood the famous ‘Rugglestone, an enormous mass of granite alleged to weigh a hundred and ten tons. It was a logan, but no hand could rock it, and Mr Turtle, who held a sort of proprietary interest in the boulder, stuck stoutly to an ancient Widecombe saying: that only with the help of the church-door key might the mass be made to move." Enjoying a secluded position in the characteristic landscape of eastern Dartmoor, the Rugglestone Inn was converted from a farmhouse to a distinctive public house in 1832. It is wonderfully atmospheric, with lots of small rooms, oak beams, and roaring log fires in winter. There is a sturdy menu of hearty pub favourites, washed down by well-kept West Country ales.

Rugglestone Inn - Widecombe

Copyright T.W. Townsend - the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and any observations were correct at the time of the review.

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