Based in the lush valley surroundings of the lower Dart River and holding a good selection of accommodation and plenty of attractions, Buckfastleigh serves its arriving and departing visitors well.
Most famous for its Benedictine Abbey at Buckfast, which was founded in 1018 by King Canute, and mentioned in the Domesday Book before becoming a place of peace for the monks of a Cistercian Monastery in 1148. That peace ended when it was "dissolved" by Henry VIII in the Reformation. Set just outside the town, the present buildings are well worth visiting set in stunning location on the River Dart - a favourite spot for the forest deer. The modern parts were constructed by a handful of French Benedictine monks in 1932 and Buckfastleigh Abbey is now funded by their production of stained glass, honey and their own recipe of tonic wine. The gardens are well worth exploring and are based on a Medieval design that includes purple lavender gardens and a sensory water garden intended to stimulate the senses of sight, smell, hearing and touch.
It's location, at the convergence of two streams on the river Dart, was ideal for the development of industry due to the running water, and the town grew during Middle Ages. At one time it was the principal wool manufacturing town in Devon, with over 7 mills, as well as being a major staging post between Plymouth and Exeter.
The Dartmoor Way route notes give details about the fascinating and eerie remains of its Church and Chapel on the hill above the town, which sits above a network of prehistoric caves and forms part of the first days walk.
Today the Town provides a range of accommodation options for the walker from small B&B's to welcoming Inns, including The Abbey Inn, which has easy access for visiting the Abbey as well as a pleasant terrace beside the river if the weather is good enough to eat outside. The town with its narrow streets and tiny areas of park is a pleasing place to wander through, with a reasonable set of shops, including cafe's, tea shops, a chemist and three pubs. Don't get confused by The Valiant Soldier however if you do need a drink - this was a pub which closed in the 1960s and the place has now been frozen in time for the visitor, untouched (even down to the change in the till and a jar of pickled eggs on the bar) and left as a museum of that era, its old pub games, furniture and decor a fine record of a time now gone. The Tourist Information point is here and it’s well worth a quick visit before heading off for the Moor.
For more leisurely pursuits there is an excellent outdoor lido and heated public swimming pool beside picturesque Victoria Park that is popular with residents and visitors alike during the summer season. If you missed seeing any wild otters on the Dartmoor Way then you can make up for it at the Butterfly Farm and Otter Sanctuary right beside the Steam Railway - here you can get a close view of the otters swimming underwater in specially built glass enclosures.
If you have a rest day here you can travel on fully restored steam trains alongside the pretty River Dart to Totnes, a pleasant place of independent shops and cafes. Trains leave from Buckfastleigh Station, a fascinating time capsule with its preserved ticket offices and platforms straight out of the last Century. There is a small Museum here and interesting displays along with a railway cafe that serves the moorland walker well. For more details see South Devon Steam Railway who run a regular service several times a day from Buckfastleigh to Totnes.