On a week long walking holiday there is always one place that the weary walker can look forward to reaching as the best location on the route for facilities, accommodation and fine foods, and on The Dartmoor Way this would be Tavistock.
A vibrant and lively place, Tavistock is Devon’s Premier Market Town, with a population of around 11,000 and as such offers numerous good eating choices including delis, cafes, hotels and fine dining restaurants.
Winner of awards for the UK’s “Best Market Town” and in Devon as the “Best Food Town” it is a time to indulge for those arriving for some rest and relaxation from the high moor and the single inn overnight villages. With plenty of luxury B&B’s and guest houses, inns and smart hotels there is something to suit everyones needs in Tavistock.
The location, in a wide green bowl at the point where the Tavy river leaves the moor, is also fittingly attractive and has long been a draw for those who have held or sought the West Countries wealth and privilege.
The important Tavistock Abbey was founded in the 10th century by the Earl of Devon, though it had an inauspicious start being burnt to the ground within 20 years when the Danes sailed up the river Tamar to make off with the riches inside. It was quickly rebuilt however and became very wealthy very quickly, with a Royal Charter granted in 1105 that included the legal rights to create the town including a weekly pannier market and 3-day long fair once a year. Both rights are still exercised 1000 years later with the Goose Fair in October still going strong and the daily Pannier market the major feature of the Town.
The towns Market used to be held in Bank Square but was moved in 1860 to the impressive stone-built covered Pannier Market and it has bustled with stalls, good food and the plain unexpected ever since. Don’t miss a wander around this unique venue - whatever your fancy, be it - old books, antiques, model aeroplanes or smart jeans - there is enormous variety and choice. Outside the market there are plenty of art and craft galleries to wander around, both in the town and at The Wharf Arts Centre where you will often find live music, cinema, theatre and art exhibitions. The towns central point is the wide and airy Bedford Square built in 1859, with has the 15thCentury Parish Church of St Eustachius (the Roman Officer who was martyred), sitting on one side and the Town Hall and other impressive administrative buildings on the other.
The square has quite a European feel to it and the market often spills out here in rows of stalls outside the Town Hall.
You will also find the excellent Town Museum which houses displays on local history, mining and of course Sir Francis Drake, the most famous of Tavistock’s sons whose exploits and achievements are well documented here.
Sadly for the Abbey and its monks the good days ended with the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII and most of it was destroyed. However ruined sections remain, atmospherically dotted around Bedford Square and The Churchyard, a Court Gate, a ruined gatehouse and a section of cloister wall and tiled pavement – all adding to the sense of history and importance of the town.
Some of the outer wall of the Abbey and the monks Stillhouse “where medicines were distilled” can also be found on the pleasant Abbey Walk river path which makes a great pre evening meal wander along the gentle banks of the River Tavy.
If you are going to have one Devon Cream Tea on the Dartmoor Way then we think it should be here, in its spiritual home. 11thcentury manuscripts record that the monks at Tavistock Abbey fed travellers with bread, clotted cream and preserves – and in doing so invented the West Countries biggest ever industry and export - one that has outlived all the mines and the quarries!
Enjoy Tavistock and do refuel and stock up particularly if you are heading into the High Moorland Alternative route at Princetown tomorrow.