Straddling the fast flowing river Tavy, below the western edge of Dartmoor, right on the border of Devon and Cornwall, Tavistock stands in the heart of an area of outstanding natural beauty. The feeling of the fresh moorland air in your lungs, luxury dining, fly fishing, hiking, and cream teas will linger long in your memory after a visit here.
Tavistock is a historic, stannary market town, which got its royal charter in 1105. There are varied activities and a choice of accommodation, all within easy reach of public transport and car parking. You can follow in the footsteps of Sir Francis Drake or The Duke of Bedford. Eat a cream tea at The Bedford Hotel, built on the site of a Benedictine abbey dating back to AD 997, (the monks of this former abbey invented the cream tea). Visit one of the haunted pubs, hike through the stunning gorge with its 30m waterfall and abundance of flora and fauna. Visit the old pannier market or one of England’s first printing presses dating back to 1525. Wander around the many shops which radiate from the high street, including several well-known West Country delicatessens, tweed outfitters, hunter wellies, crystals and handmade jewellery. If this isn’t enough then step behind the high street and you will find a busy pannier market filled with ample local produce and craft stalls. There is a weekly farmers’ market offering fresh fruit, vegetables, and local produce from around the area.
Granite architecture in this town really makes for an interesting and photographic visit – even the police station is stunning! A river running through the centre, has a weir to control the flow of water coming down from the moors. The central park (Meadowlands) offers a picturesque walk which leads to the canal which was first cut in 1803 to provide the town with links to the River Tamar, opening up thriving business opportunities. Walking along this canal you come across old disused viaducts, a stone marking the birthplace of Sir Frances Drake, and if you are as lucky as I was, you will see several kingfishers, their azure blue plumage appearing like a flash of lighting under the shade of the trees.
The surrounding areas offer stunning and unique views of Dartmoor, where you can watch the sun set, turning the moors a stunning hazy purple. Nearby villages boasting old disused Victorian viaducts (from the railways established in 1859), old traditional country pubs with open log fires, flagstone floors, and hearty restaurant menus.
When to Go?
Tavistock normally has an oceanic climate that features warm summers and cool winters. Make sure if you are visiting during the high season that you book well in advance – as you can imagine this is a popular place.
On the second Wednesday of October, annually, Tavistock hosts the biggest event in town and one (if not the) best known fairs in the West Country – the Goose Fair (locals like to call it the “Goosey Fair”).
Once in the United Kingdom, you’ll want to head to the city of Plymouth if you are visiting Tavistock via public transport. From Plymouth you can take the 11, 42, 83, or 86 bus, all of which stop in the bus station, convenient for the town centre. Travelling by car is, of course, also an option.
Cotehele House can be reached within a half an hour drive from Tavistock, on the A386 towards Plymouth. This medieval manor house offers a unique mirror into the past. The buildings remain as they were in the 16th century, this is one of the least altered medieval houses in Britain. It’s well worth a visit.
Calstock is in the same area as Cotehele House, both of which can be visited in a day. From the A390 leave Gunnislake, take a left turn past the railway station, follow this road (which can be narrow in places) all the way into the first village. Arriving in Calstock take advantage of the free parking, walk past the pub and down the opposite lane which will take you right underneath the viaduct. It’s more than worth the walk, which is only 10 minutes.
Once you have had enough of looking at old buildings and need some fresh air then head to Kit Hill.
Kit Hill is the highest point in the Tamar Valley, with over 400 acres of heathland to explore, Kit Hill Country Park shows how humans have worked minerals on marginal upland since the Stone Age.
The area is rich in archaeology from a Neolithic long barrow to 19th century mining remains and is also home to a rare array of animal and plant life. Look out for the frequent guided walks and events, such as bird watching, kite flying, and walking. The views from here are outstanding and stretch right across the Tamar Valley.
Once you have exhausted yourself with all those activities we now come to one of the most important factors of a visit to this wonderful town. Food and lodging to restore ourselves for another day of bracing country air and activity.
Eat and Drink
Did you know that the locals call The Cornish Pasty an “Oggie”?
Originally the filling was savoury at one end and sweet at the other. Oggies nowadays are usually savoury and have potatoes, vegetables, and meat inside. They date back to the 16th century and were a staple diet for miners and farmers. Eat them hot or cold, they are delicious!
There are bakeries on the high street selling the traditional Oggie, more modern is The Original Pasty House which sells oggies in all kinds of savoury combinations. You can also sit in here and get great coffee, an ideal respite from the bustling market.
Devon Cream Tea – The Bedford Hotel in the centre of the town has the best there is to offer. My sister who generously tasted one for us, stated “That’s the best cream tea I have ever had!”. So go for it, it is jam/cream/scone heaven. From a local that’s pretty compelling evidence. Warm golden scones arrive accompanied by ramekins oozing generous helpings of cream and jam. Steaming hot tea (or coffee) is served with it and you are ready to experience the taste of Devon.
Local cuisine is offered for lunch and dinner in various country pubs around the area, you will find varied menus offering home cooked traditional food, glorious desert, cask ales, good wines, and always a warm welcome. Try: The Mary Tavy Inn, Drake Manor Inn, The Trout n Tipple, and the Peter Tavy Inn to name a few.
After all those activities and the lovely food, I am sure we are all interested in some well-deserved sleep. The Bedford Hotel has rooms ranging from standard rooms to four poster luxury. You also get fine dining, and the best cream in the area!
The Two Bridges Country House Hotel is only 15 minutes from Tavistock and provides a combination of modern facilities and traditional old charm, fine dining, and excellent service.
A beautiful 4-star country house hotel, The Horn of Plenty is where contemporary meets country chic. A fine dining restaurant is also on location.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Tavistock.