A real destination: The Turf Hotel, Exminster
PUBLISHED: 09:57 27 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:57 27 June 2017
© 2015 Jules Wensley Photography
In his regular series of columns for Devon Life, Patrick McCaig of The Otter Brewery takes us on a trawl of some of his favourite pubs
What makes a destination pub? Many claim the title but can it be quantified? Well for me it comes down to three key things: location, personality and what’s actually on offer. I’d argue that personality (both of owner and building) possibly steals the number one spot. It’s rare you get all three and rarer still they last a decent chunk of time.
Sitting at the end of its own spit of land near Exminster Marshes the Turf is what you can call a real ‘destination’ and enjoys something of a legendary status in these parts. With the Powderham Estate stretching out on one side and the Exe Estuary on the other - the boats sheltering behind the lock most surely doubling as potting sheds for their owners – why would you leave?
The best part is you can’t drive here. It seems remote but actually isn’t - you simply walk, cycle, kayak or ferry over from Topsham to find your supper. Most landlords’ main concern is getting people to their pub, but not here - customers absolutely love the challenge.
Run by Clive and Ginny and their son Ollie, just like us, they are now into their 28th year. So here I am, lured on foot to the end of the canal to find out exactly what makes the Turf sing. An estate agent by trade, Clive was working quite happily in the family practice when in the late eighties the industry began to change. Ginny meanwhile had a fruit and veg shop in the city, having also completed a catering course at Exeter College. Soon they were looking at pubs and towards the end of 1989 a friend mentioned that the Turf was on the market.
Back then the place was falling down and neither one had any prior experience as publicans. Undeterred, by March 1990 they were the new custodians of this Grade II listed former lock keeper’s cottage. Ginny’s dad mucked in to help re-wire and re-plumb the building and without a cloud in the sky for the next two months they were in at the deep end - first the water ran out, then the beer, whilst above them the B&B groaned. Pub life beckoned!
Open only from March to October the business is also their home. During the winter the timber framed slate hung building rattles and creaks and even moves a little. It wakes from hibernation just as the land does and soon slips into a comfortable gear feeding and rehydrating the adventurous. Our own foray into the locally sourced menu rewarded us with pan-fried Powderham venison steaks reared just a few miles away – perfect with a pint.
Looking out of the big bay windows the huge beer garden appears extremely adaptable. There’s a yurt romantically perched at the end, room for camping, a marquee, barbecue area to complement the kitchen and new for this year a ‘pop-up’ bar by the water serving our cask ales.
The outside areas are perfect for cyclists and families on the hoof whilst the ‘cook your own’ gas barbecue stations (they supply everything) make a great birthday present or novel idea for an affordable wedding reception.
The Turf is a cheeky, lovely and happy place. Clive and Ginny’s personalities have been wired into the pub over the years to create one of Exeter’s most iconic destinations where the world just sails by. Go and explore!