Have we discovered Devon’s best cream tea?
PUBLISHED: 11:20 12 August 2014
After a visit to a very special spot NATALIE MILLAR-PARTIRDGE wonders whether she has found Devon’s cream tea heaven
It’s a subject which ignites passion and debate, a topic of heated discussion. Tempers are even known to flare as each side insists they are right. “Should it be the cream or the jam on top of a traditional cream tea?”
Most Devonians will tell you that they are, of course, right with their logical ‘cream below, jam on top’ set-up and throw scorn on the outlandish Cornish assertion that the jam must be underneath with cream topping.
But putting that aside for a moment, I think I might have the answer to an even more contentious question: “Where is the best cream tea in Devon?”
Before I continue, I know this is controversial and I must say that it is only the opinion of this humble writer, with a fairly extensive, but not exhaustive, cream tea experience in Devon. But that said, I think I might have found that holy grail in Dunsford.
I was spending a halcyon day in this lovely Teign Valley village when I happened upon the Old Walled Garden Tea Rooms, tucked behind Church Cottage Guest House. Like stumbling across a secret garden, it’s a rural idyll, a beautiful rustic country garden, a great place to while away the time whilst admiring the pretty surrounds. It was there I tucked into what must be the most delicious, mouth-watering scones, cream and jam combination I have ever tasted.
“I’m not telling you” says Ian Seward, owner, when asked for the secret recipe I was itching to replicate. “I’ll only say that they must be a fresh as possible.” He did add that it is essential to put the mix straight in the oven, rather than leaving it on the side for any length of time.
On further probing, I found out Ian never deviates from his own, closely guarded recipe, with a tip or two handed down from his grandma. He is strict about quantities used in the mix, makes every scone himself and uses only the best ingredients.
Ian was born at Townsend Farm, just a stone’s throw away, and bought the pretty thatch 12 years ago and decided to make the house and gardens his lifetime project. His vision was to create an environment in keeping with the traditional Devon farmhouse, where people could escape the hustle and bustle to spend an afternoon relaxing in the gardens. He bought Church Cottage, along with the shop and the post office in 2001 and opened the tea rooms in Easter of 2002.
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Church Cottage has a personal connection for me and is steeped in history, going back some 400 years to when the building, combined with the post office, were originally one big farmhouse. My great-great grandfather Charlie Hearn and his wife Grace, lived in the house when it was still in this initial set-up, Charlie working as a vet, as well as a postmaster.
They had a pony named Dolly, which they trekked to Exeter once a week for provisions. Dolly is immortalised in one of the original photographs in the entrance to the tearooms. The buildings were split in the mid-1960s by the Maggs family who owned it at the time; the right hand side was sold off as The Old Post Cottage and the rest was kept, later renamed Church Cottage.
“I wanted to give people something that they couldn’t find anywhere else, a little bit of escapism, in a remarkable location” explains Ian. “Also, it was important to find somewhere that had longevity, as well as making sure the tea rooms stayed in keeping with the village.”
He must have succeeded, as when I was there, a customer told me: “I think I have finally found a little piece of heaven.”
So, Natalie has had her say, but where is YOUR best spot to enjoy a Devon cream tea? Send us your suggestions by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet us at @DevonLife
Click here to read Grace Jalowiecka’s Devon cream tea picks.
Ten things you should know about cream teas.
1 The Cornish are adamant that the cream should be served on top of the jam whilst us Devonians say the jam should most certainly be spread on top.
2 The exact origin of the cream tea is much disputed, though there is evidence from local historians to suggest that the tradition of eating bread with cream and jam already existed at the Benedictine Abbey, Tavistock, in the 11th century. The monks of the Abbey created the dish and fed it to the local workers.
3 A cream tea can also be known as a Devonshire tea, Devon cream tea or Cornish tea.
4 Traditionally it is important that the scones are served warm (ideally freshly baked) and that clotted rather than whipped cream is used.
5 Another variation to a cream tea is called ‘Thunder and Lightning’ which consists of a round of bread topped with clotted cream and golden syrup, honey or treacle.
6 In May 2010 a campaign was launched at the Devon County Show to have the name ‘Devon Cream Tea’ protected within the European Union. The campaign was launched following a discussion on BBC Radio Devon.
7 The cream tea is considered to be one of the most quintessentially British dishes around, the combination of clotted cream, scones and preserve continue to evoke the taste and traditions of the West Country.
8 Traditionally the cream tea should be enjoyed in the early hours of the afternoon.
9 The poet Edmund Spenser wrote about ‘clouted cream’ in his work The Shepherd’s Calendar in 1579.
10 Each of the counties of the West Country of Southern England has their cream tea: The Devonshire cream tea, the Cornish cream tea, the Somerset cream tea and the Dorset cream tea. There are claims from each of these counties asserting their right to the title of the ‘original cream tea’.
Delights of Dunsford
Visit ‘Sweet Sensations’, the village bakery for over 30 years and sample some of the delicious homemade cakes and pastries.
Wonder through the pretty, well kept churchyard grounds which are steeped in history at the heart of the village. There has been a place of worship at this site since the Saxon times.
Take a walk along the river Teign at Steps Bridge just a mile west of the village, a pleasant and peaceful walk passing Dunsford nature reserve, particularly stunning in Spring time when daffodils cover the woodland.
Venture further along the river from Steps Bridge to Fingle Bridge and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous walk to the vibrant village of Chagford.
Explore St Thomas Cleave woodland, home to buzzards, woodpeckers and pied flycatchers. The steep wooded slopes are also famous for their wild bluebells and rare butterflies.
Sip a pint of real Devon ale in the beer garden at The Royal Oak Inn, a traditional country pub at the heart of the village with stunning views across the Teign Valley.