Review: The Durant Arms, Ashprington
PUBLISHED: 11:24 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:24 27 February 2017
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
Down in the Dart Valley just a stone’s throw from the south facing slopes of Sharpham Vineyard sits the conservation village of Ashprington. But before I get stuck into this month’s pub trawl let me tell you a joke that came to me somewhere along the A38. What’s the Pink Panther’s favourite pub? Durran durran, Durran durran…The Durant Arms! Sorry, on with the important stuff.
We arrived to find the fire casting a soft warm glow across the slate floor and a gentle buzz coming from a contented bunch of locals. I’d like to say we had arrived like the man and dog next to me after doing the riverside walk from Totnes but am far too honest for that. With a stag’s head complete with fez mounted on the wall and light streaming in across the tables first impressions were excellent.
The forward thinking family affair behind this Grade II listed pub comprises Mum, Dad and son Simon who certainly seem to be investing their time and energy in all the right places. Much like at the brewery, each provides a support network for one another and the various jobs are shared out to benefit from the combined expertise. Alan was formerly a building surveyor and Lesley an NHS radiographer. Four years into their retirement and the chance to invest in their son’s future proved too hard to resist. Clearly they all have a sense of pride in what they’ve achieved here.
At what point does an old pub become a new pub? Dating back to 1725 this one certainly has history. In 1850 Richard Durant, the Lord of the Manor, decided to take the selfless move and name the pub after himself. At various times in the last 30 or so years it has been an old cider house and then a restaurant where it was mandatory to remove your shoes and drinkers were simply not allowed! The actual bar and its different incarnations were subsequently moved around to suit the business of the time.
With everything now where it feels it should be Simon has managed to keep the uniqueness, comfort and old fashioned soul of this pub but has also gone a long way to modernising it. With its split level bar and airy restaurant you can choose a space that suits you. It’s also still a bit of a well-kept secret because the road on which it sits either goes up to the vineyard or down to the estuary but the welcome is still immediate.
In the kitchen chef Gavin Castle makes sure the food is hearty and the supplies he uses have a very local feel to them. Honey is from the village, chillies are grown less than half a mile away, watercress is from Totnes and Sharpham supply some of the wine. Devilled lamb’s kidneys and mushroom on toasted focaccia was a friend on a plate you didn’t want to see go. A cauliflower cheese bake topped with Vulscombe goats’ cheese sung and provided the required comfort on this winter’s day.
This certainly is an industry where anything is possible. Transform an historic pub – check; swap Leeds for Devon – check; find yourself a 1971 Morris 1000 van to run around in and have the Otter logo embossed on the side - check! Days like this really remind me exactly why I love what I do so much.
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The Durant Arms, Ashprington, Totnes. TQ9 7UP.
Tel: 01803 732240