Insider's guide to... Tavistock
PUBLISHED: 17:59 03 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:17 20 February 2013
This thriving market town has an unexpected grandeur and rich history, with a hint of old-world charm, as Caroline Doughty discovers. Photos by Neville Stanikk
Best known for
Tavistock has many claims to fame "its abbey, the annual Goose Fair, its ancient pannier market and the cream tea. Wild brown trout and salmon swim in the nearby River Tamar so the local fly fishing takes some beating, and with Dartmoor literally on the towns doorstep, its perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.
The rows of Bedford cottages are one of Tavistocks architectural treasures. When copper was discovered here in 1844, a flood of workers into the town led to near-slum conditions and the 7th Duke of Bedford decided to improve their lot. Today the rows of cottages are recognisable by their gabled roofs and porches.
Much older still are the remains of the ancient abbey that can still be seen around the town. Once one of the richest abbeys in the west of England, it owned land from Dorset to the Scillies. A number of buildings can still be seen where parts of the abbey once stood. Dont miss the most picturesque, Court Gate (left), an archway leading from Bedford Square to Guildhall Square that is now part of the Town Hall and houses the towns museum.
For a perfect day in Tavistock, you need do no more than stroll through the town. Look up and you can see Dartmoor rolling into the distance; look around and admire architecture that dates back to the thriving mining town of the mid-19th century. Wander through the covered pannier market (open Tues-Sat every week), which has continued to operate from the site for over 900 years. And pause by the glorious River Tavy, which runs right through the heart of town.
You wont see a typical high street here with chain shops and brand names. While there are a few staples, Tavistocks local shops are thriving thanks to their quality and variety, whether it be designer dresses, home-made chutney or a good book.
Arts and crafts
For live music the Wharf near the river is the main destination. The line-up is mainly tribute bands, but keep an eye out for occasional folk and classical performances too. The Acoustic Caf once a month at the Parish Church Centre features local acts, musicians and singers and offers homecooked veggie food. Bring your own wine or beer and all proceeds are donated to a different local charity or group each month.
If art is your thing, there is quite a wide range to see and buy. Elford Fine Art on Drake Road, opposite the church, is the place to stop for paintings and drawings by distinguished artists from the 18th century to the present day. Art at The Works is a new space where artists showcase and market their own work and manage their own exhibitions. If youre looking for craft pieces, then South West Crafts is a lovely gallery located beside the parish church.
Food for thought
Tavistock saw off McDonalds in 2006! After seven years here, the burger chain finally decided it couldnt compete with the local traders offering quality, locally produced food, and closed its doors. Local eateries are thriving, giving the town a real foodie reputation.
The town is said by some to be the home of the cream tea. The monks at the abbey gave a scone-type biscuit out as alms to the poor, topped with their own honey and cream. The old alms window can still be seen low down in the wall of the Tourist Infomation Centre under the arch. This may be pure myth, but there are certainly plenty of places to stop and try out the local version.
Taylors restaurant is popular for something slightly more formal, and is a big hit with locals and tourists alike, as is Blue Mango.
If you want to walk from the town, one route loved by locals is through the Walkham valley to Double Waters where the rivers Walkham and Tavy meet. You can choose a circular route, or take a bus towards Yelverton and walk back into town through the valley.
As far as foodie delights go, Robertsons organic caf gets a big thumbs up. Located in Pepper Street, it serves vegetables and salad from owners Seth and Sally Robertsons own garden. They also offer vegan options and bake their own gluten-free items.
For a great view, the Pimple folly (right) is a favourite destination. This rather unusual landmark was designed by Edward Lutyens in 1914 and is about 15 minutes walk from the centre of town, high above on Whitchurch Down. Designed to take in the views, with benches that invite you to rest and ponder, the views are breathtaking from Kit Hill in Cornwall to the rugged western tors of Dartmoor.
The Meadows Park (above) with its childrens playground is the focal point for youngsters all year round, and Meadowlands is also popular for its indoor and outdoor swimming pools and rapids.
But the moor has to be the biggest attraction, with plenty of scope for free entertainment. Drakes Trail is part of the national cycle route N27 from North to South Devon, and once the final section between Horrabridge and Tavistock is completed, you will be able to cycle from Tavistock to Plymouth off-road.
There are also eight wide trails through the Tamar Valley offering 25km of off-road cycling (suitable for families) and available to cyclists, walkers, mountain bikers and horse-riders. The trails start at Bedford Sawmills carpark, located just off the A390 between Gunnislake and Tavistock.
For a real adrenalin rush, try Tree Surfers at Gulworthy, which offers high-ropes courses and zip-wire tours in local woodlands.
Explore on horseback with Cholwell Riding Stables, from where you can ride straight onto Dartmoor with no need for any on-road riding.
For a more relaxed day, follow the Tavistock murder mystery treasure trail. Solve the murder mystery of local farmer Tom Giles who met an unfortunate end at the livestock market whilst discovering the towns delights.
Meadowlands Leisure Centre:
Tree Surfers: 01822 833409
Cholwell stables (Mary Tavy):
By road: A386 from Okehampton or Plymouth, or drive over the moor from the east via Two Bridges.
By Bus: Service X85 from Barnstaple (Sat only), Service 83/84/86 from Plymouth