I hadn’t made a mistake after 30 years – the ridge-top village of Drewsteignton, perched on the northern edge of Dartmoor, was still totally charming. There were the pretty cottages and the Drewe Arms as I recalled them, bowed low under thatch on the diminutive village square, all presided over by the tall tower of Holy Trinity church. When I was last here the pub had been run as a front-room business by Mabel Mudge, 83 years old and spry as a lamb. ‘Oh, you remember Mabel!’ smiled the man I got chatting to on the path over to the River Teign. ‘Yes, she retired when she got to 99. 75 years she ran that place, and it never changed a bit.’
There was a wonderful view from the neighbouring ridge back to Drewsteignton huddled on its hilltop, and a sight of moor ponies grazing the gorse with streaming manes and tails. The bridle path ran at the rim of the Teign’s steep wooded gorge, then slanted down through oak and silver birch to where the river ran flashing with sunlight under the three ancient arches of Fingle Bridge. I lingered, watching children skimming stones between the cutwaters, before following the Fisherman’s Path on its rocky, rooty, twisting way, close above the river.
A gang of four tiny tots hooted and squeaked as they fished for bubbles with sticks, and high overhead a buzzard went circling over the walls of Castle Drogo. At the bridge below the castle I struck up a side path, climbing past the L-shaped thatched house of Coombe, snug among fruit trees in its peach of a dell.
If there was ever a fairytale castle... Castle Drogo looks down from a spur of rock, 300 feet to the Teign in the wooded gorge below. Edwardian tea tycoon Julius Drew excavated himself a Norman ancestry, decided to build himself a proper old castle, and got Sir Edwin Luyens to make his dream come true in stark granite. No Mad King Ludwig touches here – all is plain, strong and massive, a triumph of restraint. Marked ways lead from the gorge paths to the castle by way of beautiful gardens of roses and spring flowers. No wonder Drogo is called ‘the last great castle in England’.
When I got back to Drewsteignton and into the Drewe Arms, I saw it had changed – more than a bit. But it’s still a cosy place to raise a glass under the beams in celebration of Mabel Mudge and all that’s great about the West Country village pub.
See the route map for this walk.
Start & finish
Drewe Arms, Drewsteignton, Devon EX6 6QN (OS ref SX 736908)
Bus: Dartline 173 (Exeter-Chagford), Country Bus 279 (Totnes-Okehampton; Sundays, public hols).
Road: From A30 east of Okehampton, A382 through Whiddon Down. In ½ a mile, Drewsteignton signed to left.
6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL28
From Drewsteignton Square, left; round right bend; 20 yards past old school, left (‘2 Moors Way’/MW) down lane. Ahead in bottom of valley (‘Castle Drogo/CD’) up steps. Follow fence up fields and over ridge. Through kissing gate; in 15 yards, left (732900); follow ‘Fingle Bridge’ fingerposts for 3/4 of a mile down to road (743901). Right to Fingle Bridge; don’t cross; right along river (‘Fisherman’s Path, CD’) for 1½ miles to bridge below Castle Drogo (721895). Right uphill (CD). In 1/3 of a mile, right (720900; ‘Hunter’s Path’); follow MW back to Drewsteignton.
Some steep steps; some rocky ledges in gorge with handrail (watch kids/dogs!)
Lunch: Drewe Arms, Drewsteignton (01647 281224; www.thedrewearms.co.uk); Fingle Bridge Inn (01647 281287; www.finglebridgeinn.com)
Castle Drogo (NT): 01647 434118;www.nationaltrust.org.uk/castledrogo
More info: Okehampton Tourist Information Centre, tel: 01837 53020; www.visitdevon.co.uk;www.ramblers.org.uk.
Browse books by Christopher Somerville.
See Christopher's website:www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Author: Christopher Somerville