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Muddy Eats: Turtley Corn Mill, South Brent

South Brent is more than a Shell petrol station, you know. Thirty seconds away, you'll find a picture-perfect pub that'll please all the family.

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Until recently South Brent was, to me, nothing more than an exit off the A38, on the way to Exeter,  where the phone always mysteriously loses signal; my only local knowledge of it being the petrol garage right on the slip road with a notoriously iffy junction to manoeuvre in and out of (yep, that one).  I’ve definitely nearly run out of fuel on more than one occasion, to bypass this dodgy spot.  But the Turtley Corn Mill, a minute or so away from said junction, on the way to the village of Avonwick, was doing a sales number on us from the minute we drove in on a chilly Sunday morning, lured by the promise of a decent brunch.

In six acres of South Hams countryside, the place is bordered by the River Glazebrook and the building itself has oodles of kerb appeal.  The working water wheel hypnotised the mudlet into the first five seconds of silence all weekend.

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Once we’d bribed her into giving indoors a go, we found one of those smart country pubs that immediately puts you at ease.  Pubs are funny things, aren’t they?  You never fully know what you’re going to get from the exterior and a lick of paint outside doesn’t always follow through.  Anyway, here the emphasis is definitely on the traditional, rather than old-fashioned, I’m pleased to report and not a fruit machine in sight; plenty of light open spaces for large gatherings, little nooks and crannies to hideaway, squishy sofas, log piles and open fires, everything casually thrown together. Goodness, we could almost be at home with the papers, I thought, until a peacock strutted past the window, chased by a trio of rowdy grouse.

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Coffees on the go, operation family breakfast commenced.  Think granola sundaes and the emphasis on homemade and locally sourced.  It was a field mushroom omelette for moi, smoked salmon and creamy scrambled eggs on granary for him and marmalade on toast for the mudlet, still transfixed by the wheel that stretched across her window.

This is where I have a bit of a confession to get off my chest.

You see, I didn’t manage to get a photo of our food *cough*.  Rookie error I know, but not entirely my fault, people.  While I was off having a good nose around, breakfast arrived and, by the time I returned, wet wipes were out, everyone had tucked in and the table was a delightfully productive mess.  But listen, we all know what eggs and toast look like, don’t we?  Nothing unusual – or unsavoury – about these ones, I can assure you.

(Here’s another pretty picture of what I was off looking at, to distract you from my, ahem, error)

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Back to 10am.  A few more parties trickled in as we brunched, a mixed bunch of walking types, parents giving their soon-to-fly-the-nest kids a send-off before university and old friends catching up on the past years’ events.  Which gives you an idea of the kind of pub this is.  The fact that it’s not within walking distance from any town, or even village, means you’re unlikely to ever see the place heaving with locals and walk-ins.  You make a special trip out to come here and, its position hidden just off the main route through Devon yet blissfully close to both water and moors makes it an appealing meeting place for a long, lazy session.  And when it is at full capacity, the sheer size of the place prevents it from ever feeling uncomfortably busy, so another diner told me.  So it makes for a very pleasant vibe.

The team behind this family run pub must take some of the credit too though.  As tried-and-tested hospitality aficionados in these parts, they took on the Ship Inn at Noss Mayo on the river Yealm, turning it into something pretty special (I’ll let you in on that secret too, if you play your cards right), before creating The Bridge at Plymouth’s Mountbatten, now a thriving waterside restaurant.  Ten years in to running the Turtley, as it’s simply known around here and with the recent addition of a B&B (more rooms being built as I write), it feels like the flagship of the empire.  The peacocks lording it up in the gardens are right at home.

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Oh, the gardens.  Some need to work up an appetite, others choose to walk off their meal.  Both are possible here.  To the side and the rear, you’ll find gardens that are a dream for playing, exploring and terrorising the ducks, chickens and guinea fowl.  The Turtley has its own lake, complete with an island and a little boat for guests to pootle around in during the summer months.  And there’s a giant chess board, of course (call yourself a pub without one?) and croquet.

It’s worth noting that the littlest ones will need constant supervision as there are plenty of opportunities to fall into a ditch, or the lake.  The same rule applies to dogs, who are warmly welcomed, but may find all the feathery treats on offer too tempting to resist.

Yes, we liked this place and so did the mudlet and so it was cheesy fist bumps all round as it dawned on us that our regular trips to Pennywell Farm up the road just got far less monotonous…

The Muddy Verdict:

Good for: Everyone will feel at home here, but groups of all ages looking for somewhere relaxed and reliable to host them will be especially pleased.  Children love burning off energy in the grounds, splashing on the banks of the river and meeting the birds; parents of babies will also appreciate the six acres to do laps with the buggy at nap time.  Tots are well catered for too; whilst there are no high chairs, there are booster seats on tap and even though there is no children’s menu, most dishes can be adapted into a smaller portion.  Couples may also fancy booking in to one of the rooms for a night away, a meal and a bottle of something nice.   Real ale lovers will also be happy, with at least four local varieties on tap.

Not for: Wasp fearing members of society, especially in late summer when they’re drunk and angry.

Those hoping for a dartboard, fruit machine or pool table will be disappointed.  The giant chess board in the garden looks like it could be fun after a few glasses of bubbles, mind you!

££ It’s certainly not cheap, but you get good value for money here.  Food is locally sourced and there is an impressive wine list.   As a guide, a full English is £9.95.  Breakfast aside, the menu includes all the usual delights of a gastro pub, but with daily tweaks and a complete overhaul with the seasons.

Turtley Corn Mill, Avonwick, South Brent, Devon, TQ10 9ES. Tel: 01364 646100. turtleycornmill.com

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Devon