Grab your tankard! Cosy in with Muddy by the Old Exeter Inn’s log fire while I tell you jaw-dropping tales of Elizabethan explorers, dastardly highwaymen and a 300 year-old cat. Yup, this former brew house is the fifth oldest pub in the UK, and, before you imagine brasses and flock wallpaper, let me assure you it’s recently been sympathetically restored into a Muddy-approved maze of flagstone corridors and wood-panelled hideaways, all lit by flickering candelabra and the shimmer of Sharpham wine (at least when I’m there). Outside is a walled garden which their gardener Annie is turning into an Apothecary Garden, filled with wildflowers and a summer Cider Bar and Pizzeria.
Here is beer-lovers’ heaven with 12 craft beers on tap, plus a long wine list, hundreds of spirits and jugs of rough cider and Perry. True to Devonshire pub tradition, it’s a pie and chop house, serving up comfort food and hearty pies which look like something out of a Dickens’ novel, takeaway fish and chips, dedicated vegan and kids’ menus, sumptuous puds and dark spiced fudge – all fresh and homemade daily. Ooh, and dog treats at the bar. As the Landlord likes to say – there’s nothing Michelin here except the wheels on his old Land Rover.
Owner David and the friendly bar staff can tell you all about the pub’s incredible past when you visit (there’s a book in the offing) but here’s a few snippets for your history homework. The town-centre inn is on the ancient Mariner’s Way that ran from Bideford to Dartmouth, and Ashburton was on the King’s Highway running east to west, making it a sort of Tudor service station. Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake knew the inn well, in fact Raleigh was arrested here for treason in 1603 and dragged off to the tower. A few centuries later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a patron while writing The Hound of the Baskervilles (Baskerville was the name of his driver who’s buried over the road at St Andrew’s Church). Back in the 18th century, a highwayman known as the Black Mob was in league with the innkeeper and hid his ill-gotten gains in ingenious hiding places around the pub. You can read the letter written by the head of the watch when he finally got his comeuppance, dated 1799, on display. And there’s a ghost, so keep your wits about you.
Seriously, it’s packed with fascinating history, great grub and a unique vibe. Ooh, and a cat called Witherington, as all the inn’s cats have been named for the past 300 years. You’ll just have to go-go-go.
At a glance
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26 West St, Ashburton, Dartmoor TQ13 7DU
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