One reason we were too occupied to attend to this blog in 2014 was the final push to complete our book on Devon Pubs, finally published in 2015. We’d entered into this enterprise in a light-hearted manner ten years previously. Researching them seemed like fun then, but as the years went on, the book often seemed like a lament. Over and over again, we came across pubs that had been recently closed or converted to other uses. Perhaps the saddest was at the Woodpecker Inn, South Brent. It was closed when we were investigating it, and to our alarm we saw men in suits with clipboards drive up. They did not seem pleased to see us. Although it is likely that parts of the building were quite old, it was demolished in 2007 by the developers. It was all for nothing. A planning application for a business park was turned down in 2014, and the appeal was rejected. The site is now completely derelict.
Equally sad is the tale of the Toby Jug at Bickington. When we brought out the book, its fate still hung in the balance, but a month after the book came out, Teignbridge Council finally put corporate interests before those of the community and granted permission for change of use to residential. To be fair, they had done their best, but it had become an eyesore.
So our trips down to Devon were often tinged with sadness. Two landlords who keep two of the country’s best pubs, constantly encouraged us and jollied us out of our despondency. When we finally launched the book, it was lovely to have both of them there. It was a joy for them too, for they had never met.
Who are these two stalwarts and which are their pubs? Buy the book and you’ll find their pubs on the cover. Gracing the front cover is a reproduction of an old painting of The Bridge at Topsham run by the indomitable Caroline Cheffers-Heard. It’s the only pub the Queen has ever visited by request. It’s not known how old the building is – parts may go back to the 14th century, when Exeter Cathedral was being rebuilt. Beer is from the wood and an ever changing menu of beers – often local – can be found on their Facebook page.
On the back cover, you will find what was once known as the White Hart at Spreyton, but it now called the Tom Cobley. Yes, the very same Tom Cobley who went off to Widecombe Fair with … well, you know the rest. To the delight of the landlord, we found a newspaper report that showed that the Tom Cobley buried in Spreyton churchyard, after which the pub is named, was indeed known as Uncle Tom Cobley. There had been those who had pooh-poohed the theory that he was the one in the song.
And it was the landlord – the redoubtable Roger Cudlip – and his family who kindly agreed to have the launch at their pub.
We’ll be putting up some excerpts at various times but if you haven’t visited either of these pubs, you should. The Tom Cobley has a string of awards, including National Pub of the Year, and a huge range of beers and ciders. The Bridge menu is limited – lunch times only, simple but local, reasonably priced and tasty. The Tom Cobley has an extensive menu, the food is all home–cooked by Roger’s wife Carol, and served by their daughter Lucy. A warning – make sure you’re hungry before you go. The portions are ample. As Roger was once a butcher, you may get his homemade sausages for breakfast if you stay there in one of their lovely B&B rooms.