Stay the night: Elephant's Nest Inn, Devon
This 16th-century inn, with a strange name, now offers a bed for the night, says Mark Rowe
Sunday 12 December 2010
The combination of an ancient pub and a wild moorland setting is usually a winning one, as the 16th-century Elephant's Nest Inn, in Devon, proves. And now you can sleep, as well as eat and drink, at one of the West Country's finest pubs, tucked away in the folded lanes of western Dartmoor.
The Elephant's Nest Inn, waymarked by a wooden fingerpost stuck in a hedge a mile distant, has started offering patrons a place to rest their heads after a pleasurable evening downstairs in the main dining area, which is all wooden beams, old maps of the surrounding mines and, perhaps predictably, dozens of miniature elephants and the pub's name translated into dozens of languages.
If the last of these features sounds a little contrived, well, it is. But that is no criticism because, in addition to this bit of marketing, the owners apply the same bright imagination and flair to delivering high standards of accommodation and food.
So where did that name come from? I'd hoped to learn that an elephant had somehow found its way here, perhaps as part of a Dickensian circus troupe, but the reality is slightly more prosaic: an overweight landlord from the 1950s, when shoehorned into a snug corner of the pub, was likened to an elephant sitting in a nest by a customer. The old name, the New Inn, was soon ditched, though it remains on the OS map and on some road atlases.
An extension – sympathetic to the building and clad in local stone – has allowed three rooms to be added, two upstairs and one downstairs. The lower room opens up through French doors on to a sheltered patio with views across the valley and you can make your way into the beer garden from here. Furnishings are extremely comfortable and stylish – the king-sized bed is perfectly sprung. There are plenty of smellies, fluffy cushions and solid oak floors underfoot. In winter, you'll appreciate the underfloor heating. Baths are generously sized. Each room has a flat-screen television and Wi-Fi, along with a refrigerator with milk for tea and coffee.
The food and drink
Local is the theme here – and in the West Country that's pretty much a guarantee of excellence in sourcing, rearing and presentation. The beef, pork and lamb are from local herds and the fish comes up the A30 from St Ives daily. Sunday roasts are prodigious and mouth-watering – but you'll need to go easy on the generous breakfast (all the meats, yoghurts and cereals, served in a cosy nook of the pub with elephants of every shape and description on the walls). Dinner is served either inside or – if the weather holds – in the flower-filled garden with splendid views across the surrounding tors of Dartmoor. The bar caters for every taste – choose from five wines by the glass or an extensive, world-ranging wine list, plus there are any number of Devon beers, including Jail Ale brewed in the shadow of the prison in Princetown. Starters cost from £5, mains from £10. Reckon on £30 per person for three courses and drinks.
The pub is hemmed in from the outside world by classic Devon lanes with high, turfed hedges. From here you can strike out on any number of scenic walks – the leat (man-made waterway) of the River Tavy is nearby, or you could nose around the fine churches of St Peter and St Mary, from which the two neighbouring villages take their names.
Children are welcome, as are dogs. The age of the building means there is no specific access for wheelchair users, though wooden ramps are laid down where necessary for the rooms, garden and the bar.
From £80 per room, B&B.
The Elephant's Nest Inn, Horndon, Mary Tavy, Tavistock, Devon PL19 9NQ (01822 810273; elephantsnest.co.uk).
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