Elegant Tavistock, on the River Tavy, developed around its first known landowner, the Benedictine Abbey, which was granted a royal charter in 981. Cloister ruins from the early abbey stand in the grounds of Saint Eustachius Church. This saint was a C2nd Roman general who converted to Christianity; after a spell of exile and disgrace, he and his family were martyred.
The town had a market and annual fair in the early C12. In 1305 it was established as one of the stannary towns, for the administration of tin-smelting. This early prosperity was then sustained by the cloth trade, and afterwards by the C19th copper mining which survived until the 1870s.
Today there are many small and independent shops in the lively and attractive high street. Its pannier market, within the spacious central area, is just through a stone archway. The intriguing police station is the second-oldest such in England and Wales to be still in use.
A howling gale might accompany you on the walk up to the Church of St. Michael de Rupe (of the Rock), but once inside you are cocooned in an oasis of calm. It is 1100 feet above sea level, on what is rumoured to be an extinct volcanic cone. Since all of England, indeed the whole planet, was once volcanic, I presume this must be true. It's said that a mariner, or perhaps a rich merchant, had it built in gratitude for divine intervention in saving him from shipwreck during a storm. Beneath the tor is the pleasant village of Brentor with its own church. Visit this link for a much better picture of Brentor and some amazing Dartmoor stories.
Chulmleigh as a Saxon hill-fort dates to 815AD. In 1253 King Henry III granted the town a Royal Charter for holding an annual Old Fair. It is still held, over several days towards the end of July. Chulmleigh's Church of St. Mary Magdalene was built between 1300-1400. A thriving wool industry was one source of prosperity then. The town centre now is pretty, with local enterprises and fine inns welcoming to visitors. One little side street above is dressed for summer. A stretch of the River Taw nearby has beautiful walks.
Lydford is within West Devon for administrative purposes, though geographically it's part of the Dartmoor National Park.
An earlier castle existed 30 years before, high above Lydford Gorge. The gorge formed over 450,000 years ago. The heavily wooded ravine leads to a 100-foot waterfall, where the River Lyd tumbles down from Dartmoor. From the enchanting riverside walks one can spot a range of birds flying down to drink and bathe.
This castle was built as a Norman keep in 1195 AD and served as a prison in Mediaeval times. In a field nearby the gallows was sited. Lydford was an important Stannary town for Saxons, being a royal mint and smelting centre. Thoroughly nasty events took place in Lydford, in the best traditions of English history.
The area around Okehampton's Church of All Saints is believed to be the site of the town's original Saxon settlement. Nearby is the cobbled walkway known as the choirboys' path.
Its Norman castle on Dartmoor's northern edge was built for the Sheriff of Devon in the late C11th. Onto the original motte a stone keep was added; then, in the C14th, further buildings. During the C12-C14th it was a hunting lodge for pursuit of wild boar and deer. After Henry, Marquis of Exeter, the then owner, was executed in 1539 under Henry VIII, the castle was spasmodically occupied until the late C17th. It has since fallen into attractive and extensive ruins. Sited for defence, it's among wooded hills and delightful walks along the River Okement.
While much of Okehampton is being concreted over at a rate of knots - or should that be a rate of Prescotts? - it has some pretty places, notably a terrace of artisan cottages along the river.
The annual Okehampton Show is held on the second Thursday in August. It is a celebration of farming and rural trades, industries and crafts. This is for people of all ages and includes a variety of activities for children. Many kinds of livestock are exhibited, among which are ferrets, llamas and birds of prey in action. There is show-jumping, demonstrations of thatching, a brass band and countless others attractions and skills.
An interesting page with more details on Okehampton can be found here.
This pleasant village has many historic buildings. Part of the River Taw, from which it is named, flows here. An ancient royal manor, the village is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086/7. There was a poll tax revolt here in 1381. Its mostly granite church of St. Andrew dates back to the C15th.
In 1549 the Prayer Book Rebellion began in Sampford Courtney. The Latin prayer book was banned in favour of an English translation. Irate residents of Sampford Courtney were joined by others from all over Devon and Cornwall. They marched on Crediton and claimed occupation. In the name of the Crown European mercenaries were sent to Crediton. Many there died, as they did also in Sampford Courtney. The monarch then was the child King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. He was to die aged 15 years, probably of TB, and without reproducing. Today the village is peaceful, with many thatched cottages, a footpath walk to the green and a C16th New Inn. Nobody talks about prayer books, that I've heard.
At the top of the hill, behind the plaque to William Hellyons, is the fine, granite Church of St. Andrew, with its lovely and spacious interior. A much older church existed in the village, until it was rebuilt around the mid C15th. Sampford Courtney has many attractive and well cared-for Devon Cottages. I'm particularly intrigued by the one with embossed decorations on its front exterior wall. On it are a pair of monkeys, a horn of plenty, a sheaf of corn and other items. The noble Courtney family were Lords of the Manor here, barring a hiatus during the Wars of the Roses, until 1538.
In the Domesday Book it was named Hadreleia. Hatherleigh's main square, with its carved ram and steer head, shows the importance of farming to the area. An appropriate statue - a tribute to the serious business of farming? - is at the entrance to the marketplace. This charming town has existed for over 1000 years. Market days are on Tuesdays and for livestock. Evidence for Hatherleigh market goes back to at least the C14th. It's a thriving town with many and varied private enterprises. Little hilly streets of pretty cottages lead off the town centre. It had a Church of St. John The Baptist from the C12th.
Northlew, named after the River Lew which runs near by, is part of West Devon. It's a rural village set in pleasant countryside with wooded areas. The earliest parts of the Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury date from the C13th, much of the building being of the C15th and granite. An earlier church would have existed on the site, built in more perishable materials such as wattle and daub and thatching for the roof.
Bondleigh's higher area is half a mile from the bridge over the Taw where the rest of this small and pretty village lies. The parish church of St. James is a fine, historic church dating from Norman times, with some rebuilding and reconstruction from the C15th to C17th.
Monkokehampton is a pleasant village with many traditional Devon cottages. The Church of All Saints overlooks pretty rural countryside and farmland. Except for its tower, it was rebuilt in the mid C19th. There is a useful sign, telling you how far the village is from other places. I'm not sure how useful it is now, but it probably was when the AA placed it on the wall decades ago.
Known as Cheping Tawton in the C12th, it lies on the river Taw. It has since lost its market. Recent years have seen a huge expansion of housing estates.
North Tawton's Church of St. Peter has an interesting, decorative grotesque on one wall. The late Ted Hughes OBE, OM, Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, farmed in this area. Since the C17th, part of a Poet Laureate's payment has been a "butt of sherry sack" (c700 bottles) for his services to the Crown. These would include composing poetry for royal occasions such as weddings, as well as celebrating victories in war. Before the Poet Laureateship became official, English monarchs would have a court "versifier". Richard 1, the Lionheart, had one during his reign from 1189 to 1199.
Jacobstowe (stowe means "holy place") is a fairly small, rural village between Hatherleigh and Sampford Courtney, and north of Okehampton. Pretty thatched cottages sit amid farmland. Among its farms is one for producing cheese. The fisrt picture is of the Church of St. James; the second is of the approach to the church in Summer when the hollyhocks and roses are flowering.
Just a couple of miles outside Okehampton and near Meldon Reservoir, is Quarry Park. Right on the open moorland of Dartmoor, it is a lovely place to wander and explore the moor. It's approached through a farm gate, which must be closed to safeguard the animals you'll see grazing.
There are walks, level or uphill to choose from, streams and waterfalls. The ruined buildings are, I'm informed, from an abandoned glassworks.
Tetcott is a lovely and peaceful rural hamlet, about a mile's walk from Devon's border with Cornwall. There, at Tamerton Bridge, flows the River Deer, a tributary of the River Tamar. Tetcott itself has 5260 acres, much of it let farmland. The hamlet is an ancient one, in the past being owned by renowned Devon families.
The Church of the Holy Cross is largely of the C13th, with some C16th changes. One of these was the addition of the tower. Among the gravestones in the churchyard is this sad memorial to a family's three young children. If you enlarge the thumbnail the inscription is just readable.
Delightful countryside and parkland can be seen from both the church and the manor house. Tescott Manor is said to have been built in 1603. It seems more likely that it was started earlier and completed then. The Arscott family lived in Tetcott from about 1550, establishing the manor as its country seat.
The last Arscott, John - one of quite a few with that Christian name - lived from 1718 or 1719 to 1788. After his death the Manor passed to the Molesworth family, cousins with a seat in Cornwall. Though a hunt would have existed already, this John Arscott established the Tetcott Hunt which flourishes to this day. The WW2 destroyer HMS Tetcott, which saw wartime action in the Mediterranean and was in operation from 1941-1957, was named after the Tetcott Hunt.