A Short Break in Chagford

Chagford is a lively community with a distinctly artistic streak, set in some of Dartmoor's finest scenery. If you're a lover of the great outdoors, you'll find plenty to keep you occupied.

Chagford lies in what must be one of the most idyllic locations in the Dartmoor National Park. Set in the shelter of the wooded and gorse-covered Meldon Hill, Chagford is a traditional moorland town with granite and thatch everywhere and it's a unique place that deservedly attracts visitors from all over the world.

The name of the town literally means 'gorse ford' and the ford was the original crossing of the River Teign, though this has been much improved now by the addition of a bridge.

Man has inhabited this area for thousands of years, with the town probably being established in Saxon times. Much of the town's wealth was derived from wool and tin mining, and in 1305 Chagford was made a Stannary town - one of only four in Devon - where miners brought their tin for weighing and valuing. Today, Chagford is a thriving community with a distinct artistic streak, and has a great deal to offer visitors.

Eating out

There are many eating places within easy walking distance of the town square. The Courtyard CafÈ (01647 432571) is a pleasant organic cafÈ with the option to eat alfresco in its sunny courtyard. It serves a range of freshly baked cakes, seasonal soups and salads, and much more. 22 Mill Street (01647 432244) is both the address and name of this popular and intimate restaurant. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday and lunches from Tuesday to Sunday, it offers fixed-price menus and describes its cooking as 'Modern European'.

The Ring O'Bells (01647 432466) serve lunches from 12 noon to 3pm and dinner from 6pm to 9pm. It offers an extensive menu consisting of locally sourced food, served in a warm and friendly atmosphere. A bit further up the street The Globe (01647 433485) overlooks the churchyard. The house speciality is fresh fish, and there are at least four choices of curry on the menu, as well as various steak and chicken dishes. Whiddons (01647 433406) is a 16th-century eating house very close to the town centre. The proprietors offer everything from cream teas through to lunch and dinner menus, all of which are very reasonably priced.

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Life in Chagford revolves around the eight-sided Market House - a focal point for the town - built on the site of the old Stannary Court. There are over 30 shops trading in the town, so this is very much a thriving place to be.

Directly opposite the Market House are the 'institutions' of Chagford - the hardware stores James Bowden & Son and Webber & Sons. These remarkable shops have been existence for over 100 years and are known locally as 'the shops that have everything'. Step inside and you could be lost for hours, browsing through endless shelves of everything from walking gear to teapots. Bowdens also has a small museum with exhibits illustrating the early days of the shop and Chagford life over the centuries.

Across the other side of the square, The Big Red Sofa is Chagford's bookshop with a difference. No high-pressure selling here, just the opportunity to browse a wide range of titles and enjoy a cup of the shop's high-quality coffee or tea and organic cakes while ensconced in the plush leather of their 'red sofas'.

In a corner of the square, Blacks Delicatessen offers an enticing range of food and drink, including pasties, pies, cakes and their delicious home-made quiches.

If the hours of exploration leave you feeling jaded, the Beauty Tree offers a wide range of beauty treatments - everything from facials and pedicures through to reiki and reflexology.

Three things to take home

The Moorland Dairy (01647 432479) sells milk and clotted cream made at its own premises just outside Chagford.

As well as a huge range of food and drink, Blacks Delicatessen (01647 433545) makes and sells its own delicious range of quiches on the premises.

Chagford Galleries (01647 433287) is home to 'Devon's Nature in Art' - a unique collection of art by well-known artist Eleanor Ludgate, who co-owns the gallery with her husband. Eleanor can often be seen working in her studio at the back of the gallery. Her original paintings portray wildlife, views and nature of Devon and are available for purchase at the gallery. Monks Withecombe Gallery, a mile north of the town, is another good outlet for contemporary art.

Where to stay?

Chagford has a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets, with a considerable number situated right in the heart of the town. Most of the town's pubs also offer accommodation, including the Bullers Arms (01647 432438) which was a finalist in the 2007 Devon Life Food and Drink Awards, Best Country Pub category.

The Ring O'Bells (01647 432466) stands at the very centre of Chagford, next to the well-known hardware emporiums of James Bowden & Sons and Webber & Sons. The pub offers good ales and wines, locally sourced home-cooked food, and a friendly atmosphere. Their four en-suite bedrooms have recently been extensively refurbished and there is the choice of either a full English or Continental breakfast. The Globe Inn (01647 433485) has also had a considerable refurbishment and offers high-quality accommodation. If self-catering is your thing, Helpful Holidays (01647 433593) offers a brochure with hundreds of self-catering properties, many of them local.

Mill End Hotel (01647 432282) is situated in a superb location on the banks of the Teign. As one of the AA's top 200 hotels in the UK, you can be assured of an outstanding stay here. With an award-winning restaurant, excellent wine list and comfy sofas, the hotel is surrounded by wonderful walking - it is also a dog-friendly hotel.

At the very top end of the scale, in every sense, sits Gidleigh Park Hotel, pictured right (01647 432367). Set in 24 acres of outstanding woodland and gardens, this luxurious country house hotel has been extensively refurbished and boasts a two-Michelin-star restaurant run by local chef Michael Caines.

What to do in and around the town

The town is surrounded by some of Dartmoor's most spectacular scenery, with great walks just about everywhere. Particular delights in the area are Meldon Hill, which offers panoramic views, and beyond are Kes Tor and Fernworthy Forest, which are all excellent starting points for walks, with direct access to the open moors. Several companies in the area run guided tours - among them are Godolphin Heritage Tours (01647 433291), who offer tailor-made tours of Chagford and the moors by foot, bike or luxury car.

The countryside around Chagford is an obvious draw for the equine crowd. Beechland Farm (01647 432144) offers holidays for both riders and their horses, with accommodation and stabling on their farm. It will also source riding locally for you if you don't own a horse. The Miniature Pony Centre (01647 432400) is a must for families with small children - an opportunity to get hands-on with over 150 animals in their 20 acres of Dartmoor parkland.

Fly Fishing Devon (01647 433373) leads fishing trips and will teach fly-fishing skills on Dartmoor's rivers and lakes with their qualified game-angling instructors.

Stone Lane Gardens (01647 231311) is a delightful five-acre woodland and water garden - home to important national collections of birch and alder species from around the world. During the summer months the gardens present a large and imaginative collection of sculptures, going under the name of the Mythic Garden.

If the summer heat gets too much then Chagford Swimming Pool is just a short walk from the town. The pool is open from May to September and is billed as the largest outdoor freshwater swimming pool in Devon. The pool is fed from the nearby river and its temperature controlled by solar pool covers.

The 15th-century church of St Michael features fine carvings including the three joined rabbits symbol, which was adopted by local tin miners as their Stannary town symbol. There is also an inscription to Mary Whiddon, who was shot and killed on the church steps after her marriage there in 1641. This incident was widely thought to be the inspiration for RD Blackmore's Lorna Doone.

Finally, Castle Drogo (01647 433306) is a must-see - the last castle to be built in England, by Sir Edwin Lutyens, it stands high above the Teign Gorge with commanding views over Dartmoor.


What's On

12-13 July: Chagstock live music festival. Contact Simon Ford (07775 844723)

19-22 July: Chagford Arts Festival. A wide range of events at various venues around town, featuring music, dance, art, poetry and much more besides

Whiddon Youth Forum Festival of Youth. Venues all around Chagford. Contact Rosina Kellman (01647) 281651

Tennis Club Tournament. Boys and girls, 11 years and above. Jubilee Park

Macmillan Cancer Support. An American Evening with the Blue Pineapple Club. Jubilee Hall. (01647) 432488

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