The winning entry of the Love Cottages Trusted Travel Writer competition written by Christine Phillips
At the heart of Dartmoor’s great wilderness is a truly magical gem, rich in culture and natural beauty. Small but beautifully formed, call Chagford a ‘village’ at your peril. Locals are fiercely – and justifiably – proud of their miniature town.
The lanes that wind to it are a virtual dead end, with nothing beyond but time-forgotten farmsteads and heather-purpled Dartmoor slopes. Yet mention Chagford around the world and you’ll be amazed how many respond with a smile of recognition.
What makes Chagford so special? Could it be its tin mining history, its powerful courts tasked by Edward I to collect the bounty? Pick out the ‘Tinners’ Hares’, the miners’ talisman, amongst the dusty carved bosses on the vaulted ceiling of the church. Pause too by the altar, like Chagford’s newlyweds who pluck a blossom from their bouquets, to pay respects to the 1641 tomb of ‘a matron yet a maid’ shot at the church door on her wedding day.
Maybe Chagford’s charm lies in its sheltered location beside the mighty River Teign gushing from the deadly bogs of Dartmoor. Follow flashes of kingfisher blue downriver through woodland to Castle Drogo, now owned by the National Trust. Or puff skywards up the bracken-umber twin hills of Meldon and Nattadon, the backdrop to the town with edge-of-the-world views to hazy Exmoor.
Explore the winding streets and you’ll discover pretty much everything amongst the curious cluster of shops around the octagonal 16th century ‘Pepperpot’. Bowdens is the famous hardware store with old fashioned courtesy and treasure. Staff will cheerfully spend half an hour hunting down a single screw. The cost? “Ten pence, Madam.” Fine wines, Seasalt clothing, baskets, artisan leatherwork and antiques: all are found in Chagford’s shoppers’ paradise.
Revive yourself with rich coffee and homemade biscuits in the smart glass atrium of the Three Crowns pub, said to be haunted by the Civil War Cavalier poet who expired in the porch from a fatal musket wound. A choice of three other pubs and a deli make this a delicious foodie destination.
Don’t leave without a bracing dip in the picturesque lido fed by fresh water from the River Teign. The pool, excavated by spades in the 1930s, might account for the famous longevity of Chagfordians and the tea shed will soon revive you. There’s a great choice of self-catering cottages around the town for sleeping off the excitement.