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Where olde-worlde charm comes before excitement
Buckfastleigh in general
Member Name: JOHNDMR
Buckfastleigh in general
Date: 22/07/02, updated on 22/07/02 (133 review reads)
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Buckfastleigh is a small, peaceful historic mill town (population approx. 3,300) and Abbey site, situated on the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park, just off the A38, about halfway between Plymouth and Exeter. Buckfast literally means ‘stronghold’, a place where deer and buck were held, while the leigh was the open pasture where animals were grazed.
The town grew up largely around Buckfast Abbey, which was originally founded in Norman times, was re-established as a Cistercian monastery around 1140 and perished after the dissolution during the reign of Henry VIII. In the 19th century the site was acquired by a community of Benedictine monks, and the new Abbey Church was consecrated in 1932.
The other catalyst for the town was the wool production trade. As the settlement was surrounded by water (three rivers - the Dart, Mardle and Dean Burn) and close to Dartmoor, it was ideally situated, with several mills in operation during medieval times. Many of the original late 18th-early 19th century buildings in the town still survive more or less unaltered.
It has several old pubs, hotels, guest houses, plus camping and caravan sites. There are two public parks, a swimming pool, skate park, tennis courts and a bowling green. The range of shops is fairly basic, including a Co-op supermarket, post office, Lloyds Bank, newsagent, and a chippy. For anything within reason in the electrical or computing line, the well-established Searle & Son is hard to beat. We’ve bought our computers, TV, music centres, fridges and washing machines there for the last ten years or so. Among the other speciality shops are Searle (no relation) Casualwear, including footwear and waterproof jackets, and Ratio Plastic Models, for quality model railway kits.
A Farmers’ Market, specialising in local produce, is held every Thursday all the year round, with a range of organic meat and dairy products, bread, pastries and preserv
es second to none. My mother and I swear by this one. (Don’t tell the prime minister, but it is the organisers’ policy not to sell any GM products).
As an ideal base for walking, you can plan your own, and if you want to join an organized one, there is a regular programme of town trails and National Park Guided Walks starting from the town centre. The South Devon coast path is also easily accessible, as are the woodland and riverside walks based on Hembury Hill, managed by the National Trust but free to all.
Buckfast Abbey is a thriving business in itself. Visitors are welcomed to the Abbey, tea rooms, and shops on the precinct specialising in souvenir gifts, books, tonic wine and every different flavour of fudge you can think of, all made on the premises.
The Valiant Soldier is the pub where time was never called (and I’m afraid you won’t get a drink there today). It was the town’s major watering hole for over a hundred years until it closed in 1965. Nothing – even the optics, glasses or small change in the till – was touched until it was bought by a local trust on behalf of the community. In 2000 it was reopened as a time-capsule visitor attraction, with the 1940s and 1950s fittings retained. Currently under construction on the premises is an exhibition of Buckfastleigh’s history and heritage. See www.valiantsoldier.org.uk
Buckfast Butterflies & Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary (1 April-31 October, 10 a.m.-5.30 p.m. or dusk) is a must for anyone interested in wildlife, with exotic butterflies and moths from around the world flying in a tropical landscaped garden, with fish and terrapins as well as the best sighting of otters you’re likely to get. See www.ottersandbutterflies.co.uk
The South Devon Railway (1 April-31 October) is a 7-mile steam operated Great Western branch line running beside the Dart, linking the town to Totnes. It opened
in 1872, the passenger service ceased in 1958 and the line was closed in 1962, but it is now run as a tourist attraction by a registered charity, most of the staff being volunteers. At the station car park are a picnic area, museum, collection of steam locomotives and carriages, play area and maze, café and souvenir shop.
Buckfastleigh has never been a thriving centre of tourism; it’s not the most exciting place in the world – and it has never tried to be. For holidaymakers, shoppers and clubbers, most of the amenities are readily available 30-40 minutes away in Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter, while there is a better range of shops to be had just three miles away at Ashburton, or at Totnes a little further. But as an unassuming Devon market town, it’s full of olde-worlde charm without being a ghost town, and as someone who lives just down the road, I hope it stays that way.
And in one sense, it probably is unique. Did you know that the word Buckfastleigh contains exactly half the letters of the alphabet without repeating one once? Well, you do now.
The town’s website is at www.buckfastleigh.gov.uk