Castle Drogo's reception has been undergoing a makeover for most of the Winter - and beyond. Our pals June and Kenneth run the Mythic Garden about a mile from the Castle, were as interested as we were to go and take a look at the new facilities, not least because it is the closest food retail outlet to Mythic Gardens, and naturally when visitors ask "where can I get something to eat?" Kenneth and team need to know if where they recommend is good enough.
The National Trust have a huge task on their hands, managing to feed the ever changing number of visitors who walk through the doors each day. Reception staff at the Castle seem to manage to stay chipper no matter how big the intake gets. This is the first time we have seen the new meet and greet facilities, and they look light and airy with a
contemporary feel. As soon as entry tickets are purchased, visitors have a 5 minute walk down to the Castle itself, and a great number of them call in to the cafe at some point during a visit. We get out of the car during a short shower, but as we scuttle into the hall, a pleasant hard to resist foody smell is wafting from the cafe doorway. One thing I do know is that Sue Hooper the Manageress there has such a good track record that the food was bound to be good. Sue and her family used to own Whiddon's in Chagford, and before that the Seven Stars at South Tawton, and
prior to that the Crossways Inn at Folly Gate. Rob and I have been ardent fans as all the family are marvellous at the catering trade. Gerald was the most laid back of mine hosts, greeting guests with bonhommie and a thick as you like, despite years in Devon, BlackCountry accent. "Hello my darlin' how are you and your good lookin' husband this fine evein' ?" Sue, her sister and her Mum had perfect command of the cooker, and we never ever had anything but fantastic food from them in over 20 years. Sue's husband Taz was the perfect front of house at Whiddons and it was a sad day for Chagford when Gerald decided that now in his 70's it was time to give his golf clubs some serious attention. Sue is much in evidence here today, she mans the spare till when the main queue gets a little long, she keeps her eye on the main seating area, pointing out two free adjoining tables when a party of six ladies start to fret.
She clears away at used tables, and as the room seems almost to be unning out of space, she deftly opens up some folding doors to reveal what I can only assume is a group of National Trust workers, on a special course maybe, sitting in splendid isolation ..... in the overspill area - the room expands, just in the knick of time ! All the food at the counter looks wholesome and appetising, and I choose chicken cobbler - one of the daily specials.
The cheerful girls at the counter deal swiftly with the queue. We're given a number on a stick to show on our table and during the wait I nip outside with the camera.
It's stopped raining and one youngster is having a fine time smiling at the other customers. He is in one of the high chairs that are on offer. I ask his Mum if I might take his photo and she quickly wipes his face in readiness. Here he is, dear little chap ! It's a good sized outside area, with lots of tables and parasols flanking either side of the cafe. Perfect for sunny days. Or for dropping down your heavy rucksack should you be travelling the nearby Two Moors Way footpath.
It's not too long to wait to be served despite the fact that a coachload of older ladies have arrived and are arguing almost themselves as to who should sit where. My chicken cobbler is wonderfullyfull of flavour with good size chunks of chicken, celery, carrots, leek and a beautifully light scone lid. June, Rob and Kenneth all choose
the vegetable quiche, made in the kitchen that morning and it too gets the thumbs up all round. Sadly Kenneth managed to dip his beautiful silk tie into his salad dressing mid meal, and I quickly took another shot. I did say I wouldn't use it in the review, but ..... you know how heartless I can be... "Sorry Kenneth".
Good to see a Children's Menu on offer. A hot meal of macaroni cheese and bacon at £3.50 or a Trust picnic box - carton of juice, bread roll and filling and any 2 items, presumably of cake or side salad at £2.95. Fresh apples, a fresh soup each day and reassurance that wherever possible all the ingredients come from local suppliers.
I manage to get a few minutes to speak to Sue and she praises the young chef in the kitchen, telling me that he is as keen to promote local food as she is, and there is indeed a card on each table telling us all that the milk cream and ice cream are produced in Chagford itself at Devonshire Farmhouse Ice Cream (it's brill) and as far as possible all the veg, meat and fresh food is sourced and bought locally.
As with any of the National Trust properties in the area, there's a lot going on at Castle Drogo right up to Christmas, usually mentioned in our What's on Diary page, so with such good fresh food as this, I will be calling in again whenever I am up there taking pictures for The Okehampton Times.
Outside the Visitor Centre stands an 'A' frame with a heading saying 'Time well spent' It refers to a general visit to the Castle, but I think it's worth nipping in to the Cafe at any time. Parking is free with disabled parking close at hand. All the pathways are gently sloped which if you have young children or a wheelchair, as a positive boon.
I've lost the note I made of the prices, but will get in touch with the Castle and ask them to let me have some for you.
Castle Drogo between Drewsteignton and Chagford, Dartmoor. Tel 01647 433306. All pics by me, Jill Pendleton.