Now that the winter is well and truly upon us, there’s nowhere better to take refuge than in one of Dartmoor’s many cosy pubs whose charm and setting have remained constant for hundreds of years.
In the centre of Meavy village lies The Royal Oak Inn, a lovely traditional village pub which serves local food and a warm welcome.
It is documented as being in existence since 1510 and was once known as The Church House Inn, but there is also evidence that there was a brew house at the site from as early as 1102.
The Royal Oak was, and still is, owned by the church and is probably the only pub in England & Wales owned by a Parish Council. To this day, the church parish of Burrator still retains responsibility for choosing the tenant to run the Royal Oak and it’s current choice is Mr Stephen Earp.
Originally the balance of funds from the lease of the pub were used for the benefit of the residents of the Parish of Meavy, but now the monies are used to help keep down the council tax for properties within Burrator Parish Council.
Meavy itself is a small and pretty village in south west Dartmoor. It lies a mile or so east of Yelverton and is surrounded by rolling hills and babbling rivers.
If character is want you want from a pub visit, then you would be hard pressed to find a better place than the Royal Oak. There is charm in abundance, with exposed beams and original slate flooring. On a cold day, there is also a large welcoming log fire to warm your toes by as you enjoy the real ales on offer, or perhaps you may want to tuck in to the excellent food for which the pub is renowned.
The menu is locally sourced and changes regularly.
To the front of the pub on the village green is the oak tree that gives the pub its name. It was also one of ten trees that are the finalists in England's Tree of the Year 2017, an annual search for the nation's best loved tree.
The ‘Royal’ title was added because tradition has it that this oak was one of the many in which King Charles 1st was said to have hidden - but as you would expect the histories of the oak and the inn are inextricably linked and woven with myth and legend.
Local tradition has it that the tree was planted in the reign of King John (1166 – 1216) and that the age of the tree is probably around 960 years old or possibly older.
The oak is also said to be the fourth largest oak tree in Devon and the gap in the tree’s trunk was once used as a peat store by the landlord of the Royal Oak. It is entirely possible that the tree was a ‘gospel oak’ to which visiting preachers would come and conduct services under the shelter of its branches.
In the 1970s the tree was protected by the installation of props to give it support and the crown of the tree reduced to prevent collapse. However, despite all of this, the tree is still very much alive and comes in to leaf every spring.
To the front of the tree is a cross which was erected in the 15th Century to consecrate the tree and to the rear of the tree on the village green is a local war memorial.
At least one meal was bizarrely held within the tree’s cavity!
The landlady of the pub is recorded as having entertained nine guests there in 1826.
Also recorded is that fact that each year and the crown of the tree was trimmed so that a platform could be erected in it in time for the famous Meavy Oak Fair.
Locals would then climb up to the platform by ladder, and feast and drink and dance in the treetop.
One wonders how the Health and Safety Regulations of modern times would have dealt with that situation today!
The Meavy Oak Fair is still celebrated on the third Saturday of June every year and still includes May Pole dancing, feasting and drinking.
Anyway, on to the beer and my wife and I chose a pint of Otter Amber and a Dartmoor Jail Ale on the cold December evening of our visit.
The Jail Ale was mightily impressive with the distinctive orangey nose and deep golden brown colour. It comes in at a quite hefty 4.8% ABV but excels in its full, smooth, caramel palate.
The Otter Amber is the local favourite session beer at a more sedate 4%. It has an amber gold colour and a slightly citrusy aroma and a pleasant kind of bittersweet biscuit taste.
As we drank, we chatted to the friendly bar person featured in our picture. Bar staff Pete claimed to be the Royal Oak pin up boy who has his own fan club!
It is a pity then, that Pete did not put himself forward to be in Steven Spielberg’s film, ‘War Horse’ that was filmed around the Meavy and Sheepstor area in 2010 because many of the extras in the film were recruited from local villages, particularly Meavy.
Nearby Ditsworthy Warren House was used as the home of the Narracott family and was the main control centre for this opening chapter of the film.
But for anyone still undecided about visiting this gorgeous corner of Dartmoor, I will leave the last words to Mr.Spielberg himself.
“I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor. With two-and-a-half weeks of extensive coverage of landscapes and skies, I hardly scratched the surface of the visual opportunities that were offered to me.”
Why not go and find out for yourself?
Rick began life in the licensed trade as a manager and took his first tenancy at the Queens Hotel in Baildon, West Yorkshire in 1985. He fell in love with the Autovac dispense system of Yorkshire beer serving a tight creamy head and vowed to recreate it in Plymouth one day. He served as a staff trainer for Tetley Brewery in the days when they still had one!
After the birth of his daughter it became his mission to raise her in Plymouth and on a trip to watch his beloved Plymouth Argyle play in the FA Cup against Everton, he saw a pub that had been closed due to fire called The Grapes. By 1989 he had signed a 10 year tenancy deal and completely refurbished the pub creating a Yorkshire theme and changed its name to the Three Ferrets, which was the name of the pub in the John Smiths TV advertising campaign. John Smiths cask ale was imported from Tadcaster especially for him and trade boomed. The pub became a destination and was packed solid at weekends. Inspired by ‘The Good Old Days’ TV show, a Sunday Night Show called ‘The Old Fat Hippy’s Golden Oldies Funshow’ became notorious and earned the pub a mention on the national news due to a ‘Clocking On’ machine for regulars.
Julian Tarrant-Boyce was his most able and trusted bar manager and the two shared many trips to beer festivals and hostelries on their quest for the perfect pint. Rick still enjoys trips to breweries up and down the country and is dismayed by the difficulties now facing the licensed trade. Several awards later he became a representative for a wine company and a fan of single malt whisky.
There is nothing that Rick enjoys more than a trip to a well-run pub that serves good local ale. Because of his knowledge of the brewing process and vast range of beers, both local and national, it makes Rick a perfect beer blogger for our ale trail. And by the way, he still performs music and comedy in pubs throughout the South West