- Rick O'Shay
A warm welcome at The Drake Manor Inn
A pub can be a magical place.
In his 1968 book, ‘Journey Through Britain,’ John Hillaby said, “Few things are more pleasant than a village graced with a good church, a good priest and a good pub” and I think he got it just about right.
Buckland Monachorum is a charming unspoilt village within the Dartmoor National Park surrounded by glorious countryside.
Towering over the village is the beautiful church of St.Andrews and nestling snugly up against it is The Drake Manor Inn. The local priest was not in evidence when we visited, but as luck would have it, I had one with me and John Hillaby’s three stars were thus aligned!
Just a short distance from Yelverton and within easy access of Plymouth and Tavistock, the Inn nestling between the church and the stream is an ideal place to relax and enjoy the charm of this historic community.
The village is famous for its association with Sir Francis Drake, who lived at Buckland Abbey just outside the town. Indeed, Drake's pew is within the church, with a carving of his ship, the Golden Hind, incised in the side panel.
The Drake Manor Inn was originally built to house the skilled workers constructing St Andrews Church in the 12th century. The present church was built a little later in around 1490 on the site of the earlier one, and has always had close links with Buckland Abbey, a mile or so to the south.
The pub building was acquired by Drake in the 1600s and may have been the former church house.
It became part of the Buckland Abbey estate and was used as a maltings where grain was steeped and prepared for brewing.
It is said that some of the beams and timbers in the Inn could have come from some of Drake’s old sailing boats, but wherever they came from, they certainly create bags of atmosphere, charm and character.
The Drake Manor offers a big, warm welcome and a very good selection of locally sourced home cooked food along with local ales, ciders and wines from two delightful bars.
I noticed that the menu sourced home-reared pork, honey from their own bees and, tantalisingly, handmade pork pies served with Jail Ale chutney.
The friendly landlady, Mandy Robinson, has been licensee at the Drake Manor Inn since 1989 and has run this charming little pub with great care and thought. She and her smiling staff made us extremely welcome and she proudly showed us around.
The heavily beamed public bar had a warm and intimate feel to it and on our visit, the locals too were friendly and welcoming. There were long tables with cushioned wall seats and old photograph prints of the village from 1905. There was some horse tack, some ship’s crests and wood burning stoves in some very big stone fireplaces.
There is also a dart board sited in the only available place it could go. It is featured in some of the old photographs and obviously hasn’t moved for at least a hundred years.
This being so; if there is a game going on when you visit, and you choose to sit at the table in front of the wood burner, be prepared to duck. Otherwise your evening could well turn out to be a re-enactment of The Little Big Horn!
Adjacent to the dart board, a small arch from the bar leads on to a gorgeous low-beamed snug room hung with tiny cups and big brass keys.
The second bar fronts a small beamed dining room with settles and tables on flagstones. There is a further area next to the kitchen that at one time was the landlord’s front room.
There is a lovely cottage garden to the side of the pub, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Morris Men perform outside in the summer and there is occasional mellow acoustic music in the bar, probably very much like it was in Drake’s day.
Mandy told us that she prided herself on on running a ‘proper pub’, with a menu of locally-sourced delights. The full dining room was proof that the Inn serves good food at sensible prices and indeed in 2017 it was the ‘Best Value Pub of the Year’ in The CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
It was compared to fellow pubs across the country but judges decided that when based on the criteria of having ‘interesting main courses for under £11,’ then there was only one winner. The Drake Manor Inn.
I admit, my attention wavered from time to time as I couldn’t take my eyes off the pork pies displayed on the bar as Mandy told me, “Our menu feature traditional and speciality home cooked food which is locally sourced with the emphasis on freshness. It was wonderful to be rewarded for our efforts.
Self-contained bed and breakfast accommodation is available upstairs in the pub and dogs are welcome in the main bar and garden.”
We were a little bit too late to sample the food menu, but the ‘Squealer Pork Pie and Jail Ale Chutney’ was making my mouth water.
Real ales are tried and tested gaining cask marque and CAMRA accreditation.
On our visit I tasted Sharp’s Atlantic and Dartmoor Jail Ale.
Sharp’s Atlantic Bitter is a golden beer with a fruity nose and taste notes of barley sugar and grapefruit at a steady 4.5% ABV. Sharp's flagship bitter, Doom Bar was also on sale, but I have never tried Atlantic, so I thought I’d give it a go. It presented as an amber golden ale with a thin white head. The aroma was clean and almost medicinal. The taste was more malty and biscuity with a kind of dry bitterness that grew more pleasing as the glass emptied. A refreshing ale that does not taste as strong as it claims to be.
I finished, rather predictably with a pint of Dartmoor Jail Ale. Sir Francis Drake himself could have said that ‘this beer is as smooth as a cashmere codpiece’ if he had been lucky enough to taste it. Brewed by Dartmoor Brewery this is a full and reassuring deep and golden brown coloured bitter has a sweet burnt, malty and fruity quality with a distinctive hoppy aroma and a yeasty caramel taste.
It should be said that we felt totally relaxed and completely at home in the Drake Manor Inn.
Surrounded by its cosy, rich history, it felt like we had stepped in to a time warp that was at once evocative and reassuring.
There was an offer for a 'Take Me Home-2 Pints' advertised on the door so my driver, as I now refer to my wife, much to her chagrin, could take a treat home for me as well!
She elected not to.
However I had already decided that my going home treat was going to be a handmade pork pie with Jail Ale chutney. It was presented to me in a proper take away container as well.
The Drake Manor Inn - A welcome as warm as the wood burning stoves inside. A proper old fashioned pub with memories that will certainly linger longer than my pork pie – which was consumed later with a further flourish…. Jail Ale mustard!
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