Moor the Merrier - In search of the spirit of Christmas at the Bearslake Inn
In countries where Christmas is celebrated, the population probably divides fairly neatly into those who love Christmas and revel in every aspect of the festive season, and those who actively dislike it. I suspect there aren’t many who can take it or leave it.
For some, the festive season cannot start until they catch the mood, like plugging in to the energy. It might be the smell of wood smoke or hearing a carol, or perhaps seeing the John Lewis or Coca Cola Truck commercials on television.
But at the back end of November on a cold Wednesday evening, we set out to visit another hostelry on the Dartmoor Real Ale Trail and we caught the Spirit of Christmas.
The Bearslake Inn and Restaurant Accommodation is tucked away in the North West corner of Dartmoor, in the hamlet of Lake. It is easy to find being as it is located between Tavistock and Okehampton on the A386. The building itself is an old Devon Longhouse which, in times of yore, accommodated humans and animals under one roof and if you turn right after entering through the front door, you will find yourself in what used to be called the Shippen or animal accommodation.
The Bearslake was a busy working farm and a Grade II listed building and was converted to three cottages in the 1930s. It wasn’t until 1959 that it was converted firstly to tea rooms and then a public house. The present owners are keen to protect the heritage and authenticity of building and have worked hard to preserve any original features.
The Stable Restaurant is the newest part of the building having been added in the 1980's. The sizeable and comfortable area was set up for evening meals and looked fantastic. It can seat up to 40 people.
At lunchtimes and some evenings, food is served in the Dartmoor Room. This is the oldest part of the building, dating from the 16th century, and boasts thick granite walls and a gorgeous fireplace.
Food was not available at the time of our visit, but the menu looked gorgeous with locally sourced food, accompanied by a reasonable price tag.
Now, bearing in mind the time of year we made our visit, the pub was already decorated for Christmas and there were Christmas songs playing quietly on the sound system.
This was a refreshing change from the bars I visit elsewhere, where the Jukebox is so loud it makes your ears bleed and you have to shout a conversation in to someone’s ear to be heard! Please take note, landlords, music, if you play it, should be background and not foreground unless it is live. (Puts soap box away and continues…)
The first thing that greets visitors is an impressive array of spirits behind the bar. This array includes more than twenty five different whiskies.
At the time of our visit, there were only two real ales available; Otter and Dartmoor Legend. I tried both – as well as a Glenmorangie chaser!
We fully intended to move on after a couple of halves, but we were captivated by the atmosphere of the bar.
The owners had been out on to the moors collecting branches discarded by the forestry commission and had fashioned a simple but stunning display of the branches bedecked with hundreds of white lights. It was warm and quietly beautiful so we were magnetised to our seats for about an hour and a half.
The ale was in good form and locally sourced as well.
The Otter Ale was cool and full flavoured. It is a spicy bitter with an admirable smoothness that is rich and fruity on the tongue. Dartmoor Legend is lighter in colour but with an enticing aroma of an old bakery. It has an almost delicate palate in which citrus blends with toffee. Mine was the first pint of Legend pulled that day, and if it can still taste good when served under those circumstances, it is a fine beer indeed. Unfortunately the barrel ran out just three pints later.
The staff and locals were friendly and welcoming and told us of how the garden is a lovely feature of the pub and has views across farm land up to the rugged heights of the moor and that Sourton Tor, Corn Ridge and the Great Links Tor are just a walk away.
We made a mental note to return again in the summer in the hope that the staff get their way and the wonderful decorations stay as a year round feature!
In the wider historical context, the name of Bearslake is a corruption of the old Devon word, Bere, which means ‘wooded place’ which, taking in to account the decorations, was very appropriate in this instance. Lake is the name of the hamlet in which the pub resides. Lake, according to local legend is named after a battle between the villages of Sourton and Bridestowe during the English Civil War. One village was staunchly Royalist and the other was fiercely Parliamentarian. The ensuing carnage left many dead and a lake of blood. Lake now has a population of just 16.
Oh, and one more thing……. The Bearslake Inn is said to be haunted by a young girl named Kathy. Several guests have reported weeping and moaning from Room Number Two when no guests are staying there. Apparently, a medium visited the Inn a few years ago and picked up on the solemn spirit and announced that it was the ghost of a young girl who worked there, but tragically fell down the staircase to her death.
I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this story, but it would not surprise me if it were true. After all, as I reported earlier, the inn does boast an impressive array of spirits!
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