- Rick O'Shay
Moor the Merrier - The Rugglestone Inn possibly the top country pub in the UK
The Rugglestone Inn is firmly on the tourist map, nestling as it does, close to Widecombe on the Moor. The town is famed for its Fair …..and folk song, ‘Widecombe Fair’ which contains the chorus, ‘Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all…..’ which is often sung in the pub, apparently.
The Rugglestone Inn is surrounded by the Dartmoor National Park and with its 368 square miles area of moorland; it acts as a magnet for walkers, bikers and all other types of recreation seekers, many of whom seek refreshment in the pub.
We were hunting beer. The wife was acting as chauffer, thank goodness! It began raining heavily as we set off from Plymouth and a blustery wind completed the picture of an Autumn storm.
I cast my eyes doubtfully to the sky.
Black clouds sprawled across the horizon, billowing in from the west as the downpour grew heavier.
The charcoal sky drained colour from the houses and trees. The rain sheened the cars and made rooftops glint blackly in the darkness. Gale force winds heaved sideways and drove curtains of rain in tattered ribbons in our headlights glare. It was certainly not a night for tourists, but beer hunters are made of sterner stuff!
Google maps took us through narrow lanes by the shortest route and we were glad of the in-car charger! To lose power at the edge of Dartmoor in a storm would have been the stuff of nightmares.
The Rugglestone Inn was just a farmhouse at that time and not a pub at all. Legend has it that another pub used to stand at the top road between White Gate and Cold east Cross. It became a popular place for tin miners and farmworkers to drink after a day’s toil, but their wives grew tired of their menfolk frittering away their hard-earned money and one night in 1823, they allegedly burnt the pub to the ground.
Rather than rebuild the pub, the licence was transferred to the farmhouse that is now known as the Rugglestone inn and it has remained largely unchanged and unspoiled ever since. In fact the only ‘modernisation’ in 200 years came in 1992 when the front room became the bar. It was then listed as one of the smallest pubs in England.
The name Rugglestone is derived a nearby logan stone, which is a large piece of granite naturally balanced on a larger piece of granite, allowing it to rock.
There were many such natural formations on Dartmoor that were once considered sacred and they became important meeting places for village elders in medieval times.
But some things never change. The logan stone near the pub has ceased to rock since it was vandalised by youths in the early 1800s.
Upon our arrival, we fought through the rain and past a car park decently full of Land Rovers and 4x4s and we hunted for a way in to the pub, but on such a foul night, all doors were closed.
We had to be guided by a local and entered by what looked like someone’s front door, but what a welcome awaited us!
A bright wood burning stove warmed the front bar inhabited by only five other people, Richard, the cheery landlord, gave us a friendly welcome and was managing the bar alone.
We arrived at 21:05hrs on the dot, and although food had stopped being served at 21:00 hrs, he made sure the chef rustled something up, in my case, a cauliflower and walnut carbonara!
I opted for a pint of Dartmoor Legend to accompany it. It seemed appropriate. Although it was only launched in 2010 it seemed that we were surrounded by West Country legends and the name said it all.
Richard, the cheery landlord dispensed the ale straight from the barrel on a rack behind the bar. This was pure tradition and gave a full experience of the smooth, full-flavoured beer in its natural cask conditioned state.
Legend is golden brown in colour with an enticing aroma of freshly baked bread with a hint and a hint of spice. It has a light citrus and caramel taste that seems to fill out on the aftertaste. Delightful!
The Rugglestone offers and promotes a number of real ales and all of them are served directly from the barrel. They have a good turnover, so the beers are kept at their very best.
Teignworthy's 'Rugglestone Moor Beer' and Dartmoor Breweries 'Legend' are available at all times and guest ales, mainly from the South West augment the authentic portfolio.
It should also be said that some local farm ciders are available with guest cider on board from time to time.
I accompanied my meal with a pint of Otter Amber Ale, one of the guest beers.
Another golden amber ale with a nose of spicy pineapple with a full bodied taste of soft fruit with a crisp bitter kick. There was almost a hint of ginger in there as well. Both beers went admirably with my meal.
As I chomped and drank, I listened in on the conversations around me. The bar had now filled with seven more men and was almost full! My wife was the only lady in the bar, though other diners were in the two back rooms.
One man spoke of being on the farm that had been in his family since 1420 and another reminisced about local history. It really is a proper community local. Pictures of the church bellringers adorn the wall and there are notices for other community events on the board.
I ran my hand across the slate window sill and gazed once more around the room. Occasionally the door hinges would squeal as people came and went. Quiet laughter and low conversation swirled in the heat from the wood burning stove.
It is all too easy to imagine the people who have used this bar for two hundred years. In my mind I could picture the place as though it were still a front room with local ghosts sidling up to the fire to keep warm or sipping ale drawn from a barrel. It felt for a moment like no time had passed since at all and we coincided here together just as it is and just as it ever was.
Apparently, the pub was once the base for the “Widecombe Sick Club”.
Prior to the establishment of the NHS, the local community formed its own type of private medical service. Local farmers and businesses contributed to a village fund that was run from the inn: if anyone from the community was in need, funds would be allocated from the Club to meet the cost of their medical or social care.
The committee held monthly meetings in the front room, which is now the bar, and all administrative documents were locked in the Club chest, kept there to this day.
The Rugglestone certainly maintains its traditional roots and an atmosphere of cosy rural welcome.
It even makes a nod to its 18th century beginnings as a farmhouse; for visitors in kinder weather are greeted by pigs, goats, ducks, chickens and a turkey!
A word about St Pancras Church, which can be plainly seen near the pub.
Known as the "Cathedral of the Moors" it was built in the fourteenth century using locally quarried granite and was enlarged over the following two centuries, partly on the proceeds of the local tin mining industry.
Inside it, the ceiling is decorated with a large number of decorative roof bosses, including the Tinner’s emblem of a circle of Three Hares. The name of another great beer!
But I digress. The church was badly damaged in the Great Thunderstorm of 1638, apparently struck by ball lightning during an afternoon service. The building was packed with about 300 worshippers, four of whom were killed and around 60 injured.
Local legend relates that the disaster was caused by a visit from the Devil.
Later, during research for this piece, I read that the American actor, Daniel Stern, best known for his role as one of the burglars in ‘Home Alone’ once guested on a reality show called ‘Celebrity Ghost Stories.’
He claimed to have had an unsettling, and possibly supernatural experience while on a brief visit to Widecombe on his honeymoon in 1980. He also said that people in the region consider the whole area to be haunted and blame the Great Thunderstorm of 1638.
Who can say he’s wrong?
HOT OFF THE PRESS
As part of the BBC Countryfile Magazine awards 2018 we are delighted that the The Rugglestone inn. has been selected as one of their Top 5 country pubs in the UK. For more information go to http://www.countryfile.com/bbc-countryfile-magazine-awards-2018 and click on the country pub of the year.
From here it goes to a public vote to select an overall winner and runner up! Richard and Vicki at the Rugglestone are delighted to have been nominated in the top 5 but hope with the support of you all they may be able to go a little further!
So please spare a few minutes to look at the Country file awards 2018 website and place a vote for The Rugglestone as Country Pub of the year 2018.
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