Buckfastleigh is a small but diverse market town just off the Devon Expressway on the south eastern edge of Dartmoor National Park. It is an attract tourist spot with a number of popular attractions, both ancient and modern, in and around the town, including the Benedictine Buckfast Abbey, South Devon Railway, Buckfastleigh butterfly farm and the Valiant Soldier. Buckfastleigh is an ideal location for holidaymakers to explore the moors, by cycling or walking, but also close enough to the beaches around Torquay and the South West Coast Path.
A Brief History
The original name of the town was Buck-tied-fast-in-the-leigh. Buckfast refers to the stronghold where deer and bucks were held and the leigh is for the open pasture. In 1018 King Canute endorsed a Benedictine Abbey at Buckfast. The abbey became a Cistercian Monastery fourty years later and they were associated with the wool trade and sheep husbandry which in Buckfastleigh was ideal due to the location – near to the moor for grazing but also close to the water with the local rivers Dart, Mardle and Dean Burn nearby. By the end of the 16th century there were five mills in operation although this increased during the industrial revolution to include textile mills, a tannery, corn and paper mills in the 19th century when there was also an increase in public buildings in the town and population. The layout from medieval times is still visible in Buckfastleigh today, especially in Fore Street, with the architecture in the town centre mostly late 18th century to early 20th century.
Points of Interest
Buckfast Abbey is till inhabited by Benedictine monks and is famous for its tonic wine. The monks also keep a farm and bee hives. The area surrounding the abbey is stunning and the feeling of calm and serenity this provides is worth the visit. The abbey itself is an impressive building and the stained glass windows are excellent examples and compliment the building perfectly. The abbey holds regular concerts and it is also possible to stay at the abbey and taste the whole experience.
The Buckfast Butterfly farm and otter sanctuary is a lovely and educational day out and can be combined with a trip on the steam railway. The otters enjoy being fed by the keepers and you can view all stages of the creation of the butterflies with an impressive range of species.
For the energetic a visit to Dart Rock Climbing centre is essential. An indoor climbing centre which caters for all levels of climbers with a café as well. There is also abseiling, high walls and an artificial cave system.
Holy Trinity Church is situated on a hill between Buckfast and Buckfastleigh. It was burnt down in 1992, leaving the shell of the 13th century building with its impressive spire. The bells survived and still rung to this day. The graveyard is still used and includes the metal barred tomb of the Cabell family who were once Lords of the Manor. Legend has it that black dogs breathing fire came across Dartmoor to howl at one particular member of the families tomb – this provided the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. There are 196 steps down from the Church ruins to Station Road, two of which are laid in the opposite direction to the others and called the ‘Wishing Steps’ as it is said that a secret wish made on them will come true.
The William Pengelly Cave Studies Centre houses the finds of the extensive system of caves under the Holy Trinity Church. Fossilised remains of woolly mammoths and sabre toothed tigers have been found there dating back 100,000 years. This area has been declared a site of special scientific interest and is not open to the general public as it is also home to a population of Horseshoe Bats.
Just one mile outside Buckfastleigh is Pennywell Farm and Wildlife centre which is an award winning activity park with animals. This includes displays, animal rides, unique breeds and a range of fun activity for all the family to enjoy. There is parking and a café as well.
Valiant soldier is a pub that closed in 1960 and was then reopened as a museum. The building dates back to 1700’s although the first mention of it being a pub dates to 1813. In 1965 when the associated brewery removed the licence the pub was closed and the landlord walked out of the pub leaving it as it was creating a time capsule to be opened later when it was made into a museum and visitors information centre.
South Devon Railway is the longest established steam railway in the South West and travels from Buckfastleigh through to Totnes providing glorious views with nostalgia and a full day’s entertainment for all the family.
Devonia is the oldest established sheepskin tannery using traditional processing techniques, to produce luxurious products. The Jellyfish Art Hub on Fore Street is a wonderful gallery showing local artists as well as a café, a drop in for classes and music events. There are also antique shops, curio and gift shops as well as the usual high street stores.
Where to Eat
There is a wide selection of eateries in Buckfastleigh including Chinese Take Away, Public houses, coffee shops and restaurants including The Globe Inn, Dartbridge Inn, The Riverford Field Kitchen, Café Michele, Jolly Rogers and The Abbey Inn.
There is a Farmers Market in The Globe car park every Thursday from 9am through to 1pm.
Lamb Pie Day is on the 22nd July and is a fun day for all the family with street entertainment, music, stalls, tug of war and a children’s play area plus much more including stalls.
There is a Duck Race in June as part of the Millennium Green fun day. Buy a plastic duck and enter it in the race down the river along with other family friendly events and stalls.
In October there is the River Dart Struggle where contestants dress up and race downstream from Buckfastleigh to Totnes.
There are a number of car parks in Buckfastleigh with the following being pay and display – Station Road with 30 spaces, The Globe with 11 spaces and Victoria Woodholme on Mardleway with 66 spaces. There are free car parking spaces at Duckspond playing field and also at Hamlyns playing field.
ATM’s & Banks
Although there is not a bank branch in Buckfastleigh there is a cash machine at the Dartbridge Inn on Totnes Road, a Bank of Ireland cashpoint at the Post Office on Fore Street and a Lloyds TSB cash point at J Searle on Fore Street.
There are public facilities on Plymouth Road and also in Buckfast on Northwood Lane.