Drewsteignton, Devon July
Signing away your week's holiday on an unknown, unseen, not-sure village/cottage and in this case--pub, is both intriguing and unnerving. We knew we wanted to be in Dartmoor but we weren't sure where.
Rule of Thumb: when in doubt book through the National Trust Holiday Cottages. While not cheap (a caravan is cheap and while a week with the National Trust is increasingly Not Cheap they are dropping their rates--next year), reliability, location/location, ambiance, hot water and bath tub, fireplace/stove, and double bed with duvet. Some people (according to the guest book I always read in the first ten minutes of our tenancy while drinking my "welcome" cup of tea, eating my "welcome" biscuit and watching Tom bring our stuff in) get excited about the welcome tea tray, while others declare a life-long love with the cottage, the area, and the woman who prepared the tea tray. You can count on the Trust.
So here we were, week- long tenants of Trinity Cottage smack dab in the middle of the village square, thirty footsteps to the Drewe Arms pub and high above the glory of Dartmoor. We parked the car in the square right outside our cottage which was one of a long row of medieval cottages called Glebe on this side of the square. We unpacked suitcases from home filled with items necessary to a week away and some hot sauce, items from the Sainsbury's back in Dartmouth: wine, beer, real butter, real bread, eggs, bacon, garlic cloves, yogurts, cheese, toilet paper, paper towels, cling wrap, some nice Spanish salami, five candles and Hello magazine, and went to the pub.
The thatched pub was originally the Druid Arms until 1915-ish when Julius Drewe (Home and Colonial Stores tycoon and creator of the peculiar Castle Drogo which stands crumbling high over the nearby River Teign) paid the brewery to change its name to Drewe Arms to match his. Let us all be Drewe. Outdoor seating on tables tucked away from the wind in front and in the garden behind, the pub has recently been renovated but the original part has been left largely undisturbed. This means that you walk in a narrow aisle, order a drink at the tiny bar drawn from carefully coddled shelf- casks in the original tap room and carry it either outside or into the snug unless you want the more upscale experience in one of the dining rooms.
Our first drink at the Drewe Arms was in the back garden under a summer sky, all by ourselves. Trees in heavy green leaf, a nice breeze and a blue sky, we congratulated ourselves on a choice well made. Later, after a home-cooked dinner of real bread and real cheese and Dartish chicken we went for a long walk where we got only modestly off-piste through some meadows, over stiles and past cows, circling back through the village churchyard which landed us right in front of the pub again. Leaving the evening's gloaming for the cozily lit interior, we were warmly welcomed as neighbors for the week and forgiven for cooking our own meal rather than eating out. The pub lends itself to a few people just standing in the hallway with drinks, minding the doorway and chatting to the bar staff. Tom stayed to talk and I took my chardonnay into the snug.
A British pub snug is just what it sounds like--a cozy place to sit with a drink. Think settle or stool, often an open fire and room for a few couples or a group of after-work celebrants. On this evening it was just me-- and Mabel. Taking in the satisfactory fire, the dart board and the small hatch into the bar, I turned my head and met the rather critical glance of a small round woman with arms made powerful from years of pulling pints. Gazing towards the dartboard from her portrait gracing the far wall, she struck a familiar chord. It wasn't just because she was portrayed sitting just where I was (where she would have been looking out the small window opposite me), nor was it that this (according to the plaque beneath the photograph) had been her pub for 75 years.
We all make memories of where we've been or where we would like to be. I tend to buy books and it was in one of those purchased years ago that Mabel had made her appearance. A small collection of photos of British pubs, hers was a riveting face and I remembered every detail of that well worn snug and her tired slump. You could tell her feet hurt. A small book of ancient buildings and their as-they-were interiors, I'd enjoyed flipping through it for as long as it sat accessibly on a living room table. I'd marked pages of pubs I thought we should someday visit. Even when it was eventually disappeared to a bookshelf I had occasionally pulled it down to "be there" and had spent many a moment with Mabel. Hers was an uncanny portrait, one of those that make you imagine an entire history. I sometimes thought I could hear Mabel sigh and wondered what she was looking at. Now I knew.
According to a 1995 article in the British Independent which chronicles the village's brief fling with running the pub themselves; Mabel Mudge, known to one and all as "Auntie", officially retired as Britain's longest-serving pub landlady on October 4, 1994. It was her 99th birthday. In 75 years at the Drewe Arms in Drewsteignton, Devon, she presided over one big change: the installation of running water and electricity.
Suffice it to say that we had a delightful week exploring Dartmoor, getting lost as night closed in on the Two Moors Way from Fingle Bridge past Castle Drogo, avoiding oncoming cars on high-hedged single-track lanes and finishing each day at Auntie Mabel's, as the Drewe Arms is still called in the village. We joined most of the surrounding population in the pub's Long Room for the final (and disappointing) game of the World Cup. Mabel's great-great nieces and nephew chased after their dogs in the square in the long summer evenings and their mother brought us a dinner tray of home-made roasted baby courgettes.
When we returned home, I dug out the photo book and looked for Mabel. There she was (page 22) and will be. Turning back to the front (they are all lovely pubs) I laughed at what I had written to Tom on the flyleaf:
"Oh down to the boozer we'll go, down to the boozer we'll go.
Looking back at the Drewe Arms, I thought Auntie Mabel would have had a thing or two to say about that.