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Hanging Out at the Highwayman

Higher Blackabroom – Day 1.

We had decided to take a weekend break on Dartmoor and return to our favourite holiday cottage at Higher Blackabroom. Over the past few years we have stayed there on several occasions as it is secluded, peaceful, comfortable and (for the girls) a good WiFi connection. On this occasion our group consisted of my wife, Holly, Trinity and Holly’s friend Ellen and myself along with a mountain of bags, rucksacks and the kitchen sink. Unfortunately when I was made redundant I had to give my beloved X Trail SUV back which meant there would not be enough room for us all in the family car. So we decided to hire a larger vehicle in the guise of a Ford Edge SUV which was brand spanking new with a mere 900 miles on the clock. Having gone through the laborious process of proving who we were, leaving a huge deposit we were also given the option of paying another £16.99 to have the insurance excess reduced from £1,000 to £100. Having previously driven thousands of miles in my old company SUV this option seemed rather pointless as I was an expert in driving such large vehicles but just to be sure we took it out.

Friday afternoon arrived and we all headed off down the M5 to Dartmoor along with what seemed a mass migration of people heading the same way. Just before reaching every motorway junction the traffic slowed down to a crawl which did very little for my blood pressure. To make matter worse the skies were heavy and sullen grey and it was raining – marvellous. Eventually we reached the cottage and were relieved to be trundling up the old track to the cottage. Now bearing in mind I am an expert SUV driver there would be no problem fitting the car through the very narrow gateway with a huge granite sentinel of a gatepost one side and a fence on the other. So having folded in the wing mirrors in the car proceeded through the gateway with ease, that was until a sickening grating sound came from the passengers side. This was rather unexpected as I could clearly see a good foot between the car and the granite ‘menhir’ so I continued to cautiously edge forward. The grating and grinding noise got louder and louder and so discretion being the greatest part of valour we reversed backwards to inspect what had occurred. Ooops, the plastic trim around the bottom of the door had been torn asunder – bang went £100.

Bloody marvellous, the trip down was horrendous, the weather was dire, the car was damaged – should have stayed at home. Now, having sat patiently in the car for a good three hours the girls were suffering from social media withdrawal. So having unpacked everything the next thing on the agenda was for them to log onto the WiFi and catch up with their social worlds. However, there was a rather pretty light alternatively flashing from orange, to pink to blue on the internet router which didn’t bode too well. The cries of anguish were heart-braking, the world had come to an end, how could they possibly survive for the next three days? Sadly having unplugged, re-plugged every connection, stuck a rusty nail in the reset hole (obviously the previous guests had the same problem) the light just kept defiantly blinking. It was pretty clear that whatever the ‘jam’ somewhere up in the ether the WiFi was just not going to work. We contacted the owner in the vain hope to see if she could be of any help. We were told that she had contacted BT and they would be sending an engineer out – on Monday, we were going home on Sunday, great help. However she did manage to shed a glimmer of hope – The Fox and Hounds which was just down the lane had free internet access. Just to add to this tale of woe the temperature in the cottage was a very unseasonable 10° C which called for the log burner to be lit and the central heating switched on – should have stayed at home.

Now having driven up and down the A386 on literally hundreds of occasions the one thing I had never done was to visit the Highwayman Inn at Sourton. I would love £1 for every time I have said; “must go there one day,” the money would have more than paid for the £100 I had just lost on the car. So it was decided to drive down to the inn for our evening meal and what an experience that turned out to be. From the minute you step through the door your eyes are assaulted by what confronts you, the place is festooned with ‘curiosities’ of every kind, it was a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of the weird and wonderful. For those of a certain age the place made Steptoe and Son’s house look empty. Although we had booked a table there followed a slight ‘can we, can’t we’ discussion as to whether or not there was a table but after a consultation with the chef it was decided that yes he would cook us a meal. Having been shown to our table it was time to settle down with a pint of Hobgoblin (what else could one drink in such mystical surroundings) and take in the decor. Below is a minute fraction of the curiosities that are literally stuffed in every nook and cranny even more amazing were the ‘votive offerings‘ of coins and bank notes that had been deposited in, on, under, and above every available orifice. The owners describe the inn as; “the most unusual pub in Britain,” a claim that I think will take some beating.

It is said that the building was originally built in 1282 when it served as an inn then in later years it became a farm as well. By the 17th century the inn was called The Golden Fleece which then changed to The New Inn. In the late 1950s the new owners renamed the place as The Highwayman in recognition of the highwaymen of old who used to ply their trade along the Okehampton to Tavistock road. The actual entrance to the inn was once an old coach which ran between Launceston and Tavistock.

It should come as no surprise that such an ancient and mystical building proclaims to have at least one resident ghost if not more. The spectre most often seen is that of a man dressed in green and wearing a jaunty feather in his cap who goes by the name of Samuel. It is thought that at the age of 36 he died at some battle in the area, possibly one from the Civil War era. Other spectral visitors include a promiscuous looking woman wearing a mop cap, a sea dog called Captain Grenville, a mysterious figure wearing a dark coat and a man who sits at the bar. Over the years the then New Inn hosted several inquests for local fatalities. In 1894 the inquest for James furze took place following his death at the Sourton Lime Quarry due to an explosion which caused fatal ‘inflammation of the brain’. In 1904 a corporal from the Royal Field Artillery was riding back to Okehampton camp when he was thrown from his horse somewhere near Sourton. He was carried back to the New Inn and the camp surgeon was sent for, when he arrived he found that the soldier had fractured his skull and injury from which he died later.

So what began as a disaster ended up with a long awaited visit to The Highwayman, an excellent pint of Hobgoblin (or three), a tasty home-cooked dinner and a mind boggling assortment of curiosities. The other highlight of our visit was that they had a very efficient and free internet access available much to the relief of the girls. Words cannot describe the inn and if they could they would take a whole book to do so but I can thoroughly recommend a visit when passing. For their opening times and tariff and a lot more see The Highwayman’S equally quirky website – HERE.




About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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