In the summer of 1975 a group of archaeologists from Exeter University were excavating the remains of an old blowing house high up the Walkham Valley. Having located the feature an excavation trench was dug and a possible leat was found. To enable the full extent of its course to be determined the trench needed to be extended through what appeared to be a deserted badgers sett. About six inches below the topsoil an assemblage of early Victorian coins was found along with the remains of what appeared to be a bank note of the same period. As the diggers dug further down they discovered a hoard of 18th century coins, three inches below these they came across some Medieval coins and three disarticulated animal bones. By now the senior archaeologist was thinking that this site was more than just a blowing house and ordered the diggers to take the trench down further. Under the Medieval contexts’ they discovered another hoard of Saxon coins, two of which showed signs of coming from nearby Lydford. Also a fully articulated animal skeleton was located which was amazing considering the acidity of the moorland peat. Four inches lower revealed numerous Roman coins and below that were several flint artefacts which included two arrowheads and a scraper. Flint is not a naturally occurring rock on Dartmoor so this particular assemblage must have been purposefully deposited. Clearly this was an extremely important site and the stratigraphy displayed several layers of human activity which could possibly date from the Late Neolithic through to early Victorian. A palaeo-archaeologist was sent for in order for the animal bones to be identified. A cursive examination suggested that all the bones belonged to a subspecies of badger previously unknown to the archaeological record. Much debate ensued as to the purpose of the site and eventually the theory was proposed that it was a ritualistic centre for the cult worship of the unknown species of badger. The coins clearly demonstrated votive offerings covering a period of about 6,000 years.
Towards the end of the excavation an old moorman passed by the site and enquired as to what was happening. Inadvertently one of the younger archaeologists could not contain their excitement and explained to the old man what they had found. Clearly this was a breach of archaeological protocol as such findings should never be revealed until the site was secure and the final conclusions drawn. However, in this case it was rather fortunate and saved the senior archaeologist from what could possibly be the biggest embarrassment of his life. Because as soon as the moorman heard the findings he lifted his cap, scratched his head and announced with a sigh that “what ee ‘ave ‘ere is an old deserted sett of the ‘Tavistock Badger’ an’ there be nought exceptional ’bout ee.” Clearly the old boy was well acquainted with the so called subspecies as was all of Dartmoor if not Devon
So what is the ‘Tavistock Badger’ – or to give it its Latin name: Meles meles tauistoce? In short the creature lives in the realms of folklore and could be described as being akin to Father Christmas in such that there is only ever one and nobody has actually seen it. The Tavistock Badger will visit in the dark hours of the night, silently go about his dastardly business and then vanish. Although unseen, those whom he has visited are only to well aware of the fact in the cold light of day. He can crop up anywhere in the world and like Father Christmas has no problem in visiting all deserving people on the same night. I can say in all honesty he has visited me on many occasions and I am a firm believer in the existence of the Tavistock Badger. So when does he call and what does he do, I hear your ask? Well, he can pay you a visit on any day of the year and has no problem calling as many days as he deems fit. His visits will always coincide with you having had a good night on the town accompanied by an overindulgent intake of alcohol. You will know you have been visited by three distinct things, firstly you will have a splitting headache, secondly, your mouth will be as dry as a peat hag and taste like the bottom of a moorland bog and thirdly you will eventually notice that your wallet is alarmingly empty. The reason for all these occurrences is down to the wicked behavioural patterns of old Meles meles tauistoce. Because what he does is to creep into your room once you are unconscious, beat you savagely around the head, defecate into your open mouth as you snore and then mug you of all your hard earned money. Hence the following morning when you finally become compos mentis and memories of the previous night creep back you put the headache and foul mouth down to the multitude of alcoholic beverages consumed the previous night and the missing money being frivolously spent on the extortionate price of said drinks, or in short you have a hangover. That is exactly how the heinous crimes of the little fellow go undetected, everybody assumes that his deeds are the result of the excess alcohol. So, why do Dartmoor folk know of his existence and the rest of the world merely think they have a hangover – easy, two ways; the evidence of the archaeological dig and the very fact that the piskies told us!
If I let you into a top secret do you promise not to tell another living soul? Well OK, over the past ten or so years there has been a fierce and emotional debate as to the badger cull that is occurring in Devon. DEFRA suggest that the reason for it is in an effort to reduce the incidence of TB in the area. If you read their literature they very carefully do not expand on what TB is, and most people just naturally assume it refers to tuberculosis – wrong it stands for Tavistock Badger! In light of the recent rise in binge drinking the government are trying to reduce the effects of (The) TB by culling as many badgers as possible in the hope that they actually get THE Tavistock Badger!
The latest news of the Tavistock Badger is that he has now built a new sett near Badger’s Holt somewhere next to the East Dart river. Unfortunately the extremely wet weather last winter led to exceedingly high waters in the East Dart and his new home got deluged. Even more unfortunate was the fact that he had not taken out household insurance because no company would insure a badger, despite his pleas. This meant that all the Badger’s possessions either floated off downstream towards Buckfast or became waterlogged. In order to replace all his household possessions old ‘TB’ needed to urgently raise some cash which meant he needed more inebriated people to visit, preferably local as to save travelling time. However, many of the local moorfolk were only too well aware of his tricks and were treading the path of righteous sobriety. One day he was reading a local newspaper article about a Dartmoor brewery that was having great success selling its beers to local pubs, clubs and shops. Then the idea came to him, he too could do similar except his brews would be much, much stronger. This crafty plan would ensure that those locals riding on the wagon of soberness once again became his suffering victims. Also Tommy Tourist season was approaching which would present a whole new market of unsuspecting folk all who were sure to sample local produce whilst on holiday. By May the illegal brewery had been set up deep in the recesses of Brockhill Mires, well away from prying eyes and with a good water supply. The first brew to come out of the mires was called ‘Pissed Pony‘, a name with a strong Dartmoor connection (apart from the fact that the moor ponies never get pissed, or at least I have never seen one). It tips the scales at a lethal 18% abv (alcohol by volume) and it has a distinct peaty tang with undertones of bog moss. Apparently sales of ‘Pissed Pony‘ are jogging along quite nicely and old TBs coffers are beginning to swell.
There has been a lot of worldwide controversy regarding a suggestion that in order to save the Dartmoor pony we should all start eating pony meat. Never one to miss a trick old TB’s marketing team are now promoting ‘Pissed Pony’ as an excellent accompaniment to such meals. The theory being that having drunk several bottles of ‘Pissed Pony’ one would have no idea what they were scoffing and forget about the sentiments of eating pony meat? Should you wish to sample some ‘Pissed Pony‘ I am told that if you leave a written order and the cash under the litter bin at Badger’s Holt car park you can collect your purchase from the same spot the following day (that’s if somebody doesn’t find it first). In all seriousness, please, please be very careful with this brew and NEVER drink more than 6 bottles in one session. Failure to do this will surely result in a nocturnal visit from the Tavistock Badger.
It did not take ‘Old TB’ to realise that his illicit brewery in Brockhill Mires also had a very valuable resource in the form of a very reliable supply of fresh, peaty moorland water which would be ideal for distilling whisky. Now there are three vital ingredients for distilling whisky, a reliable water supply – tick, a good supply of barley from farmer’s grain fields nearby – tick, and a still ‘borrowed’ from another nearby whisky distillery – tick. All that was needed was a name, some tasting notes and a label and so ‘The Famous Badger’ whisky was born. For anyone interested in its tasting notes here they are:
Colour – Urine Yellow
Aroma – A smoky burst of intense peat infused fruitiness with a whiff of whortleberry giving way to a smouldering hint of toasted bracken along with a hint of gorse blossom. Giving way to a tarry stench of burnt heather ending in a subtle stench of ammonia reminiscent of moorland sheep’s urine.
Taste – A gritty (due to the fine unfiltered particles of granite) explosion of smoky peat sets off a whole gamut of moorland tastes which includes rotting sphagnum moss subtly blended with a lingering tang of soapy lanolin derived from the fleeces of sheep.
Finish – A powerful minty zing drawn from the packet of Trebor Mints hastily taken in a futile bid to overcome the foul taste of the whisky.
The Famous Badger is widely available at the popular drinking hole better known as Moute’s Inn and the Smuggler’s Hole, a small hostelry nearby to the distillery.