Sorry, did I say Acapulco? I meant, of course, Ashburton. It’s funny how often those two can become mixed up: one a city and major sea port in Mexico and the other a small market town on the edge of Dartmoor. I’m forever doing it.
This post is all about Ashburton, so cast aside images of men in sombreros, put down that piñata and step away from those stereotypes. As you all know, I have been looking at local food and drink recently. And by local, I mean Devon, the county I live in. This post, however, draws the net a little tighter around me and (mixing metaphors horribly in the process) focuses right down onto the town I live in. Let’s start with an award-winner…
The Food and Drink Devon Awards are an annual celebration of Devon food and drink. They were held last October and the winner in the best retailer category was Ashburton Delicatessen, our local deli. Now, I don’t want to claim too much credit but the year before, when we lived in Okehampton, Hallwood Farm Shop in Okehampton was voted Devon Life’s best independent food shop. I’m just saying; people seem to really excel when they have Mrs RB and me to feed.
Whilst I would love to be able to do my weekly shop in the deli, I will need to wait for the lottery win to come in before that becomes a reality. However, it is great for picking up exciting treats for a special occasion. Special occasions like “it’s Saturday” or “we deserve some cheese” or… In particular, we tend to pop in to pick up cheese if we are having people round to visit or to grab one of their sausage rolls for an upmarket snack lunch at a weekend. They do one with apricots in that is really good.
Moving a few doors along the street, you can pick up a bottle of incredibly local beer from the town’s off-licence, the wonderfully named Best Cellars.
Portreeve’s Challenge is one of a small collection of three beers from the Stannary Ales stable, named for the status of Stannary Town that was granted in medieval times to those towns into which tin was brought from Dartmoor to be taxed and sold. The Portreeve’s Challenge is a race around Ashburton (a stannary town) during the carnival season.
But what is a Portreeve and why are they challenging people to a race? A Portreeve is an official position whose holder historically represented the king in all legal proceedings. The position dates as far back as Saxon times and is still in operation in Ashburton today. If the thought of having to represent royalty is a bit too much for you, then have a look at the other official positions available. I quite fancy ‘pig drover’ myself.
The beer (named after the race named after the ancient Saxon position of office) has a nice malty toffee-ness in its aroma. It’s a clear copper colour and is certainly a decent, balanced, middle of the road bitter. I certainly think it is of good enough quality to keep the Ashburton ale tasters happy.
Around the corner you will find a fish deli. I would love to tell you all about it, but it is a little too pricey for us and we have to resign ourselves to standing with our noses pressed up against the glass, staring at all of the lovely looking fish and seafood inside. More in our price range is the Red Mullet fish shop, named for the fish and, thankfully, not for the hairstyle. Ashburton is home to a fish and chip shop, a Chinese takeaway and an Indian takeaway, all of which are pretty good.
To wet your whistle before picking up your takeaway, there are a surprising number of pubs for a fairly small town: five by my reckoning, not counting the bistro bar. Our current favourite is the Exeter Inn, once patronised by Sir Walter Raleigh, who was arrested there in 1603. Visit for the beer and the cider, but perhaps skip the deep fried food.
The best bread in town comes from Ella’s Artisan Bakery. They open early in the morning and shut once they have run out of bread. This generally happens fairly early in the day, such is the demand. You may remember that we were raving about Ella’s hot cross buns a few months ago, but there are lots of great things to choose from. We recently discovered her spelt loaf; not cheap but worth it every now and again when we’re feeling a little flush.
Other bread-related excitement comes in the form of the Il Vulcano mobile pizza van that parks up in a church car park in town every Tuesday and fires up a wood-fired pizza oven. Run by a real-life bona fide Italian, they make really tasty handmade pizzas: thin, crispy bases with a wide selection of toppings. Our favourite? Tropea: tomato, red onion, pecorino cheese, mozzarella and Devon honey. It may not sound an obvious mix of toppings, but it really works well.
Talking of Devon honey, our final stop on this magical mystery tour of Ashburton is Tuckers Country Store, where you will find a daily produce market (well, on a Tuesday through to Saturday at any rate; this may not count as daily in the conventional sense). They stock all sorts of produce, including Dartmoor Wildflower honey, which is good enough to satisfy all but the most demanding of bears.
Why should you care about the shops in a small town on the edge of Dartmoor, tucked away in the South West corner of England? Particularly when you were lured here with promises of Mexicans? The answer is probably that you shouldn’t (unless you are visiting the area, in which case you should definitely try Ella’s bread and the sausage rolls from the deli). The point is that even in a small town in a small corner of a small country, you will find a great variety of shops and interesting things to try. It is not a carbon copy of other towns, it has its own identity.
And if I were to travel 10 miles up the road, I would end up in a different town; similar in many ways, but with a different range of shops and products. And 10 miles further on from that, something different again.
Wouldn’t it be a great shame if that were not the case; if everywhere was the same?
What is going on in your local high street?