Widecombe-in-the-Moor is a tiny village that nestles in a hollow in the heart of Dartmoor. It has one church, two pubs, two tea shops, three shops (catering mainly for tourists) and a dozen cottages clustered around the village green. Having said that, the village is bigger than it looks at first glance as dwellings are dotted along the lanes out of the village for some distance. The church (St Pancras) is huge for a village of this size. It is often referred to as the cathedral of the moor. The Church House and Sexton’s House are owned by the National Trust.
If you’ve been following the Tour of Britain you’ll know that in yesterday’s Devon stage the route crossed Dartmoor, passing through Widecombe. Unfortunately, they’d completed that bit before the live television coverage began, so the nation didn’t get to see the riders plunging down the terrifyingly steep lane that drops from the high moorland into the middle of the village.
Widecombe may be small, but it has long been an important agricultural centre. For hundreds of years it has hosted an autumn fair. Farmers on the high moor, who knew that they wouldn’t have enough winter fodder for all their stock, brought their surplus animals to the fair to sell them to farmers from the more lush lowland areas who could fatten them on through the mild Devon winter.
Nowadays, the fair is not about the sale of stock, but more a celebration of Dartmoor life. Animals still play a large part, but they are present either for judging in the show ring or to take part in displays and light-hearted events.
This year we went by coach which, apart from dodging traffic jams and avoiding long queues at the park-and-ride, allowed me to sample the beers and ciders on offer without inhibition. I admire coach drivers who manage to cope with our narrow roads, heavy traffic and disorganised passengers while retaining a sense of humour. Our driver happened to know the first lady to get aboard and greeted her with a kiss. He then cheerfully repeated the service for any female passenger who requested it. Before we set off he apologised for the lack of air conditioning and said he’d open the skylights which would let in a draught powerful enough to blow our hair about – “I can see that won’t matter this morning as none of you have bothered.” Continue reading