A pleasant wander on a sunny afternoon is from the Portsmouth Arms railway station down to the River Taw and then follow the banks until you get to Kingford Bridge where the road loops up the hill towards Chittlehamholt. The river itself offers some stunning flora and fauna including dragonflies and kingfishers, an occasional heron and an even more occasional osprey and there is always the possibility of an otter (tho' as yet none sighted).
As you cross the railway bridge check out the dust-written graffiti (;-X) and then just wander up the hill enjoying the various views thro' the farm gates as you ascend the valley's wooded slopes. Follow the signs for Chittlehamholt and The Exeter Inn has a warm welcome for you (as well as decent beer and good grub) - enjoy!
Should you ever just happen to find yourself driving (or even cycling) past our pub here at Portsmouth Arms it might interest you to know that in addition to superb food, warm welcomes and great beer we now cater to your artistic bents.
We have recently teamed up with a couple of local artists and are providing them with a slightly off-beat gallery space which actually seems to work quite well. Our first exhibition, which is hanging at the time of writing (20-11-07), is by Jack Pointer who lives down the road at Eggesford (where the trains pass each other) and his paintings have a sort of Andy Warhol feel to them. Jack has studied at the local South Molton and Chulmleigh Colleges and is currently a member of the progressive "Newlane Art Group" under the tutelage of another local artist Mike Willdridge.
High Bickington, Umberleigh, EX37 9BX, United Kingdom
OK MY HANDS ARE UP! There may be a little bias here seeing as I actually cook the stuff, but even with my professional objective head on, this is just the best restaurant in the area. Nothing flash, nothing clever, just simple proper West Country cooking. The pub itself is a 300 year old coaching inn and still retains many of its original features, including its own well. Atmosphere is great, ambience relaxed and friendly and service is excellent.
When the sun shines you can sit outside and wave to the trains as they go past :)
Favorite Dish: Every dish here is superb - here's a small selection: Starting from the top left corner and going clockwise we have my Thai-style chicken curry with wild rice, chutney and garlic & coriander flat bread. Then, liver, bacon and onions on rosemary mash potato, followed by a nice simple steak (prime Devon meat of course!). Next is a starter of homemade game salami with onion marmalade and in the bottom corner the view from my workbench. In the glass is a fresh lemon syllabub (a nice simple classic British dessert. In the bottom left corner is one of my own personal dishes - A medallion of prime Devon fillet steak on a thyme rosti, topped with a Devon Blue cheese souffle and garnished with roasted red onions and a port
sauce. Above that is my take on sausage and mash (sausages made by my old local
butcher at Newton Abbot). Finally in the centre is our Portsmouth Arms Famous
Fish Pie which is our runaway best seller - now if that doesn't tempt you what will?
This little inn is about 3 miles up the road from us (about 9 miles south of Barnstaple) and is actually worth a visit, not as much as myself of course, but it is a pleasant characterful place with reasonably good food. Casper the friendly ghost seemed to be in charge of the bar on my last two visits as it appeared totally unattended at times, but hey, this is Devon, we don't stress about these things.
Favorite Dish: Fillet of sea bass with salsa verde, baby potatoes and spinach was tasty, if a little unsubstantial. Ploughman's lunch had great cheese, though the "Homemade Chutney" tasted EXACTLY like Branston pickle (maybe Mr Branston Pickle is actually working there!). Yep, as pubs go this is OK, foibles are always easy to forgive.
Getting around Umberleigh and North Devon in general is pretty accesible by bicycle tho' there are a few hills around. Following the river valley of The Taw makes for some scenic easy cycling with the odd pub or two en-route!! HA! There would have to be for me to even contemplate getting on a bike!!
There are several Bike Hire places around but if you do happen by me here at The Portsmouth Arms I not only have a couple of spare rooms but also a beautiful pair of simple road bikes for the use of anyone who visits AND a pair of matching Hi-Vis cycle jackets if needed ;)
Contact number is me at work!!
Both Umbersleigh village AND Portsmouth Arms have railway stations on the "Tarka Line" between Exeter and Barnstaple and it really is a pleasant train journey following for the most part the Taw Valley. Both the stations are request stops, which means that you have to put your hand out to stop the trains, which is pretty cool when the train driver toots to acknowledge you!!
For timetables etc. the first contact number is for Traveline and the website is the train operator, First Great Western.
...If you ever happen across Umberleigh, or even Portsmouth Arms, then you'll find some great walks here in the Taw Valley - but do follow the advice if you cross the railway line, these trains don't brake easy. All of the footpaths that cross the railway line have these notices and the train drivers will always "TOOT" before they pass - so STOP first, look and listen.