10 of the best south Devon pubs with beer gardens

Steam Packet, Totnes

The Dart is tidal in Totnes, and drinkers and diners on the Steam Packet’s roomy riverside terrace often spot a grey seal that scoops up salmon coming over the weir at high tide, or just pops its head up and takes a look around. The town sits at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, like many places in the South Hams, but a quirk in the contours of the residential area west of this pub means the early evening sun often strikes the loungers and tables. Much loved by locals and visitors alike for its classic food (pork belly, beef bourguignon, scampi), this is the perfect pub to conclude a walk along the river from Sharpham or a wander around the bottom end of town.
Open from 12 April

The Bay Horse, Totnes

Bay Horse Totnes
Photograph: Nick Maslen/Alamy

The long, thin terrace-cum-garden at the back of the Bay Horse, on the airy summit of Totnes high street, has a conspiratorial feel. Here be rainbow-scarfed locals plotting the next XR roadblock or anti-mask demo, or folk musicians armed with instruments and protest songs (Thursdays were gig nights in the pre-Covid era). Ordinary ale lovers from across South Hams also gather at the “Bay”, though: landlords Rob and Kathy keep an excellent range of draught ciders and beers, including local New Lion ales, and will no doubt be hosting their popular beer festivals as soon as the rules allow. Wines are well chosen and excellent value. Rather than running a big kitchen operation, the Bay does bar food: mushroom paté, tuna baguettes, giant sausage rolls with side salad, steak and portobello mushroom pie and wedges or pasties from local Halls butchers. Customers can also bring a takeaway in from Albatross fish and chips or pizza from Room 101 – both a short walk away.
Open from 15 April, Thur-Sun initially

Kings Arms, Strete

Kings Arms, Strete view from beer garden
Photograph: PR

Most tourers pass through Strete without a second thought – except perhaps for the bottlenecked traffic – as they speed on to Blackpool Sands and Slapton Ley. But wiser folk and thirsty walkers stop at the community-owned Kings Arms to enjoy a pint of refreshing ale and to soak up the views from one of the most privileged positions on the south Devon coast. The pub’s large, well-kept garden has huge views over the sea and across neighbouring farms; those doing the South West Coast Path can see the next few miles of their hike. An excellent menu contains the expected burgers and fish and chips, as well as Fowey mussels, chicken marinated in sriracha sauce and wild mushroom tart, with Devon rhubarb and truffle cake for afters. If you’re driving, there’s a car park just west of the pub.
Open from 12 April

The Thatched Tavern, Maidencombe

Quaint thatched pub at Maidencombe Beach in South Devon.
Photograph: Colin Cadle/Alamy

Given that the South West Coast Path offers 630 miles to choose from, you might think the stretch between built-up Torquay and built-up Teignmouth was not the most alluring. But it’s actually a lovely half-day walk, with plenty of viewpoints and a couple of sharp inclines to help work up a sweat and an appetite. The 17th-century chocolate box-pretty Thatched Tavern is about halfway along, and its garden is gorgeous. Food includes River Teign mussels steamed in cider cream sauce, Brixham fish pie, and roasts on Sundays. The small, beautiful beach is just below the pub, though note that the pub’s street address is Steep Hill. Bus number 22 between the two resorts stops at Maidencombe.
Opening in May – date tbc

Journey’s End, Ringmore

Journeys End Inn at Ringmore, Devon
Photograph: DGDImages/Alamy

The beaches of south Devon are deservedly famous. While they draw crowds on balmy days, there is plenty of room to spread out. Most visitors choose a spot where they can park conveniently. A lunch at Journey’s End opens up the beaches, coast-path clifftops and inlets west of Ayrmer Cove, only one of which appears on Google maps and all of which are just a short hike from the car park. This 13th-century pub, about a mile inland, is in tiny Ringmore, one of those Domesday-old dreamy hamlets that have a few thatched cottages and a church, and still boast a decent pub. The large, secluded, gravelled terrace has plenty of tables, though not all have canopies/sunshades. The bar has an all-Devon range of beers (including Bays, Red Rock, South Hams and Teignworthy) and the food, esteemed by regulars, runs the gamut from beef brisket doorstep sandwiches to a delicious minestrone soup, to beef onglet, shiitake mushroom and noodles. Three paths lead down to the sea (where, note, there are no loos).
Open from 12 April

The Royal Oak, Meavy

15th century Royal Oak Inn Meavy Dartmoor National Park
Photograph: Bryan Eveleigh/Alamy

This cute Grade II-listed pub, in the not overly trodden south-west corner of Dartmoor, between Ivybridge and Tavistock, has a whole village green for a “beer garden” – the Royal Oak takes its name from an 800-year-old tree that is its centrepiece. The atmosphere is lovely of an evening, when locals and visitors park along the lanes and spread out on the lawns (once the few benches and tables are filled) to enjoy a glass of wine or fizz, a pint of Otter or Black Tor ale, or a scrumpy cider from Devon producers Hunts or Sandford. Chicken and veggie pies, beef and Cajun chicken burgers and Thai options were all offered during lockdown, but the menu will be expanded and revamped as custom increases. The Royal Oak runs a successful catering company, and has had some top chefs over the years. It sources all its beef, lamb, venison and pork from Dartmoor suppliers and is known for its Dartmoor pony meat burgers.
Open from 12 April

White Hart, Dartington Estate

White Hart bar and gardens of Dartington hall Totnes
Photograph: Andy Lovell/Alamy

The 1,200-acre Dartington Estate near Totnes is renowned for its contributions to the arts, education and ecology, but for most visitors it’s the gardens that work the magic. The tiered “tiltyard” overlooked by 12 Irish yews (the “12 apostles”) and ancient chestnut trees, sloping lawns and flower- and bird-filled scrubby patches have been open to members only through the pandemic, but should be open to day visitors soon. The White Hart has one door on to the main quad and another on to a large, flat lawn; the latter is a great place to sit back with one of the bar’s draught ales or graze on a ham hock terrine or some local cheese. There’s also a great cafe, the Green Table, just five minutes away (open from 12 April). All the food at Dartington is sustainably sourced and much of it is produced in Devon; a regular farmers’ market is planned for later in the year.
Pub open from 14 April

Union Inn, Denbury

Denbury village pub The Union Inn.
Photograph: Jonathan Somers/Alamy

South Devon is sold to outsiders – somewhat artificially – as coasts and moorland, twee cottages and fudge shops. The 14th century Union Inn, just west of Newton Abbot, is a proper local and surrounded by flattish agricultural land – you can see Dartmoor clearly on the horizon. The pub has put up a couple of marquees and benches to create more space for outdoors dining. The winter menu is just what a farmer might enjoy after a day’s muckspreading (or drone programming): ham, egg and chips; beef lasagne; big burgers in brioche buns; roasts; and there’s also a pizza oven. From Denbury a maze of country lanes fans out over to the Riverford veg empire and Staverton; it’s great for easy cycling or a slow drive.
Open from 12 April

Church House Inn, Marldon

Church House Inn in Marldon
Photograph: Church House Inn in Marldon

On a high ridge above Paignton, Marldon is not on the main tourist drag, but the Church House Inn – which has stood here in one form or another since the 14th century – is well known across Torbay as one of the best foodie venues around. Inside it’s a stone-clad beauty, but the gardens are also attractive, framed by trees, palms and flowering plants. The Church House became a destination by offering food a notch above pub grub, so expect mains such as oven-roast salmon, turkey and courgette open burger, pumpkin ravioli and tiger prawn and monkfish curry. Even the bar snacks are a bit posh, with fillings like avocado and Devon crab. The bar does several local real ales and has an extensive wine list. The John Musgrave Heritage Trail, a 35-mile route around Torbay, passes through Marldon and every September (since 1888) the village holds an Apple Pie Fair.
Open from 17 May

Rugglestone Inn, Widecombe in the Moor

The Rugglestone Inn, Dartmoor
Photograph: Alamy

Widecombe is one of Dartmoor’s loveliest villages, and its two excellent pubs – the Rugglestone and the Old Inn – are deservedly popular with hikers, cyclists, bikers and motorists. Haytor Rocks, Hound Tor and other photogenic summits are within striking distance, and the great green shoulder of Hameldown is just to the west. The Rugglestone’s delightful garden is an enclosed patch of lawn that has special appeal after you’ve been out on the windy heights. Hens cluck around the feet of the benches while bar staff come and go with plates of haddock-and-mozzarella fish cakes, katsu curry and pork enchiladas; there’s a cured meat and olives platter if you are snacking. Locals also congregate here for a pint and a chat. While the peak lunch hours (1-3pm) can be busy on Sundays, the place is a lot calmer in the late afternoon, making it well suited to a post-hike drink. The Rugglestone won a Camra award in 2017 for an unbroken run of 10 years in the Good Beer Guide.
Open from 12 April


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