Last Updated on 8th August 2018 by Sophie Nadeau
Often dubbed ‘the prettiest village in Dartmoor’, Lustleigh is a beautiful blend of thatched cottages, narrow lanes and lush green woodland. The village, situated in the heart of the Wrey Valley, has long been a popular hotspot for walkers and those who are seeking a quintessentially British village.
Head here for some of the prettiest woodland walks, best tea and one of the greatest gateways to Dartmoor National Park. And if you’re looking to step into a village where ‘time has stood still’, then you’ve come to the right place…
A (very brief) history of Lustleigh, the prettiest village in Dartmoor
Although the name ‘Lustleigh’ doesn’t appear in the Domesday Book, it’s clear that the village’s origins as a human settlement date back thousands of years. From the neglected hut circles dating back thousands of years in the woods surrounding the village to the ‘Datuidoc’s Stone,’ an ancient burial stone dating back to between 450-600 AD, Lustleigh has been a hive of activity for thousands of years.
And although Lustleigh’s population hovers around six hundred residents today, it was once greatly important in the landscape of Devonian history. So much so that Alfred the Great left ‘Suðeswyrðe’ (what Lustleigh was once called) to his youngest son in his will in 899. It’s thought that the village is therefore recorded as ‘Sutreworde‘ in the Domesday Book of 1086. The last castle to be built in England, Castle Drogo, is located just a twenty-minute drive away.
Once upon a time, two train stations served the population of Lustleigh; taking them to the nearby towns of Moretonhampstead and Bovey Tracey. The railway was open to the public from 1886 and was finally closed after a decline in use in 1964. Both Lustleigh Station and Hawkmoor/ Pullabrook Halt lay along the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway. Lengths of the tracks have since been transformed into footpaths linking Lustleigh to nearby towns and villages.
Lustleigh Train Station; a train running towards Moretonhampstead, 1912
Primrose Tea Rooms, Lustleigh Village Centre
After a short closure, the Primrose Tea Rooms are open once more, welcoming national and international visitors on a weekly basis. Head here for some delicious homemade cakes, or warm drinks following a walk on the moors. Situated in the centre of the village, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy some tea after a long hike, or simply to sit and watch the world go by from the coffee shop’s wide bay windows. The tea rooms are open from Thursday through to Sunday on a weekly basis.
The Dairy, Lustleigh Village Shop
Unlike many of the small villages and hamlets dotted across Dartmoor, Lustleigh has its own village shop. Here, you’ll find a post office and a whole range of essential items (as well as some regional specialities- clotted cream, anyone?) and you can also send mail from here.
Once upon a time, the village had its own dedicated post office, a school, a general store, a second-hand shop and grocers. Today, the only shop that remains is that of the Dairy, which was once called ‘Peter’s Stores’. The Dairy is owned by the village of Lustleigh and leased to the current shopkeeper.
Wreyland, a village incorporated into Lustleigh
The meandering pathways and cute thatched cottages that form Wreyland are easily one of the prettiest areas of Lustleigh. Meander down the little lanes and enjoy this time warp in the very centre of the village. Some of the oldest and most impressive houses in the area include Wreyland Manor, Yonder Wreyland and the Tallet House.
Wreyland was once its own village in its own right but was incorporated into the village of Lustleigh as the latter village expanded into the surrounding countryside in the 19th-Century. Another nearby village that has since been absorbed into the village of Lustleigh is that of Brookfield, though this didn’t occur until 1957.
The Orchard, Lustleigh Park
The village’s central park is simply known as ‘the Orchard’ owing to its abundance of apple trees and vast Green Space. The park was donated to the village and has since become a hub for Lustleigh life. Each year, annual events are held here including apple picking in the autumn and May Day in the Spring. Lustleigh park is also home to a children’s play area, a little brook (where an annual duck race is held on Boxing Day), and the Lustleigh Mayday Rock, where names of previous May Queens are carved out of the rock.
The Cleave Pub
The only pub in the village is called the Cleave, after the nearby stretch of woodland that overlooks the village. Often cited as one of the best pubs in Dartmoor National Park, it’s a great place to sit, relax and chat with friends after a long hike.
Fresh food and a large selection of locally brewed beer and non-alcoholic drinks are served on a daily basis. The thatched building itself dates back to the 15th-century, was once a farmhouse, and comes complete with a roaring fire on winter days. The Cleave pub is open on a daily basis.
Church of St John the Baptist
Ancient and in the very heart of the village, the Lustleigh Parish Church of St John the Baptist was constructed from the 13th-Century onwards. However, the site has probably been used for worship for much longer and is thought to have been the site of a Romano-British burial ground. Today the Church is part of the Church of England and holds services every Sunday. Other places of worship in the village are a Baptist Church and Gospel Hall. Until the 1980s, there was also a Roman Catholic Chapel.
Just a short ten-minute walk from the heart of Lustleigh, you’ll find a wooded area known as the Cleave. Deriving from the word ‘cliff’ or ‘cleft’, this steep hill rises up above the village and offers beautiful views over the surrounding Dartmoor landscape. Wander around this wooded area, which is mostly common land and covered in foxgloves and bluebells, and you’ll likely spot signs of Neolithic inhabitation.
After all, the area Lustleigh now covers has been inhabited since time immemorial and hut circles can be found abundantly in the Cleave. Hiking is one of the very best things to do in Dartmoor National Park and you’ll find that the nearby beautiful wooded area of Pullabrook Woods is also a charming place to go for a stroll.
Lustleigh Show and Dance
Every year, at the end of August, the village holds the Lustleigh Village Show on the August bank holiday weekend. The show is famous across South West England and regularly attracts over 4500 people (a fairly substantial number considering that the village itself is home to just 600 people).
This is thanks to a wide variety of events; including shows of produce (think homegrown vegetables, homemade preserves, photography), hay tossing, dog and horse shows, as well as a 10k charity run. Other highlights of the Lustleigh Show includes a night-long dance, which is usually held a night or two before the show.
During the Summer months, it’s possible to experience more of the village’s past through the Lustleigh Archives. Housed in a little house which sits within the churchyard, the archives are run by a team of volunteers and has been going for well over forty years.
Open to the public for free on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings during the warmer months of the year, the archives house all sorts of interesting history. From a Tithe map dating back to the 18th-century to dozens of photos dating back to the late 1800s, the history of the village is fascinating to discover through the scope of the broad number of documents housed in the archives.
May Day: A curious tradition
It’s a curious tradition, that of celebrating May Day. Since Ancient Times (as far back as the Roman period), the arrival of Spring has been celebrated. In the Roman era, it was the festival of Flora, in medieval times, entire villages would go ‘a-maying’ on the first day of Spring. They would wander around the village and pick plenty of flowers and fruits from the hedgerows.
Then, the villagers would crown the ‘fairest’ maiden is the village as ‘May Queen’. Today, the annual event of May Day in its current form has been celebrated almost every year since 1905. Each year, on the First Saturday of May, a procession leads through the village, following a ‘May Queen’.
The event is followed by typical village events such as small games and food stalls set up in the Lustleigh park. Morris dancers perform a show outside the church, while festivities carry on throughout the day and well into the night in the local village pub.