The Highwayman Inn: a tale of mystery and wonder

Alan and Emily venture into the cave of wonders



Sometimes the results on your Google search seem too good to be true. When yours truly typed “Most unique pubs in Devon,” into the magic box, the first three results all had to do in some way or another with the Highwayman Inn in Dartmoor. Look: I’m a student well versed in the ways of internet algorithms and I know well enough to be skeptical of whatever comes up first. And I was right: the Highwayman Inn is not the most unique pub in Devon.

It’s the most unique pub in all of Great Britain, and in my opinion, probably the entire world.

Luckily, I had a steadfast crew that were game to witness this spine tingling spectacle,* and after a ramble into the Wistman’s Woods, we were all ready for some supper. So we drove down…

 The Highwayman Inn is not so much a cave of wonders as it is a nesting doll of wonders: the deeper you go into the building, you come across another layer of mystery. What you see on the outside is only the most superficial oddity, and boy, is it odd. The side of the inn that faces the car park has two distinctive features. The first is a tiny hut detached from the house whose front walls bow out. The thick, leaded windows glint intriguingly. And when you look in, you see the creepiest doll (?) imaginable. Hazel, supposedly a witch, has a tree cross-section for a face, with two glinting bead eyes. I got the feeling that I was not supposed to look at her for too long.

window witch eek


The other feature is the protusion on the inn’s wall that faintly resembles a boot shaped tumor. There is no pleasanter way to put this.

As we passed through the main entrance, we stepped into the interior of a horse drawn carriage. Its walls are covered with red, studded leather, and the windows were an elegant stained glass. Inside the main hall, it’s a grimmer tone, with grey stonewalls dimly lit with lanterns. There was a sort of damp smell pervading this area, but then granite traps the damp rather. We searched around, and there were few people to be seen, so we stepped downstairs to the left.

highwayman shoe side

After passing a fake (?) sarcophagus and a statue of Cleopatra with rather perky breasts, we entered the bowels of a tall ship. The dark, curved wooden paneling and the plethora of hanging lights were a much warmer atmosphere than the hall, but unfortunately, it was reserved for guests of the inn and we were chased out.

We ended up sitting in the Hideaway Lounge Bar, which was a granite room much like the hall, but so covered with knick knacks that it seemed more like a dream than a place. Generally, kitsch on this level is amusing to me, but something about the whole set up gave me the heebie jeebies. These weren’t mere tokens surrounding me, but objects of power. Brooding, I sipped upon my Irish cider, which had the same musty funk as an old cheese. It felt appropriate for the occasion.

A sweet little dog gamboled up to our table: it had bug eyes as dark as the ocean on a moonless night. Sniffing our feet (we had probably trodden in some high quality sheep scat on our walk), it wagged its tail ferociously. As we baby-talked the diminutive fellow, a blond Elvira swooshed in, picking up Monty (as was his name). “Don’t want him to get spirited away" she said, smiling; but there was no joy in her eyes. Who had tried to steal Monty? We shall never know. 

I went to find the bathroom, which was surprisingly normal. So normal it was…odd. With the black counters flecked with mineral, and the little posters of women in 1950s fashion, I felt like I was in a New Jersey shopping mall.

However, the atmosphere changed yet again when I left and turned in the wrong direction. In one of the far walls was a portal to a shallow cave that extended below the floor, so that an onlooker would cast their eyes down upon the tableau. Fairy lights strung all across the cavity cast an eerie glow on the dozens of Beanie Babies that were placed along the walls. The innocence of the background proved a sharp juxtaposition to the main event: a mannequin-sized sculpture of a minotaur-esque figure wearing a suit of armor. Its head was uncannily realistic (it could have been taxidermy), but it was slumped and looking towards the ground. Of what did this minotaur knight ponder? His plushy troops? His place as a warrior in the absence of war? The existence of God? As with Hazel the Witch Doll, I decided to let him be.

We all quickly devoured our pies, which were satisfying but nothing to write home about. While we were all hungry after our exercise, I think none of us really wanted to linger. The Highwayman Inn is a place of ghosts, spirits, and mysteries beyond our mortal comprehension. If you prefer a bit of the grotesque alongside your pint—or if you just have a passion for the unusual—it’s a must-see on your tour of Devon.

chimney dragon


The Highwayman Inn is located in Sourton, at the edge of Dartmoor National Park. It's open for lunch from 12-2:30 everyday. On Monday-Saturday nights it's open from 6-10:30, and on Sunday night it's open from 7-10:30. 

*Thanks to Kim, Alan, Emily and Alex for being good sports.

 Text and photos copyright by Andrea Lindquist, 2016