Devon's award-winning cider pub has put its village on the map


Not all award-winning pubs live up to the hype when you venture there to see what all the fuss is about, but that's certainly not the case when you step inside the legendary Tom Cobley Tavern in Spreyton. In fact, its many awards for being the best cider pub locally and nationally do not do it justice. It's more than just the drinks that make it a memorable pub to visit.

While some village pubs can feel unpleasantly cliquey to outsiders, a warm greeting awaits when you step inside the traditional 16th century pub, especially if talkative landlord Roger Cudlip is behind the bar. He knows everyone by name but as I'm an unfamiliar face, when I walk up to the bar, he greets me by saying 'hello maid' in what I initially think is a broad Devon accent.

I am later corrected that he is, in fact, Cornish, and it doesn't take long to learn that he is happily living in his very own time warp. Roger proudly admits he doesn't have a mobile phone, has never used a computer, has never been abroad so doesn't own a passport, only has cash in his wallet and won't ever use 'that hole in the wall'.

Read next:

Although the pub has caught up with modern times more than Roger, it remains a traditional boozer that is always busy with people stopping off for a drink and food. The interior of the pub is every inch what you would expect from a proper pub.

There are no television screens or music playing. The bar has its very own thatched roof with stools surrounding it for those who want a natter over their pint, and the dining room has low beamed ceilings.

Roger Cudlip, landlord of The Tom Cobley Tavern -Credit:DevonLive
Roger Cudlip, landlord of The Tom Cobley Tavern -Credit:DevonLive

The walls of the pub are adorned with certificates from its vast awards dating back to 2006 as well as interesting pub memorabilia. Upstairs are six letting rooms.

Legend has it that one day in 1802, Thomas Cobley and his companions set forth for Widecombe Fair, an event immortalised in song. Now the pub has become legendary for its awards.

The bar inside The Tom Cobley Tavern -Credit:DevonLive
The bar inside The Tom Cobley Tavern -Credit:DevonLive

The first came in 2006 when it was named CAMRA's National Pub of the Year, a feat it has repeated alongside also being crowned National Pub of the Year more than once in The Good Pub Guide. Other accolades recognise its Sunday roasts, being a community pub and for being dog friendly.

This year it was named by the Exeter and East Devon branch of CAMRA as Cider Pub of the Year for the third year in a row. It has also won the regional heat which means it is now in the running for the national prize which will be announced this autumn. Last year the pub was named CAMRA's National Cider Pub of the Year.

The pub has won many awards -Credit:DevonLive
The pub has won many awards -Credit:DevonLive

Roger said: "You have to realise we are a small, family-run business in a place with no public transport. There's no bus or train link so people have to get here by alternative means. To do what we do on a small scale and come out on top is very nice. It also helps put the village on the map."

Roger and his wife Caroline have owned the pub for the last 21 years and have no intention of heading over the reins just yet. Before becoming a landlord, Roger was a well-known butcher for almost 40 years in North Tawton.

Pub life beckoned when Caroline became a cook at The Tom Cobley Tavern and they moved to the village. Since taking it over, both their daughters have helped and still working there is Lucy who is credited with having established its award-winning cider bar to add to its previous reputation of winning awards for its beers and ales.

Inside The Tom Cobley Tavern in Spreyton -Credit:DevonLive
Inside The Tom Cobley Tavern in Spreyton -Credit:DevonLive

Roger jokes that he can't go anywhere without being recognised due to his days working as a butcher, being a pub landlord and having played rugby and football in North Tawton for many years before taking up bowls.

He was offered the opportunity of starring in Channel 4 reality show Four in a Bed but says he and his wife declined because they are 'too opinionated'. Caroline still works in the kitchen but in reality, Roger says everyone who works there is a jack of all trades and helps out with different aspects of running the pub.

Roger said: "We have kept the pub more or less the same as what it is now. People still want to come to a traditional pub and we try to talk to everyone as much as we can and be as welcoming as possible.

Inside The Tom Cobley Tavern in Spreyton -Credit:DevonLive
Inside The Tom Cobley Tavern in Spreyton -Credit:DevonLive

"I'm a big talker; anyone will tell you that and probably a bit too much! I like to know where people have come from and what they have been up to. We keep getting in different people which is really great.

"We are busy all the time which is good in this day and age with pubs closing down so often. We are losing our heritage.

"Youngsters aged 18 to 25 don't go to pubs so much. They just sit in their bedrooms on their phones and don't play darts, pool or skittles. They don't have to go out courting anymore. All they need to do is swipe or whatever they call it.

"I think what we are most known for is the experience you have here. It's a historic pub with a good atmosphere and it's a chit chat pub. If you're sat there by yourself there's always someone to talk to.

"Nothing here is commercialised; it's all from natural hard work. We make a point of keeping all the brass clean and everything tidy. We are definitely not a place where you sit down at the table and order from an app."

The pub has a separate dining room away from the main bar where food is also served. It offers a huge daily menu which includes dishes from the grill, homecooked pies, pub classics, burgers, pasta, dishes from the sea, homemade curries, sales and jacket potatoes.

It also has specials and a selection of basket meals. Its Sunday roasts are served 'straight from the oven to the plate' in just one sitting between 12.30pm and 1pm, serving up to 80 people. Extra roast potatoes and vegetables can be requested for free and all roasts come with a big jug of gravy.

Due to Roger's background as a butcher, the meat it serves comes from local farms and Roger cuts the steaks himself. All the other food on the menu is also sourced as locally as possible.

Inside The Tom Cobley Tavern in Spreyton -Credit:DevonLive
Inside The Tom Cobley Tavern in Spreyton -Credit:DevonLive

Roger said: "We are a family business that does proper old-fashioned cooking. There's nothing flash about it."

The same could also be said about Roger and that is arguably what makes him such a great landlord.

He said: "I enjoy meeting people from all over the country and different countries. It's also nice to be involved in the community.

"I've no plans to retire. I'm now 70 and I don't think I would last two weeks sitting down watching episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. I would miss talking to people.

"As long as my health stays with me and as long as Lucy wants to carry on doing it I will still be here. We rely on her for all the technical stuff."

It is also Lucy who decides what ciders the pub serves. Initially, the pub used to have three ciders on tap and then Lucy decided to expand its offering in around 2013. It now serves 15 'real' ciders, two 'real' perries and six ciders made from concentrate. Its best-seller is Sanford Orchards Devon Red followed by Gray's Devon Cider.

Lucy Cudlip created the pub's award-winning cider menu -Credit:DevonLive
Lucy Cudlip created the pub's award-winning cider menu -Credit:DevonLive

Lucy said: "We try to stock as many from the local area as possible but we also offer something peculiar every now and again and have different strength ciders, the strongest being Sandford Orchards The General which is 8.4%.

"We have lots of different types of cider from different types of apples so there's quite a variety to choose from. We also have tasting notes for people to look through and people can request a taster.

"We've also started offering tasting paddles so that people can choose three thirds for £4.50 to encourage people to experience different ciders and perries which are made with pears.

The cider menu -Credit:DevonLive
The cider menu -Credit:DevonLive

"I like cider which is why we have lots! I really like Ridge and Furrow which is a small independent cider maker in Cullompton and they make a cider which has a natural sweetness from the apples which is rare to find.

"The awards we get are great because it recognises what we are doing well."

The pub is closed on Sunday evenings and all of Monday and is then open from Tuesday night right the way through the rest of the week.