Inside Britain’s ‘most unusual’ pub where locals think owners are ‘potty’

One of the owners of Britain’s ‘most unusual’ pub has admitted even the locals think they are ‘potty’.

Sally Thomson, 63, has been behind the bar of The Highwayman in Sourton, Devon, for more than four decades after her parents Buster and Rita Jones took the helm.

The 11th century inn sees customers both ‘ghastly’ and ‘fantastic’ flock to see inside the quirky building, which is nestled on the edge of Dartmoor National Park.

Its Tudor-style exterior includes a nod to an old lady who lived in a shoe, a fairy tale pumpkin house, and a fire breathing dragon.

And it is even said to home to a ghost named Sam who dresses in green and has a feather in his hat, reports Devon Live.

Sally was only four when her parents acquired the pub. It was a completely new challenge for the family as dad Buster previously ran a crisp factory as well as a sweet one.

But it wasn’t long before Buster, a boxer, turned the pub into a countrywide talking point – much to the mixed feelings at the time of local residents.

“It was quite small and wasn’t what it looks like today," Sally said.

"It had been modernised by Plymouth Breweries but wasn’t making much money. My father uncovered the original stonework and beams which had been hidden.

“They wanted to get people to come here so he started making it look a bit different and he got completely carried away. He had a very gothic imagination and used to stockpile artifacts.

“They had lots of fun doing it; the locals still think we’re potty.”

The entrance is a stagecoach which was inspired by the old Launceston to Tavistock coach with two small seating areas either side, and leading to a fascinating journey of discovery because of all the eclectic artifacts and objects it has been lovingly filled with.

The dimly lit stonework and flagstone-floored burrows and alcoves create a dark, gothic atmosphere where you simply don’t know what to look at first in the Aladdin’s cave of wonder and mystery.

A warm welcome comes from behind the odd-shaped bar where owners Sally and husband Bruce are often stood. Together with their trusty dog Monty they provide as much character as their surroundings.

Sally’s dad’s creative imagination saw him turn one room into a make-believe galleon. He used parts from an old whaler shipwreck called The Diana, including its intricately carved door.

Inside the room is also where you will find the bust of Nelson which was salvaged from a pub in Plymouth, a ‘sea monster’, a floor of railway sleepers and Rita’s bar, which was named after Sally’s glamorous mother.

The pub’s two counters are made from part of a tree from local woodland which took men seven hours to cut into two.

They were paid in beer and Sally says you can tell which end was the one they cut last because it is a bit ‘squiffy’ due to the effects of the alcohol.

Among the many usual items you will find in the pub is a 6ft minotaur, crystal tree, Tutankhamun statue, cartwheels, lanterns, and a bellow acquired from a Devon blacksmith which has been turned into a quirky table by the main bar.

On special occasions such as Halloween and Christmas, the pub goes all out with its décor.

The building was originally built as an inn in 1282, and later became dual purpose as an inn and a farm because of its 20 acres at the rear.

In the 17th century it was called the Golden Fleece. Plymouth Breweries later named it the New Inn to give it a more contemporary image.

It was then changed beyond all recognition when Buster and Rita bought it in 1959.

While Buster was responsible for creating its quirky exterior and interior, it was Rita who changed its name to The Highwayman because she had romantic notions of highwaymen dashing about in the mist on the moor.

Sally said: “People would come in out of curiosity which meant they were spending and it gave my father money to do a little bit more to it."

They retired in 1999 and Sally has been now been behind the bar for around 40 years.

“I do enjoy it,” she said. “I like people; they can be ghastly but they can also be fantastic. There’s also not many jobs where you get paid to have a drink and a laugh.

“I have tried to keep the essence of the pub the same.”

A popular change has been the introduction of serving good quality traditional pub food such as pies, pasties, sandwiches and classic dishes such as fish pie.

More changes are also on the cards. The ‘boot’, once a children’s play area, may be turned it into an art gallery, and Sally is keen to get the water wheel working again.

But the biggest change could be when Sally and Bruce press ahead with plans to semi-retire, with the eventual fate of the pub unknown.

In the meantime they will continue to run the pub and the quirky cottage Cobweb Hall opposite the pub.

It provides overnight accommodation for visitors who have included comedian Noel Fielding who left a bottle of red wine and a pair of his boxer shorts for Sally, the latter of which she still treasures today.

Not all visitors are quite as welcomed as others though. The pub has had many ghostly sightings over the years and although Sally has never witnessed any herself, her mother Rita often spoke of seeing a ghost she christened Sam.

She would tell stories of a man dressed in green with a feather in his hat who she believed to be a cavalier from the days when the roundheads and cavaliers battles against each other from the two surrounding villages.

Sally said: “The Galleon used to be old stables so there’s the possibility it could have been someone who was changing the horses for the battle because there’s no reason for a cavalier to be here.

“I would have liked the ghost to be highwayman. I wonder if I can get the ghost to change costume?

“I have never seen any ghosts here, but my mother used to see all sorts. She would even say she saw fairies at the bottom of the garden.

“I think the pub has a nice feel. It’s very gothic which is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was never designed to be sinister. It’s meant to be quite light-hearted.

“I like seeing peoples’ reactions when they first come here. I actually don’t mind if they don’t like it. Usually what happens is people say, ‘this is a bit weird’, but gradually you see them relax a little bit.

"I like to see people enjoy it and if they go away smiling I feel like I’ve done my job.”

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