A family day out in Buckfastleigh, Devon

by Jan

Cheeky otters, a beautiful abbey, and a time warp tavern are just a few of the many things to do on a family day out in Buckfastleigh in Devon.

Although Buckfastleigh is only small, this charming market town on the edge of Dartmoor National Park offers visitors a variety of family-friendly attractions.  It’s a great Devon village to visit, even on a rainy day.

Buckfastleigh’s most popular attraction is Buckfast Abbey, but it’s also home to animal attractions, steam trains, a lido and more.  Read on for our guide on the best things to do on a family day out in Buckfastleigh.

Dartmoor Otters & Buckfast Butterflies

Two otters at Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary

Animal lovers will adore the Dartmoor Otters and Butterflies Sanctuary, a small wildlife centre in Buckfastleigh.  It offers an unusual combination of otters and butterflies, plus a few reptiles thrown in for good measure.

It’s best to visit the otters at feeding times, as this is when they are most active.  Otters are nocturnal, so the animals like to nap after their meal.  During the feeding sessions, an otter keeper introduced the different otters and talked about their characters and habits.

The otter feeding times are at 11.30am, 2pm, and 4pm.

Butterfly and cocoons, Buckfastleigh, Dartmoor, UK

The centre’s focus is the conservation and protection of otters, so it was an interesting learning experience for both the children and us.  It is a compact sanctuary, so we could see the animals at close hand.

Afterwards, we headed into the steamy tropical greenhouse to see the butterflies.  Although I am not a big fan of butterflies, I did find them stunning and really enjoyed the experience.  One of the highlights is the hanging chrysalis.  With a little patience, you may get to see a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.  Astonishing.

A visit to Dartmoor Otters and Butterflies Sanctuary takes about an hour.  It was ideal for a rainy day activity in Dartmoor, as much of it is undercover.  Click here for Otter and Butterfly Sanctuary website.

South Devon Miniature Railway

Miniature railway, Buckfastleigh, UK

If you have toddlers or younger children, they will love the South Devon Miniature Railway.  The shiny diesel engine, Greenie, will take you on a half-mile ride around the gardens at Buckfastleigh.

The miniature railway is just a short walk from the Otter and Butterfly Sanctuary by the station car park.

South Devon Railway

Devon Steam Railway, Buckfastleigh, UK

If you prefer your engines a little larger, take a ride on the South Devon Railway.  This magnificent train will transport you back in time to the golden age of steam travel.

The train service runs everyday between Buckfastleigh and the pretty town of Totnes.  The train stops at Salverton, a station that remained unchanged for 100 years.

The former Great Western Railway line offers a scenic 7-mile train ride with spectacular views of the Devon countryside.  Click here for the SWR train prices.

You’ll find a large café and toilet facilities in the car park.  There’s also a model shop, with a working model railway.

You can also watch the trains from the picnic area at the station.  Plus, kids can play in  small playground.

A riverside walk to Buckfastleigh

Main street, Buckfastleigh, UK

From the South Devon Railway car park, we took a pretty riverside walk along the River Mardle to the town of Buckfastleigh.

Buckfastleigh is a small Devon market town, with an interesting history. It was put firmly on the map by King Canute (yes, the one who tried to control the seas!!).  He built the famous Buckfast Abbey here in the 11th Century.  However, Buckfastleigh came into its own as a wool town at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

Today the main street in Buckfastleigh has several independent shops and cosy coffee-shops.

The wishing step

On the way in you can make a wishing stone on the Church Steps.  These steps are all that remain of the town’s Holy Trinity Church, which was burnt down in an arson attack in 1992.  The stones are set at a right-angle to the rest.  We didn’t have the energy to climb extra steps, so sent a small boy up instead!

Moors Otter Art Trail

Moor Otter Trail, Buckfastleigh, Dartmoor, UK

If you are visiting Devon with kids, look out for some of the Moors Otters in Buckfastleigh.

You can find the ceramic otters on the five otter trails near Dartmoor and Plymouth.  Children can collect an “otter spotter” passport from one of the Dartmoor Visitor Centres to record which otters they’ve seen.  You should be able to find four in Buckfastleigh.

The Valiant Soldier

Valiant Soldier Pub, Buckfastleigh, UK

Halfway down Buckfastleigh’s main street is an interesting museum, The Valiant Soldier.

Known as the “pub where time was never called”, the Valiant Solder was a working inn for hundreds of years until the doors closed in 1965. And today it looks exactly the same as it did on that day.

The pub is now a replica of a working man’s pub from the 1940s, with treasures from war-time England. We wandered between rooms seeing historic artefacts and recognising many from the homes of our own grandparents.

The top floor is a heritage centre, dedicated to the history of Buckfastleigh and its association with the wool trade.

The Valiant Soldier doesn’t take long to visit, and the children were a little distracted by the end.  However, it’s very cheap and provides another thing to do with kids on a rainy day in Dartmoor.

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey, Dartmoor, UK

After a visit to the town, we headed back to the car to drive to Buckfastleigh’s most popular tourist attraction, Buckfast Abbey.

The magnificent abbey that stands today was built at the start of the 20th Century, after the original was dissolved in 1539 under orders from King Henry VIII.  It is a beautiful building, with some spectacular stained-glass windows.

If they are anything like my twins, your children will probably prefer exploring the gardens.  There are several themed gardens including a sensory garden, a lavender garden, and a millennium garden.

Other things to do near Buckfastleigh

Pennywell Farm

Another superb family attraction for animal-lovers near Buckfastleigh is Pennywell Farm.  Little children will love this Devon farm, as it is so interactive.

When you arrive, look at the daily itinerary so you don’t miss any of the activities.  Kids can cuddle miniature pigs, feed the sheep, or collect eggs.  Pennywell Farm also offers some more unusual activities such as ferret racing and goat walking, plus a choice of rides and displays.

Outdoor swimming pool in Victoria Park

If it’s a sunny day, one of the best things to do in Buckfastleigh is visit the open air swimming pool in Victoria Park.  Given to the people of the town in 1887, this historic pool is heated, so is always warm.

Victoria Park also has a fun adventure playground, with climbing equipment, nets, and a zip wire.  Older kids can also play in the skate park.

Dartmoor National Park

Pano view from Kings Tor, Dartmoor, UK

Of course, one of the best outdoor places for families near Buckfastleigh is the fantastic Dartmoor National Park.  With its rugged open moorland, ancient settlements, and abundant wildlife, Dartmoor offers visitors lots of incentive to visit.  There’s plenty of opportunities for walking, climbing, paddling, and spotting wildlife.

Read here for some of the best family walks in Dartmoor.

Pubs near Buckfastleigh

The Abbey is a popular riverside pub, so you would need to book in advance.

The Dartbridge Inn is a large, friendly pub, but the food was appalling.

The Tradesmans Arms, Scorriton has a garden with views overlooking the valley.  It serves a choice of tasty traditional pub food.

Getting to Buckfastleigh, Devon

Buckfastleigh is in South Devon on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park.  It is near the small towns of Ashburton and Totnes.

You can get to Buckfastleigh on the Devon Expressway (A38) from Exeter or Plymouth.

What are your favourite things to do in Buckfastleigh, Devon?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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