Folklore and Magic of Southern England - Atlas Obscura
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Devon

Folklore and Magic of Southern England

Mythical castles and ancient witchcraft, ecological biomes and fairy-tale forests, sea tractors and flaming tar barrels—all this awaits you on our one-of-a-kind exploration of southern England's historic haunts and eccentric traditions.

On this carefully curated six-day adventure, we’ll leave London behind and head directly into the southwest countryside for a journey back in time. As we wind our way through the English counties of Devonshire and Cornwall, we’ll encounter ancient landscapes once home to King Arthur, incredible sites and historic artifacts, and charming villages accessible only by foot. We’ll be introduced at each stop to special guests and friendly locals by our guide, a Devonian himself, before we cap things off with Bonfire Night at the Tar Barrels of Ottery St. Mary, a boisterous tradition unlike anything you’ve seen before.

This trip is limited to a small group of 12 explorers.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Unusual sites and behind-the-scenes access: We’ve gone to special lengths to arrange visits to places otherwise closed or off-limits, from the rooftop of Exeter Cathedral to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.
  • Storied landscapes and futuristic Edens: From the picture-book settings of Wistman’s Wood and Merlin’s Cave to the futuristic biomes of the Eden Project, our explorations will span millennia of natural history.
  • Raucous and whimsical local festivities: We’ll witness an annual tradition that dates back centuries, in which flaming barrels of tar are raced through rowdy village streets on Guy Fawkes Night.

TRIP COST

A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. We have limited capacity and expect the trip to fill quickly. The trip will cost $2,650—the $500 deposit plus $2,150 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs including accommodations, meals as mentioned in the fine print, and all the activities listed below.

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.

Itinerary
Day 1
Clocks & Giants
  • This morning we’ll meet in London and set out for the rural counties of Devon and Cornwall, with several stops along the way. If you’ve never been to London, we encourage you to come a few days early to check out the classic sights, as well as hidden gems such as Novelty Automation and God’s Own Junkyard.
  • We’ll make a stop at Salisbury Cathedral (a two-hour drive), where we’ll have the rare chance to see the best surviving original of the Magna Carta, as well as one of the oldest working clocks in the world. Take a moment to grab lunch in Salisbury before we head back onto the road, where we’ll make a quick pit stop to see the Cerne Abbas Giant, a massive 17th-century chalk drawing.
  • We’ll enjoy a proper welcome dinner at a charming, old canal-side pub in Exeter (another two-hour drive). After getting to know one another better over dinner (and perhaps a pint or two), we’ll drive just over an hour to the world’s largest greenhouse—the Eden Project—where we’ll be staying the night. As long as it’s not raining, we’ll end our evening with a toasty bonfire.
fcarucci/depositphotos
Day 2
Lost in Eden
  • This morning we’ll head over to the Eden Project’s two main biomes—Tropical and Mediterranean—which contain more than one million different plant species. We’ll be given rare, behind-the-scenes access to see how the biomes operate before receiving a special guided tour through the largest indoor rainforest in the world.  
  • After lunch we’ll hop back into our vehicle and head to the Lost Gardens of Heligan ("helygen" is Cornish for "willow trees"). Originally created in the 18th century, the gardens fell into severe neglect during World War I. Now fully restored, Heligan has become an enormous botanical wonderland.
  • We’ll then be off to Restormel Castle, a rare, round fortification originally built in the 1100s and later home to the Earl of Cornwall. We’ll have time to wander around the best remaining example of a circular castle anywhere in the United Kingdom. 
  • We’ll then drive directly to Dartmoor National Park (home to Hound Tor), and check in at two small bed-and-breakfasts, where our hosts will make us feel right at home. After some time to rest and regroup, we’ll make our way to the Warren House Inn, a local pub that claims its fire has been continuously burning since 1845—a key source of heat, since the pub has no electrical hookup and runs on generators. You can order off the menu as the bartenders share colorful pub lore and ghost stories. Afterward, feel free to head to bed or, if you’d like to stay out longer, grab a nightcap from another pub in the area.
flotsom/depositphotos
Day 3
Wistman's Wood & Clovelly
  • This morning, we’ll rise to the classic British breakfast fry-up, lovingly prepared by our hosts. It should put us in good stead for a full day of exploring Dartmoor. 
  • We’ll first take a look at the clapper bridge nearby, built around 1380, then pop into the tiny local post office. After a quick drive, we’ll then wander into Wistman’s Wood. One of the last patches of ancient woodland, this fairy-tale forest is entangled in many a myth and legend. We’ll hear some of these stories while walking among the beautiful, twisted trees in a sea of moss-covered rocks.
  • After walking out of the woods, we’ll make our way to Widecombe-in-the-Moor, a tiny, postcard-perfect village. Take some time to wander around its shops and old buildings before we meet up for lunch at Rugglestone, a quaint and cozy pub.
  • Bellies full, we’ll then explore an area of Dartmoor known as Scorehill, the site of a Bronze Age stone circle. We’ll track down both this circle and the Tolmen Stone (once thought to have been used by druids for purification), and hear the legends behind them. Our walk will take us through open, rolling countryside, where we might even encounter ponies and sheep.
  • From there, we’ll drive to Clovelly and check into our inn for the evening. Clovelly is a beautiful old shipping village with cobbled streets that have never seen a car. Parts of the village date back to the 13th century.
  • We’ll meet for dinner at the Red Lion Hotel on the harbor, for a chance to discuss everything we’ve seen and consider the adventures ahead. Take the opportunity to rest your legs, sit back, and relax while you look out and listen to the sounds of the sea.
Matt Clark
Day 4
Castles, Witchcraft & Magic
  • Wake up to a large breakfast served by the hotel. Afterward, take the morning to wander around Clovelly at your leisure. 
  • Around midday we’ll meet at the hotel and walk back to our vehicle. Next up is Tintagel Castle, said by some to be the birthplace of King Arthur. We’ll have the chance to explore the castle and its stunning scenery while learning more about its history and legends. If the tide is low, we can also explore the mythic Merlin’s Cave below. 
  • Then we’ll head away from the shore and up to the village of Tintagel to poke our heads into some of the local shops and the post office in the heart of the village, housed in a 14th-century stone building. While we’re in the village, you might want to grab a pasty, a traditional Cornish savory pie. 
  • Then we’re off to Boscastle for a special-access visit to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. This museum is the best and largest museum dedicated to witchcraft and magic in Europe. Though closed to the public in November, it will be opening its doors just for us, for a special tour and Q&A in which rare artifacts will be presented and discussed.
  • Our last stop of the day is Burgh Island, a wee dollop of land just off the southwest coast of Devon. The island can be reached by foot only during low tide—otherwise, visitors must board the resident sea tractor. After our crossing, we’ll be served dinner and spend the night in the island’s excellent Art Deco hotel. We can even pop into the little local pub, which has been operating on the island since 1337. 
Day 5
The Tar Barrels of Ottery St. Mary!
  • This morning we’ll have breakfast and take a short walk around Burgh Island. We’ll then return (via sea tractor!) to the mainland, where we'll head to Exeter Cathedral, one of the world's finest gothic cathedrals. We’ve organized a very special tour with rare access to sections of the building that are usually off-limits. Behind the scenes, we’ll visit the roof as well as the library, where a number of special artifacts will be presented (perhaps the Exeter Book itself, if we’re lucky). Lastly, Exeter Cathedral's own organist will give us a tour of the amazing organ, which has 4,000 pipes, some of them dating back to the 1600s.
  • Take some time on your own to grab lunch and wander around the town. After that, we'll meet back up to visit some of the city's other historic sites.
  • And with that, it's time for the grand spectacle! We're off to the Tar Barrels of Ottery St. Mary, for a festival like nothing you’ve ever seen. We'll leave our vehicle outside of Ottery St. Mary and then walk into town, as no vehicles are allowed in the village during the event. We'll first meet a local Tar Barrel historian who will give us a rundown of its unusual history and fill us in on what to expect, including a large fair and massive bonfire, and tell us the best and safest places to see the tar barrels. The streets will begin to get very crowded very quickly, which will require breaking off into smaller groups. 
  • The night includes no formal dinner, but there'll be lots of eats available, including food stalls aplenty and the local spot for fish-and-chips. We'll stay until the largest barrel of all—the midnight barrel—which takes two people to carry, makes an appearance. When it finally burns out, we'll regroup at a set location and walk back to the bus to return to our lodgings in Exeter.
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Day 6
Lunch in Bath & London Farewell
  • Our final day, we'll have breakfast in Exeter, then begin our return journey to London. 
  • On the way back we'll stop for lunch in the beautiful town of Bath, famous for its historic Roman baths.  
  • From there, it's back to London. We'll wrap things up where we began, with farewells and see-you-soons. Some will be off to the airport for return flights or next destinations, and others may choose to stay a few days longer.
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print

 

YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA EXPEDITION TO SOUTHERN ENGLAND INCLUDES 

  • All lodging in well-equipped boutique hotels throughout the trip. (Private rooms are available for a single supplement of $625. Otherwise we’ll work to place singles of the same sex together.)
  • The price of your trip includes five breakfasts and three dinners. Breakfasts will be hearty British fry-ups, so you might not need more than a snack for lunch.
  • Transportation throughout the trip in a private coach. Travel within the smaller towns, especially in Clovelly and Ottery St. Mary (where vehicles are not allowed), will generally be by foot.
  • A local guide and an Atlas representative accompanying you throughout the trip, in addition to special guests all along the way.
  • Admission to all proposed activities, sites, and events.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that this region has to offer!

NOTE ON FLIGHTS

Our tour begins in London at 10 a.m. on Thursday, November 1. For flights in and out of London, Heathrow and Gatwick are the biggest airports. We recommend arriving at least one day early (Wednesday, October 31). For outbound flights, you should plan to depart anytime after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, November 6, though we recommend later in the evening in case there is an unexpected delay.

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries are subject to change—and the weather! (We'll likely experience a good amount of rain.) If any of the activities or attractions mentioned here are missed or unavailable, we will always do our best to replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.

NOTE ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Travelers should be reasonably fit and feel comfortable walking 3 to 6 miles each day and remaining on their feet for long periods of time. We’ll be spending a good amount of time outside and in rural areas, walking up and down stairs, in the forest, and on dirt and cobblestone paths.

PAYMENT

You will be charged a non-refundable $500 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $2,150 will be due by August 15, 2018. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $625 will be included in the final balance due.

TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

  • Flights or other transportation to and from London, England.
  • Airport transfers.
  • Travel insurance (optional).
  • Food and drink outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including all lunches, two dinners, and any alcoholic beverages.
  • Personal expenses.
  • If applicable, applying for a U.K. visa (not required for U.S. or E.U. citizens).