Two favourite places of mine as a local Westcountry resident are Dartington, in the scenic countryside of the South Hams of Devon, and the market town of Totnes with its 11th century motte and bailey castle. Best of all they are linked by a pleasant walk along the Dart Valley.
The small village of Dartington is centred on a roundabout on the A385 between South Brent and Totnes. Apart from a Post Office, a well-stocked general store, a primary school and a few houses, the only other landmark is the sign for the “Shops at Dartington“, formerly the Dartington Cider Press. It really is well worth turning off and exploring this lovely old complex, as you will see.
Old buildings with a new lease of life
The old stone buildings of the former Cider Press Centre and Pottery now house a range of tasteful upmarket shops selling glassware, crafts, delicatessen and food items, gifts, toys, kitchenware and stationery. I always like to linger in the outdoor areas where they have unusual plants and shrubs for sale.
My favourite stop (after the café!) is the toy shop which not only sells educational toys and books, but also has cute branded clothing for the under 8s and a “Crazy about Clay” workshop with one-hour sessions costing just £7. Any product you want to have fired and glazed is charged at a reasonable rate per kilo for the clay.
If you can tear yourself away, follow the footpath around the back of the shops that runs alongside the Bidwell Brook, a sizeable stream that eventually feeds into the River Dart. A field separates the well-made footpath from the buzzing traffic on the winding A385. You will shortly pass an old watermill, its wheel and leat still in place, although the business now runs on a more reliable energy source!
After about a mile, the path eventually ends at a stile leading onto Dartington Lane where a quick right turn takes you past the old black-and-white lodge. This would once have guarded the access road to the lovely Dartington Hall, now a College of Arts and Music set in beautiful gardens (also worth a stroll around for free!).
Opposite the lodge, turn left and rejoin the footpath which runs through the countryside and after a wide weir it runs alongside the scenic River Dart. After walking beneath the Brutus Bridge, at the next arched bridge climb the steps and emerge right at the bottom of Fore Street.
Old Totnes – one of my great loves
I really love Old Totnes as there are plenty of tearooms and pubs such as the friendly Royal Seven Stars Hotel with its outdoor tables and renowned restaurant.
My favourites include the Fat Lemons Café, winner of the “Best Coffee in Totnes 2012” which has an excellent all-day menu, and the Waterside Bistro which has a lovely outdoor terrace overlooking the river from the old Apple Wharf. They are all just steps from the riverside footpath and I always feel that I deserve sustenance before tackling the steep hill and shops on Fore Street! Take your pick and enjoy a pasty or a well-earned clotted cream scone and coffee before exploring this delightful town.
Walk up Fore Street which is spanned by the old restored Eastgate with its clockface and bay window looking down the street. Further up on the left is an open air market ‐ great for plants and antiques – as well as the usual array of gift shops and chains such as Boots and W.H. Smith.
Look out for the Brutus Stone on Fore Street which marks where Brutus of Troy apparently came ashore in 1136 and named the town Totnes. However, the fortified town was established many years earlier and even minted its own coins for a time.
Superb views from the castle
Follow the signs to the Norman Castle; it is well worth it for the superb views over the town and countryside. The castle is managed by English Heritage and tours can be taken with the resident archaeologist. Great fun for all ages!
After all that climbing, remember you still have a two-mile walk back along the river to the car park in Dartington!
Totnes has loads of interesting and unique shops and attractions. If you've visited, please share your favourite shop, café or experience for the benefit of other visitors. Thank you!