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Totnes is my favourite town in the country (closely followed by Dartmouth). It is a market town in the South Hams, South Devon - an absolutely stunnning location with the River Dart running by. 15 minutes drive from the English Riviera (Torquay, Paignton and Brixham) and 20 minutes from Plymouth. It is unique in its thriving character - once you've been, you'll know what is meant by this. One of the best descriptions was given nearly four centuries ago by the Devon writer Thomas Westcote, who called it 'this city-like town, with pleasant soil, fruitful country and healthful air'. All these attributes are as true today as ever. My mum also says 'you can recognise a local in Totnes by their footwear' - again, you'll know what this mean when you visit; it certainly houses a diverse and interesting range of people. Very cosmopolitan!
Totnes has a regular market - fridays and saturdays throughout the year. It's great for festival-style hippie/ bohemian clothing at a good price. You can also pick up furniture and other knick-knacks. Totnes is one of few towns locally not to appear hit by the credit crunch - the shops are still alive and bustling, each individual and usually quirky, with an eclectic mix of goods on sale (homeware, shoes, clothes, art, therapies, gifts, books, toys, fudge...) You will always find that perfect gift in Totnes and it's fab for Christmas shopping. The architecture is fabulous and the main street is reputed to have more listed buildings per head of population than any other town in Britain, each uniquely beautiful and full of character. Don't forget a visit to the Totnes Castle - a beautiful sight as you approach the town from the Newton Abbot direction.
From Totnes, you can sail down the River Dart, past Agatha Christie's home until you arrive at the small town of Dartmouth. It is then possible to take the steam train to Paignton and the bus back to Totnes - this is called the Round Robin and tickets can be purchased for just £17.50. A fabulous and varied day out with the three towns being so wonderfully diverse.
If you're eating out, there's a fine choice available - i'd recommend the steampacket (pub on the riverside with outdoor heaters) or the waterside bistro (again on the river, younger and trendier) or Rumour (most delicious food and unique, friendly, chilled atmosphere).
I can't recommend Totnes highly enough - part of me was in two minds whether to review it as i like to think of it as a local secret, but then i thought it'd be selfish not to share!
Totnes is a magical town with so much to recommend it. First of all I should tell you that the town centre has many Elizabethan buildings and you can often see groups of children on school trips. They all have clip boards and go around the town looking at the Elizabethan buildings. The town also has its own castle, railway station and of course the river Dart.
I suppose I should warn anyone of a nervous disposition that the main street, Fore St leading up to the High St which becomes the Narrows, is quite a steep hill and in some places the pavement is very narrow. However, you will be distrated by the many interesting places along the way, The Conker Shoe company, The Elizabethan Museum, The Costume Museum, the market on Fridays and in the summer the Tuesday Elizabethan Market where the traders all dress up in Elizabethan costumes.
Totnes is home to quite a diverse community, local people, during term time students from Dartington College and of course the "recycled hippies" (it has a very "alternative" profile and if you want some crystal therapy, Indian head massage or even gong therapy it is the place to come). I hasten to add the "recycled hippies" is an affectionate term used for the many people who come to Totnes attracted by the tolerant community. Unfortunately the college is moving to Falmouth which is going to be a big loss to the town.
If you want a picnic why not go down to Vire Island and sit by the Dart and watch the rich people in the boats, or catch the ferry down to Dartmouth.
There is lots to do in Totnes and it is well worth a visit, it is on the main railway line which goes down to Plymouth and Cornwall and there are direct trains from as far a field as Edinburgh, London, Birmingham and Bristol.
Well within easy reach of Torquay, Brixham and Paignton, 'the English Riviera' (about 6 miles), Plymouth (26 miles) and Exeter (30 miles), and on the main train and bus (local and National Express coach) routes, Totnes is well worth visiting, either on a day trip or using as a holiday base for south Devon. It can be busy in the summer months - name me somewhere that isn't. But here you will find an olde-worlde charm that, in my view, the larger towns and cities lack. In fact, some of my more townie colleagues at work (in Plymouth) seem to regard Totnes as a colony of old hippies, or the alternative lifestyle capital of the beards, peasant smocks'n'sandals brigade. Let 'em, say I. Legend has it that in prehistoric times Brutus, the grandson of Aeneas of Troy, sailed up the river Dart, and founded both Totnes and the British race. Be that as it may, it was settled and fortified by the Saxons, and the Church of St Mary and Totnes castle were built by the Normans. The moat of the latter still survives and is open to the public, while the church was reconstructed in the 15th century. Two gateways remain from the medieval town, and the 17th-century Guildhall is one of the oldest surviving such buildings in the country. Many of the houses in Fore Street, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, have remained largely unspoilt. The Guildhall has a small collection of local relics, while the Museum in Merchant's House, Fore Street, includes Saxon coins minted in the town and a display devoted to Totnes' most famous worthy, Charles Babbage, the pioneer of the computer, without whom the Net might not be here. Shopping facilities in the town are good, with the usual high street banks, groceries, coffee shops, newsagents, a small Woolworths, and the ubiquitous Safeways. On a brighter note there are also four small to medium-sized secondhand and antiquarian booksellers, the largest being Pedlar's P
ack on The Plains, at the bottom of Fore Street. Higher up, Harlequin Books has a good stock of new (full price and remaindered) and secondhand titles. Friday is market day (make that market morning), so if your idea of holiday heaven is a good browse in stall after stall of not only food, garden plants and clothes but also bric-a-brac, musical instruments, old picture frames, horse brasses, books and records, be at the market piazza at the top of Fore Street, preferably bright and early. For collectors and collectables - stamps, old postcards, objets d'art and more - there is an antiques market in the Guildhall next door at the same time. Along the narrows of High Street directly above, several old, small and rather inviting antiques and craft shops are also well worth a look. During the summer months, Elizabethan Society members dress up in period costume and can be seen mingling with the crowds, especially on market day. They also run their own charity market on Vire Island on the Dart. If it's clubbing you're after, you will need to go out of town. But there are several pubs, some of which provide regular live music at weekends. After closing time the town can be a little on the noisy side (I speak as someone who takes the 12.20 a.m. coach from Totnes to London two or three times per year), but generally avoids those after-hours incidents normally associated with the big cities' night spots. One word of warning. Most of the shops in Totnes are in Fore Street, which is built on a fairly steep hill. Us westcountry types be used to dem hilly places [said in a Deb'nshire accent], so for those of you who aren't, make sure you're fit, and be prepared to bribe youngsters with ices or sweets if necessary! Also, at busy times it's probably almost as quick to walk up Fore Street as drive up it. Traffic is only one-way, and there has been a long-running debate about pedestrianising the area. The
re is adequate parking within walking distance (though watch out for over-zealous traffic wardens), and if you don't mind the exercise, unrestricted parking at various places above or below the town. The town has two websites, www.totnes.co.uk and www.totnesweb.com. Unlike some of the town's major architectural attractions, these still seem to be partly under construction, but still provide a certain amount of information about history, sights and accommodation. The first will also give you 'a traditional Elizabethan curse' if you ask it to. There's something you don't get offered every day. A couple of miles NNW is Dartington Hall, headquarters of the Dartington Trust. Its gardens are free to all, and an ever-popular magnet at any time of year for the profusion of flowers, shrubs, trees and a much-loved donkey statue by Henry Moore. At Shinners Bridge on the edge of town, you will find the Cider Press Centre, with a National Trust Information Centre, restaurant facilities and a large complex of arts and crafts workshops where you can watch artists, potters, weavers et al at work and buy their produce. There are also several nature trails in unspoilt countryside and woodland starting from this area. About two miles on the other side of Totnes, on the road to Torbay, is Berry Pomeroy Castle. Again, only the ruins survive, but an incomplete Tudor mansion built in the keep is worth visiting. In addition to the large towns and cities already mentioned, there are two small ancient market towns about 6-8 miles away along the A38 (Devon Expressway) between Exeter and Plymouth. Ashburton has the Dartmoor Bookshop, which in my view is probably the best secondhand bookseller in Devon, a friendly family-owned business with a superb general stock covering three floors. Buckfastleigh is home to Buckfast Abbey, the Butterflies and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary, and the Valiant Soldier, the recently-restored pub 'that
time forgot'. Like Totnes, these towns are comparatively unspoilt and preserve much of their ancient character. They are both on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, so heaven on earth is only a few minutes' drive away from either. Some of the attractions listed above are only open during the summer months, but others are open all the year round. Even a day trip out-of-season, when it is quieter, is well worth consideration.
We had a brilliant holiday near Totnes this summer, so much to do we just couldn't fit it all in. We stayed in a self catering cottage in Rattery with another family. Between us we had 4 children aged between 8 months and 2 1/2 years, so needed to keep them entertained, but that wasn't a problem at all. Among the things we did in our week were: Paington Zoo (twice) Buckfastleigh Steam Train Babbacombe Model Village (featuring Letterland characters this summer) Mothecombe beach Dartington Cider Press Centre Of the above, Paington Zoo was definitely the best value for money. It was free for the children to get in, and about £7 for adults. We spent a day there and didnt' see everything, but they have a great idea which is pay £2 and you can get a ticket to go back anytime in the next 3 months. The children all loved seeing the animals, we were surprised how much the 2 babies enjoyed it too. As well as animals there are a couple of adventure play areas, kids activities and a little train ride. If you are holidaying with small children there is lots to do in this area of Devon. The cottage we stayed in was on a farm with the added bonus of an under fives soft play area indoors - we booked through toad hall cottages and stayed at knowle farm.