Darts Farm is a large store on the outskirts of Exeter, just outside the town of Topsham in Devon.
Originally a farm shop opened in the 1970's, it has since grown into a large store incorporating a number of different concessions.
There is a large 'Cotswold Outdoor' store, which sells camping and winter sport accessories as well as a large range of branded outdoor clothing. To compliment this, there is an RSPB store which sells bird and wildlife watching equipment, with proceeds going to the charity.
Then there is a spacious toy section, which contains a lot of items that are a little bit different to ones that you would probably find on the high street, with the onus being on more traditional. The same section also has a part dedicated to pets, or rather pets that you want to spoil, with toys, tons of luscious pet blankets and beds and funny books and items for the keen pet owner!
There is a small area that sells jewellery, including branded such as Juicy Couture and items from the likes of Cath Kidson.
There are two specific home sections, one on the ground floor and another which comes under the banner of 'Orange Tree'. The ground floor has a really wide range of products from Nigella Lawson kitchenware, crockery, stationery including cards, cookbooks and books on the local area. There is also a section just off this which specialises in gardening accessories, and I would say accessories rather than tools, as this is not a garden centre but does have some garden decorations such as signs, gloves and implements that are built to be aesthetically pleasing as well as useful. Here there is also a Burts Bees concession - a honey based cosmetic brands with some association with healing worn, gardeners hands.
There is a small children's clothing section with items such as wellies, and a more adult one which sells items such as slightly more luxurious gloves and scarves.
The Orange Tree store, is more aimed towards furniture but still has a wide number of products. A lot of space is taken up with items such as sofas, tables etc. However, it also has things like glasses, mirrors, table decorations, candles, mugs and other decorative items. It also has designer skincare such as Cowshed and Dr Sebagh. You can also get designer handbags such as Juicy Couture and Mulberry here.
Alongside this are concessions for The Aga Store and Fired Earth. The Aga Store, as you expect specialises in these farmhouse ovens, with a number on display. Also on sale are a number of books and accessories as well as general (and more unusual cooking utensils). Fired Earth is an upmarket bathroom and kitchen decoration company, featuring some very high quality tiles and paints as well as examples of bathrooms and kitchens using these components.
On the side of the main building there is a beauty salon/'treatment spa and Pilates facility.
Now onto the piece de resistance of the store - the food! There is a good onus on locally/regionally based food products such as the following - Burts Crisps (hand fried crisps from Devon), Millie's Cookies (Tiverton, Devon), Channel 4's Willie Harcourt Cooze's chocolate (also Tiverton), South Devon Chili Farm (Ashburton, near Devon), various River Cottage items (also Ashburton), Kernow Chocolate (Cornwall), Tregnothan Tea (also Cornwall.), Luscombe bottled drinks (Buckfastleigh, Devon.). I could go on because there are so many. Amongst the other items you can get are the following; various continental chocolates and trees, biscuits, crackers/oatcakes, jams/chutneys, herbs and spices, cakes and other sweet baked goods, frozen fruit and pastries and many, many more things..... The fruit and vegetable section in particular is pretty fantastic, with a wide range of locally sourced produce - it proves a bit of an education as to how 'prettified; a lot of fresh produce is before it hits your average supermarket shelves - the sprout towers at Christmas are worth a particular mention. There is also a highly recommended butchery which sells a wide variety of meat (well duh!)
The food section then leads into the drink one - including its famous 'Cider house and ale works' - a corner positively chockablock with bottles from all over the UK. The smell has to be experienced! The selection is so immense that I do not think you could ever try them all, and has a few alternative types if you want to try something a bit different - banana bread beer anyone. Unsurprisingly it does not just keep to cider and ale. There is a lot of wine there also, including a number of regional varieties as well as a number of spirits and mixers which are quite unusual, or those that you might only otherwise see in a good independent off licence.
There are a number of alternatives available if you would like to eat right there. In the centre of the store is a restaurant which serves warm cooked main meals, soups, desserts etc and are a reasonable price. You can normally get a main course for between £5 and £10 and many of them feature local produce and ingredients. On a Sunday lunchtime you can usually get a roast also. One warning though, during the weekends you will normally need to queue to get a seat. Out the back of the store is 'The Fish Shed' - a fish and chip shop/fishmongers which I have never tried but smells absolutely delicious and of which I have heard people rave about. In the food hall there is also a substantial cheese counter, which leads on to a deli serving all types of things such as stuffed vine leaves and peppers through to mini pies and pasties. You can also get hot drinks here. There is some seating both inside and outside for you to enjoy these things, otherwise you can take away.
Outside of the store is a large grassy area with some benches for if you want to eat outdoors. There are a number of animals in pitches around the grounds which are nice to walk around and look at.
So, what is my overall opinion? Well as you might have guessed, from the length and detail of my review - I am a great fan of this store. Although a little in the middle of nowhere, there is plenty there to keep you entertained on a Sunday afternoon jaunt and it is lovely to browse around. All of the concessions are beautifully presented, and although there is a lot of 'stuff' around it does not really feel cluttered even though you cannot possibly feel like you can truly take it all in. The food hall is an absolute jewel in the crown. I love the fact that it really champions the cause of local producers, but I also get the impression that these are still specially selected, especially as I have never eaten a substandard product from there. Products I would recommend are as follows (a lot of these are available from the producers websites if you just Google the names):
*Camel Valley Sparkling Wine (also known as 'Cornwall')
*Cornish Rattler cider (see the other reviews on this site if you do not believe me)
*South Devon Chili Farm - all excellent, but particularly the Chili mint chocolate and chili chutney
*Luscombe ginger beer (hot)
*The Brussels sprout towers that they sell at Christmas time
I personally get the most out of the food section rather than the non-food concessions as I am a bit of a foodie, but I do enjoy browsing the homeware sections, and indeed there are some excellent ideas for presents there as it does have a lot of stuff that you would maybe only otherwise see in independent stores, something which is sadly lacking in Exeter city centre for the most part.
Now onto the bad news - a lot of the stuff sold there, as you might have guessed is on the expensive side, particularly in the home section - that should not come as any real surprise as the place does sell a lot of premium brands. And also on arriving there, you just have to look around you to see that you are fully amongst the 'Green Wellies and Boden Brigade'. The Orange Tree section in particular sells a lot of large pricey items. However, up against this they do have some very reasonably priced and locally produced candles, so swings and roundabouts. The food also goes from the reasonably priced to the expensive. However, the vegetables in particular are very reasonably priced considering the fact that they are locally sourced.
In my opinion, despite being an out-of-town store, Darts Farm really does a lot for the local area. In particular, it has made me aware a lot of small producers who produce quality products which are now a part of my store cupboard, at least on occasion. Raising awareness in this way, particularly in this financial climate and a time where industry such as agriculture is struggling, cannot be a bad thing, in my opinion.
The store has a website at www.dartsfarm.co.uk if you are interested in finding out more, however it is not a comprehensive online shop.