One of the days of our holiday was spent exploring two towns that sit on the River Dart. Once the Dart comes down from the moors at Buckfastleigh, it winds its way through the South Hams region to Totnes. This small but important town is one of the few crossing points and therefore is a pivotal town in the district.
We headed there for a couple of hours of exploring for my husband and reminiscing for me. As one of the bigger towns near to where we camp in Devon each time we visit, I have been to Totnes quite a few times over the years but it’s pretty streets and quirky shops always draw me back.
The town is known as the Hippie capital of the South West and it’s fair to say there are quite a few shops that will cater for a range of lifestyle choices. It’s no surprise to find lots of shops with ethical and sustainability purposes at their forefront in the town too. Something I noticed a lot this trip is just how driven the South West is by these environmental concerns and how many shops are leading the charge in changing our lifestyle habits to live more harmoniously with our environment. I’m by no means perfect but I’ve been trying to make more ethical choices in the last 6-12 months so it was great to see.
Our first stop was the castle. I wrote all about it here in a guest post for the blog Flight and Times and we made our way up the steep high street to get there first. It was on our way back down that we popped into a couple of the shops. Stupidly, I didn’t write down any of the names and google maps isn’t really helping jog my memory, but basically the point is, explore the shops, there are some great finds there! I remember we found on the Refill app that Neal’s Yard was a local refill station so we popped in there and then I headed down to what I deem the most important shop in Totnes. It’s the Edward’s Fudge Kitchen shop. I know there are lots of fudge shops in the South West, it’s one of the draws of the area especially with the abundance of clotted cream, but I have also eaten a LOT of fudge in my time and I can confirm that Edward’s Fudge Kitchen make the very best. You can find their stores in a few Devon towns and by the looks of their Instagram they’re out and about at lots of shows and festivals too. Definitely make sure you try some if you’re in Devon!
As we got to the bottom of the hill and headed back towards the car, we also went to the lovely cheese shop Country Cheeses. As our holiday budget was wearing thin, we didn’t purchase anything on this occasion but we will aim to in the future and there was so much choice of excellent cheese! Our final stop before heading to the car was Annie’s Fruit Shop. Another shop that prides itself on it’s ethical credentials, this plastic free shop is first and foremost a green-grocers where we got some excellent, fresh local produce, but also sells a range of ethical living products and other store cupboard essentials available in big vats where you will need to take your own containers to purchase. It was excellent, the food we had from there was delicious and good value and there was so much choice in products and the number of things you could buy as refillable products.
At this point we headed to the car and set off for our next stop, Dartmouth. Dominated by the Naval College that looks down over the town and can be seen in its full splendor best from the river, the town is an important Naval port and has been for hundreds of years. With a famous connection to the Mayflower and Speedwell, amongst many other vessels, the town’s naval heritage is everywhere to be seen. Again, one of the reasons for going here was the castle, which I talk about in the post I referred to earlier but there were plenty of other reasons too! One big thing to note about going to Dartmouth, the parking in the centre is pretty limited and expensive. Luckily there are a range of other ways to get to Dartmouth, including heritage railway and ferry, boat, and park and ride. I have arrived in Dartmouth by all modes over the years but this year we chose park and ride. At the top of a steep hill on the outskirts of town, the bus takes about 10 minutes to go from the car park into the centre of the town and drops you off on the riverfront right in the heart of the town.
When we got into the town, we headed through the pretty town park just back from the riverfront and through to the Tourist Information Centre. This was mainly to go and see the Newcomen Engine that is housed within the building. The engine can be seen for no charge in a room just off the main tourist information centre, where there is a video and lots of information about how the first atmospheric pressure engine was designed and constructed in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen. This engine was designed to pump water out of mines, which were prone to regular flooding. His first engine was constructed in Dudley, in the West Midlands and there is a working replica in the Black Country Living Museum nearby. Newcomen was originally from Dartmouth, however and therefore one of his engines was moved in 1946 from Warwickshire to Dartmouth to honour the town’s famous son. The room the engine is in, is pretty small so sorry for the terrible photo, it’s the best I could get! The second one was taken by my husband who thought to take the photo of the logo showing what the engine looks like!
Just up from the Tourist Information Centre, tucked in amongst the shops on Duke Street is the Dartmouth Museum. Unfortunately we knew we were a bit pushed for time to make sure we had time at the castle so we didn’t go in, but it seems well worth a visit and is definitely on the ‘to-visit’ list for us, it’s only £2 per adult to enter too. As we continued up Duke Street, past the bakery that sells the enormous cookies we headed for the art galleries and independent shops of Foss Street and on to my favourite shop/gallery in Dartmouth. With an enormous giraffe hanging out of the second storey window (obviously), it could be none other than artist and pun extraordinaire, Simon Drew. You may not know the name, but I will hazard a guess that you have come across his work somewhere before. His quirky style comes across the moment you walk through in door into the shop and gallery that is overflowing with all sorts of things from greetings cards to bags, tea towels to prints. These are our current array of Simon Drew coasters. I also have a ‘Cat-A-Meringue’ print (which I need to put up at some point) which is, yes, three cats with meringues on their heads and a ‘Cat a Tonic’ fridge magnet amongst other things.
After eventually tearing ourselves away from the word puzzle gift cards, we finally carried on, having a nosey in a few other shops before making our way back down to the riverfront, via the harbour. It’s opposite the harbour that you will find the station café in the old railway station. Except, it never was a station! Isambard Kingdom Brunel was so confident that he would be granted permission to build a bridge across the river at Dartmouth, that he built the station first. Unfortunately, permission was denied and the railway stopped in the village of Kingswear on the opposite bank! You can now cross the river, but you’ll have to go on the little car and foot passenger ferry instead! The railway line from Paignton to Kingswear is now a Heritage Line and a fantastic way to come into the town, with beautiful views of the Torbay coast.
It was at this point that we started the 15-minute walk towards the headland to visit the castle. We headed to the lovely little tea rooms there first before exploring the castle itself which was lovely in the sunshine. After a couple of hours there, we headed back to the town. We did think about getting the little ferry that runs from the castle back to the town centre, unfortunately it wasn’t running that day so we walked back instead ready to head home for the day.
As you would imagine with a town so intrinsically linked with the sea and navy, there are numerous opportunities to take a boat trip from Dartmouth. One of the journeys you can do that includes Dartmouth is the Round Robin. This allows you to take the heritage train from Kingswear to Paignton, open top bus from Paignton into Totnes and then boat down the river from Totnes to Dartmouth. Another option is the paddle steamer which is personally, my next boat trip aim from Dartmouth. I was lucky to go on a paddle steamer in the Lake District when I was a child and found it fascinating, I’d love to go on another one! As well as these there are plenty of trips out to sea from Dartmouth too for wildlife watching etc. I believe it’s also where my parents went on a mackerel fishing trip a few years ago!
To end our day on the Dart, we headed home via the South Devon Coast Scenic Route, a fantastic drive, but something I will write about another time to do it justice.