Day Trip: Totnes
THINGS TO DO IN TOTNES
A Norman castle, stunning vineyard and some of Devon’s best shopping, Totnes is an all-round crowd-pleaser. Here’s a selection of our favourite things to do.
High on a hilltop above town, Totnes Castle is among the best-preserved examples of a Norman 'motte and bailey' castle (a round keep sitting on a raised earthwork). The views over Totnes's rooftops and the South Hams beyond are captivating, but the interior is largely empty. Look out for the medieval toilet (but don't use it).
Totnes Fashion & Textiles Museum
Beautifully displayed 18th- to 20th-century garments, Totnes Fashion Museum is set in one of Totnes' finest Tudor merchant's houses.
Henry VIII gave this pastoral 324-hectare estate to two of his wives (Catherines Howard and Parr). For many years Dartington Estate was home to the town's art college; now the 14th-century manor house hosts events, including renowned classical-music and literature festivals. There's also an art-house cinema. The grounds are also worth exploring. It's about 2 miles northwest of Totnes. Dartington's 14th-century manor house edges a grassy space reminiscent of an Oxbridge quadrangle. In the landscaped gardens impressive terraced banks frame an area known as the Tiltyard, while flower-filled borders lead down to glades, meadows and thatched cottages. Amid the tiny paths and secret benches you can hunt out Henry Moore's carved stone sculpture Memorial Figure, the swirling bobbles of Peter Randall Page's Jacob's Pillow and the bronze Donkey by Willi Soukop. The Japanese Garden, complete with raked gravel and cedar-wood shelter, is beside the ruined church.
Three miles south of Totnes off the A381, Sharpham Vineyard is chiefly known for its crisp, sparkling white wines, as well as its delicious cheeses. Perched above the meandering River Dart, it's become one of the UK's best-known winemakers. You can explore the vine-covered slopes solo, followed by a wine and/or cheese tasting in the shop, or plump for the full guided tour. After a tour of the vines, sit down for delicious food from a daily-changing blackboard menu at the rustic bistro of Sharpham Wine & Cheese. The choices revolve around local treats, so expect smoked fish, crab salad and Lyme Bay scallops, as well as the estate's own wines and cheeses. It's all delicious. Book ahead. Opens longer hours in summer.
Berry Pomeroy Castle
Two miles east of Totnes, this ruined castle was originally built by the feudal Pomeroys in the 15th century. Within the walls is a second stronghold, a Tudor mansion constructed by Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset. Unfortunately, the Seymour clan's fortunes turned for the worse after the English Civil war, and by 1700 Berry Pomeroy was nothing more than a ruin – and has remained so ever since. It's notorious for ghostly goings-on.
Totnes High Street
Hippyish Totnes is a place where the independent spirit is cherished – they even have their own currency, the Totnes pound. This is the place to shop for wholefoods, eco and organic stores. Aromatika sells organic and natural skincare products made in Devon, while Arcturus Books stock mind, body and spirit titles. The Seeds2Bakery uses only local organic stone ground flour, while the Wild Fig Deli specialises in gluten-free and vegetarian food. Drift Records stock new music, with a policy that ranges from left field minimal tech house to home-recorded roots music from the Appalachian Mountains. Me and East and Busby and Fox both sell gorgeous homewares.
Earth Food Love
Earth Food Love, which opened on Totnes High Street in March 2017, deserves a special mention for being the first zero-waste shop in the UK. Inside, almost every inch of the modestly sized shop is crammed with a dispenser of some sort, for everything from pulses, grains and dried fruit to detergents and bamboo toothbrushes – all organic and free of plastic and pesticides. They’re ahead of the game on the anti-plastic revolution and have become the pin-ups for others doing the same, from the Bulk Market in east London to other people around the country wanting to follow suit. The idea is you take your own container – whether it’s a Tupperware, tin can or reusable bag (they’ve even had someone using pillowcases), fill up with food, weigh and pay. There’s not a plastic bag in sight, nor anything wrapped in the shiny stuff. For them, it’s not about making a profit; it’s about consuming food and everyday products in a way that doesn’t cost the earth.
The Shops At Dartington
Artistic education centre Dartington Hall also houses an unusual shopping experience – you’ll find everything here, including natural beauty products, colourful kitchenware and a classy food shop, where 80% of the produce stocked is made, reared or grown in the West Country. At the lovely Re-Store shop, volunteer artists restore and upcycle old materials into covetable homewares. And the Tanner Bates Leather School produces hand-stitched and high quality leather goods, from luggage tags to messenger bags.
Signposted by a fashionably rusting modernist sign, Nkuku, on the outskirts of Totnes, is a rustic-chic repository of artisan creations from India, Vietnam and Africa – all handpicked by husband-and-wife team Alex and Alistair Cooke. Think pyramid terrariums created by a latch maker in Uttar Pradesh, hand-loomed Rajasthani block-print jute rugs, ceramics, pretty Mawia bead bracelets made in West Bengal, and Kadira leather journals crafted in Delhi. They have a lovely cafe.
EATING AND DRINKING
The Almond Thief, Dartington
The sourdough bread at craft bakery The Almond Thief is legendary, but they’ve also just branched out into a cafe business, serving a cracking artisan breakfast. The menu changes weekly, but look out for Bob’s dynamic poached eggs from neighbouring Huxham’s Cross Farm, served on sourdough with Rust Pig 24-month cured ham and asparagus. Wash it down with a cup of Crankhouse coffee.
This Italian cafe has a cult-like following with Devon coffee aficionados and is lauded for its espresso. The brunch menu runs all day. Go for poached eggs served with either crispy prosciutto, house-made sausage or roasted peppers and avocado. Another favourite at The Curator is the Italian BLT, served on freshly-made focaccia.
Riverford Field Kitchen
This ecofriendly, organic, plough-to-plate farm is where everyone wants to eat when they visit Totnes. Riverford Field Kitchen began as a food-box scheme, and has now branched out into a delightful barn bistro, where diners sit communally at long wooden tables and share dishes of the day. Rustic flavours rule: expect delicious salads, roast meats and imaginative veggie options. Bookings required.
Sharpham Wine and Cheese
After a tour of the vines, sit down for delicious food from a daily-changing blackboard menu at the rustic bistro of Sharpham Wine & Cheese. The choices revolve around local treats, so expect smoked fish, crab salad and Lyme Bay scallops, as well as the estate's own wines and cheeses. It's all delicious. Book ahead. Opens longer hours in summer.
There’s breakfast, and then there is breakfast from Mangetout. Take up a seat out the front to watch Totnes wander by, take over the small interior, or better yet, find a seat in shaded courtyard out back. Their smoothies are incredible, as is the smashed avocado on sourdough, with a poached egg on top and a side of bacon.
New Lion Brewery
Craft beer with community spirit: this microbrewery is locally owned and run by Totnes residents, with profits helping to support the town's economy. The three core beers are the classic Mane Event bitter, hoppy Pandit IPA and silky Totnes Stout. The shop is open every day, but the brewery bar is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The Hairy Barista
Aeropress, cold-brew, V60, flat white or just plain-old espresso, the aptly named Hairy Barista (aka Roe Yekutiel) will oblige – his little shop has become the town's go-to place for speciality coffee. There are cakes and pastries on offer too, but the space is a little cramped inside (and mind the step on the way in!).
The Totnes Brewing Co
The Totnes Brewing Co is situated at the bottom of Totnes Castle. As well as brewing their own craft beers right in the bar on a weekly basis they also stock a huge range of guest craft ales & ciders - local and international. If you love craft beer this is a must with "probably" the largest selection of beers and ciders in the area (usually over 100). The beer garden is a perfect spot from which to admire the Castle and the bar is warm and cosy at night - with an open fire on cold days. Food platters to go with beer are served during the holiday season and people are welcome to bring their own food when the kitchen is closed - they are dog friendly and have free wifi. Children welcome during the day and early evening.
From the company’s base in an uber-cool barn conversion, Nkuku sells its range of ethical, handmade homewares online. What many customers don’t realize as they’re buying its beautiful ceramic cereal bowls or wooden serving platters is that Nkuku also has a shop and café at its Devon HQ. A calming, earthy, stripped-back space, it’s the perfect setting for artisan, wood-roasted coffee from the nearby Curator Café, homemade cakes and brownies and deli boards laid with locally sourced cheeses and cured meats. Its sunny, south-facing courtyard is a great spot to while away an afternoon.