Category: Blog

Our visit to Totnes by Conversant Traveller

It had been a day of dappled light and dragonflies. A day of strolling beside sun drenched vineyards, lazy meandering rivers and fragrant herb gardens alive with butterflies. As Hubbie and I sipped chilled glasses of sparkling wine and tucked into tranches of local cheese, we could be forgiven for thinking we were in the south of France, rather than southern England. We’d been exploring Devon, a county famous for it’s mysterious moors, sandy beaches, and national parks, yet it was a medieval market town that had our full attention today. It turns out there are plenty of fun things to do in Totnes, without a moor, beach or park in sight! Totnes has a colourful and legendary history, packed full of mythical kings, lords and rebels, and merchants and soldiers. Today it’s known more for its cultural scene, independent local shops and a rather unique cosmopolitan countryside vibe. The town sits on the picturesque River Dart, the sort of tranquil pastoral scene where you’d expect to encounter characters from Wind in the Willows. There are lots of things to do in Totnes, from castles and museums to steam trains and boat trips, but we had our eye on something a little different. Vineyards, ghosts and lettuce! Saxon in origin, Totnes has been known for both craft and industry, and was once an important and prosperous centre for trade. Although it is still a thriving market town, the Totnes of today is more popular with the artistic community and attracts visitors from near and far to enjoy the buzzing cultural scene and picturesque countryside. The focal point is Totnes castle, commanding a dominant position overlooking the town, and the intriguing range of independent shops, cafes and galleries are all within easy walking distance. There is also plenty to do in the surrounding area, so we spent a fun filled day checking out the best things to do in and around Totnes. Read more....

Independent Totnes Cinema

How many High Streets in Great Britain can boast their very own independent art-house cinema?

Totnes Cinema CIC is a social enterprise, set up by a local couple, passionate about film and excited about Totnes. So far the project has been entirely funded by local donations and memberships and the success of its carefully chosen programme, and we still have plenty more to do!! All the bar staff, stewards, and musicians volunteer their time and are paid with the chance to watch the film. Totnes Cinema is located in the heart of Totnes, down a hidden passageway just off the High St. Our mission was to bring back the magic of cinema to our local town. We were inspired by a wonderful photograph, taken in the late 1940s of boys holding banners saying “Save our Cinema,” and in true Totnes style, they marched up the High St to make their feelings known. There had been a cinema in Totnes from the early days of film and the last remaining one, The Romany, closed its doors in 1964 due to falling audiences. The building became the well-loved Totnes Library until its expansion and relocation, and the building fell empty. As a local couple, film lovers and with teenage children, we took on the challenge of re-creating a cinema for our local town center to create a social and cultural hub in the town.

As you leave the hustle and bustle of the market day, you are taken into this unique and surprising space, more like a Berlin cabaret than a cinema, with subdued lighting, comfy sofas, bistro table and chairs and luxurious cinema seats on the balcony. We even have a baby grand piano!

As a truly independent cinema, we can offer a wide range of films, carefully chosen from all genres including classic black and white film noir, the best from musical theatre, and modern-day classics and Oscar winners. With a fully licensed bar which stretches the width of the building, beneath an enormous screen we encourage people to come early and enjoy cocktails, fine wines, and craft beers and to meet up with friends, often with live music and a showreel of classic adverts. There is always someone around afterward, to chat and discuss the film. On a Saturday you can pop in for excellent coffee and homemade cake, as our “mystic portal” opens up to daylight. We believe we add to the uniqueness of our wonderfully independent High St and complement all the many individual traders and businesses around us, bringing life to the evenings on the High St as well as the days. Jane Hughes, Director of Totnes Cinema

Get out with Totnes Ramblers

Totnes Ramblers have launched the Franklin Trail information board they have installed on the Plains in Totnes, so local people and visitors to the town can find out more and look at a map of the trail.

The Franklin Trail is a circular walk around Totnes which came to life as part of a legacy bequest from a member of the Totnes Ramblers, Mr Edward Franklin. It is a 6¾ mile, waymarked, circular walk, starting on the Plains in the centre of Totnes, with several points of interest along the way including

Totnes Riverside Station and Fishchowter’s Lane. Totnes Ramblers launched the Trail in 2017 and this year made improvements including the information board, benches and additional fingerposts. The new features have been installed thanks to the efforts of committee members, including Chairman Andrew Chadwick, Footpath Officer Trevor Walker, Chris Leigh and Anna Lunk.

Two benches have been installed, the first is above the Follaton Oaks development and has views across to Haytor on Dartmoor. The second bench is on Fishchowter’s Lane and as well as good views over the town it provides a welcome rest as you walk up the hill. To guide walkers around the Trail five new finger posts were installed on Fishchowter’s Lane, Copland Lane, Barrack Hill, Riverside near Brutus Bridge and near the Hydropower scheme on the River Dart.

Totnes Ramblers Chairman Andrew Chadwick said: “We are delighted to launch the new information board and encourage locals and visitors alike to come and look at it and try the Franklin Trail for themselves.”

More information about the Franklin Trail and a downloadable map can be found on the Totnes Ramblers website www.ramblers.org.uk/totnes. The website also includes details of the group’s walks programme. Totnes Ramblers welcome newcomers to join them for a walk in the beautiful countryside of South Devon.


Members of Totnes Ramblers join Chairman Andrew Chadwick (third from
left) to launch the Franklin Trail information board on the Plains, Totnes (photo credit, Alan
Fuller).

Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies

Tucked away down a siding of one of Devon’s beloved steam railways is a conservation project helping to reintroduce endangered species to the wild. The Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary at Buckfastleigh is a small visitor attraction where you can learn about these beautiful creatures and the important work happening to protect them. We were invited to review the sanctuary by Visit Totnes. This was our first mini-adventure of the summer holidays and the girls and I had roped in Tin Box Grandma and Grandpa for the experience. None of us had been to the sanctuary before despite riding the South Devon Railway between Buckfastleigh and Totnes on other occasions. Tickets are available to combine the train, otter sanctuary and Totnes Rare Breeds Farm at the other end of the track. Together they make a full family day out in South Devon. Read more . . .

Zero Waste & Plastic Free

8 million pieces of plastic are making their way into the ocean every day, an estimated 8.3 billion straws are on coastlines around the world and 1.75 billion single-use plastic bags are still being handed out by supermarkets in the UK. With plastic never fully degrading this has already and will continue to have a huge impact on our planet. The 5p plastic bag levy (which will soon increase to 10p) has helped to reduce the number of bags being used and there are other nationwide schemes available, however much more still needs to be done. Many of the local businesses and organisations in and around Totnes have been making a conscious effort to reduce, reuse and recycle for many years now. Most recently the Plastic Free Totnes campaign has been developed, a community-driven movement aimed at reducing the use of single-use plastics across town. Formed from the Transition Town Totnes Waste Into Resources group in partnership with Totnes Rubbish Walks and Totnes Against Trash, they have signed up to the 'Plastic Free Communities' campaign led by Surfers Against Sewage which sets out 5 objectives for the town to meet including replacing single-use plastics with sustainable alternatives. Many businesses including Waterside Bistro have signed up to Refill Devon, a free tap water initiative designed to reduce plastic pollution by making refilling a water bottle easy, social and rewarding. Earth Food Love was the UK’s first zero-waste shop and is based at the top of the High Street in the area known locally as the Narrows. The shop was started by ex-Manchester United player Richard Eckersley and his wife Nicola after their frustrations with how much packaging they used as a family. With a simple self-weighing system, consumers can bring in their refillable pots and buy everything from flour to peanut butter, tea, fruit, syrup and many more food items, plus non-food items including washing up liquid, wooden toothbrushes, metal straws and bamboo cutlery. Other businesses who are striving to significantly reduce their waste and actively encourage recycling include the riverside restaurant Waterside Bistro who feed their coffee grounds and vegetable peels to the owners’ chickens, and the Totnes Brewing Company who feed excess malt and grain from their brewing process to local pigs. pig  
As a small, independent, family-run brewery, the Totnes Brewing Company is very close to zero waste and has a very low carbon footprint. With the main brewing area at the back of the bar, you can watch one of your future pints being made while sipping on your last, and the benefit of production taking place on site is that it significantly reduces carbon footprint. Many beer kegs are now made out of plastic as they’re lighter and easier to transport but of course, they’re not environmentally friendly, therefore owner Sarah Trigg reuses them as seats for the pub or gives them to the local community for free to be used as garden cloches. As a nation of dedicated coffee drinkers, Brits are throwing away 7 million disposable coffee cups every day. As they are very difficult to recycle due to the layer of a waterproof plastic inside, this is adding to an already massive problem. At The Hairy Barista, a speciality coffee shop on High Street, they actively encourage people to use reusable coffee cups and they themselves use compostable straws as well as supplying and using vegan, organic and plant-based ingredients, food and drink. Delphini’s  also use compostable cups, lids and spoons for take away gelatos, Waterside Bistro has banned plastic straws and The Kitchen Table, a bespoke catering company, use recycled or compostable kitchen supplies and take-away crockery and cutlery. 32723684_440734946387176_2407555119047507968_n (1)
 

Celebrating English Wine Week

At Sharpham we are constantly working to improve and to consistently produce wine that shows off our unique vineyard site in South Devon. This means respecting the land in order to grow the best fruit and then to retain the quality with careful winemaking in the winery. As a result of this, we have just been awarded a gold medal at the Sommelier Wine Awards for our Dart Valley Reserve 2017.

This fruit driven white wine is a blend of predominantly Madeleine Angevine and a touch of Bacchus. It offers ripe fruit characteristics of peach and gooseberry and is well balanced with a soft acidity lending itself well to many of the great local seafood dishes. It is also a great pairing with our rich and full flavoured Jersey milk cheeses with that ripe acidity cutting through creamy flavours of the cheese.

A wine we’re so excited about is our new Pinot Noir red from 2018 which really does capture that amazing summer in the glass and shows a lot of promise for English red winemaking.


Harvesting the grapes at Sharpham Wine

Romance in Totnes

In the wise words of Ghandi, ‘Where there is love there is life’...well we believe that love is in the air all year round here in Totnes, but if you want to get particularly romantic around Valentine’s or just spend time with your family or friends during the school holidays we have lots of charming things to do. With the sentimental day itself falling into February Half Term there are many attractions open offering you the chance to spend a delightful day doing something a little bit different. I mean surely there’s nothing more romantic than taking a ride on an old steam train?! Running along the stunning valley of the River Dart between Buckfastleigh and Totnes, the South Devon Steam Railway is perfect for couples, families and friends and offers a great day out whatever the weather. If you want to get creative (and escape the rain if the weather doesn’t behave itself) you can visit China Blue and spend some time exploring the unique gift shop, treat yourself to a tempting treat in the cafe and of course paint your own ceramic souvenir or have a go at pot throwing. Alternatively on Valentine’s Day itself there is a 2 hour Evening Taster Class by Steve Robinson Glass at Coombe Park Craft Studios near Ashprington, where you can make a fused glass tealight panel to take home making the perfect experience and gift all in one. The class will run from 7 - 9.00 pm and costs £45 per person. You can’t beat the cinema for a few hours escapism and entertainment, and as one of the top dating destinations it’s a great place to take your Valentine or somewhere to meet up with friends. Totnes Cinema offers a unique and very romantic evening unlike any other. Playing films on a classic 35mm movie projector for authentic viewing and offering a fully licensed bar serving fine wine, local craft beer and themed cocktails within the cinema itself it offers a relaxed and intimate experience. The Valentine’s Day screening will be Baz Luhrmann’s passionate musical Moulin Rouge at 8.00 pm, or there is Romeo and Juliet on Sunday 11th February and Little Shop of Horrors on 16th if you prefer something more light-hearted. Alternatively, the quaint Barn Cinema sits in the stunning grounds of the Dartington Estate which will be playing A Woman’s Life at 8.00 pm on 14th February, a French tale of tormented love in 19th Century Normandy (subtitled). Why not combine this with a delicious meal at the White Hart Inn or one of the many other relaxed cafes, or take a walk around the beautiful gardens. There are many other pretty walks around Totnes if you’d like to take your loved one for a romantic stroll, with an interesting walk around the historic town or a gentle stroll along the banks of the River Dart, or if you’re feeling more adventurous there are longer routes to Sharpham or Dartington, all perfect for those hand-holding connections or view finding moments. For those who would like to be wined and dined, Totnes is full of interesting places to eat and drink. Whether you want the romance of a river view or the hustle of dining in the heart of the town there’s a wide range of dynamic cafes, intimate restaurants, cosy pubs and quirky bars to choose from for delicious meals, friendly drinks and family dining. Many places are offering special Valentine’s menus or have meals aimed at the little ones for the school holidays. Why not combine your trip with an overnight stay? There are plenty of places with rooms still available for the holidays or Valentine’s. And if you’re still looking for the perfect Valentine’s gift, Totnes is full of independent shops with unique, handmade items for that special someone. For more information please contact Samantha Branch on info@visittotnes.co.uk

Dartington’s New Direction

Su Carroll looks at the changing focus on food at Dartington. In 1925, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst bought the run-down Dartington Estate near Totnes. They were visionaries who began what they called the “Dartington Experiment” – bringing together other like-minded, creative people for education and inspiration. In the early days, the couple spearheaded changes to the estate – Schumacher College, Dartington Hall School and Dartington Tweed Mill were established, followed by Dartington Glass and The Shops at Dartington. Times change, and in 2015 Dartington Hall Trust held Open Space meetings following the arrival of CEO Rhodri Samuel to discuss proposals for the gardens, development, land use, food, arts, social justice and community of enterprises. One of the areas earmarked for expansion is food, with chef Oliver Rowe being appointed as Dartington Hall Trust’s Director of Food and Drink. It’s a good fit for the Dartington ethos – Oliver is the man whose trials in setting up a London restaurant with locally- sourced food was recorded in the BBC documentary, Urban Chef. Oliver’s appointment to the team signals “more joined-up thinking” he says. “Dartington is an amazing place. It offers a broad spectrum of the elements you need as a person to approach life and any given situation. It’s a holistic approach and I love that; it’s why I’m here. We look at everything from every angle.” Dartington is home to The White Hart Bar and Restaurant – holder of a Sustainable Restaurant Association star, The Roundhouse Café which offers drinks and light snacks, and a new space – The Green Table which has an informal atmosphere with big tables, a deli-style counter, an open- plan kitchen and a large terrace with tables and chairs. Oliver’s job is to advise and guide using everything he’s learned about sourcing locally and responsibly. He’s been working with The Green Table head chef Tara Vaughan- Hughes to develop an interesting menu in a space which is “quite a departure” for Dartington. “Sometimes you create an audience when you give people something they’re not expecting. The Green Table was like this for Dartington – a completely fresh approach.” He will also help to strengthen the links between tenant farmers on the Dartington estate who farm the land in innovative ways that benefit the community. As his experiences on Urban Chef will testify, it isn’t as easy as it looks. “It can be difficult to work with really small producers,” he admits. “Some of the ingredients that we need are hard to find in the volume we want. Then it’s about menu planning and discussing with the producers what we’re cooking and making sure they know what we’re about. We’re about great ingredients, locally sourced, being considerate to the environment and working with people in the area. We have respect for the produce, the animals and staff. That’s our food concept.” Oliver started cooking as a teenager, working in the kitchen of an art school in Tuscany, run by his cousin, the sculptor and art historian Nigel Konstam. He learned from Italian women how to make simple pasta dishes that owed a lot to the landscape surrounding him. At the age of 22, he wandered into the kitchens of Moro in London looking for work and found himself honing his craft there. Stints at restaurants in London and France followed before he opened a café in London and then a restaurant, Konstam (after his grandmother) at the Prince Albert – the focus of the Urban Chef series. “My mum was a very, very good cook, and so was my grandmother, and I definitely have a connection to that period in time. One of the great things about the chefs at Dartington is they’re not throwing anything away; there’s an appreciation for the ingredients – the way they’re cooked and presented. It’s about keeping it simple,” Oliver adds. London-based Oliver’s commitment to Dartington is three days a week but he says it’s no hardship to come to “a stunning” part of the world. “It’s not a million miles from London and it has a good vibe. There’s a real sense of community.” So, is Dartington going to be a deep-fat fryer free zone? Oliver laughs “We do have deep-fat fryers! You can’t knock a good chip and we do great ones at The White Hart. After all, everyone loves fish and chips, but we make sure we get potatoes that are sustainably sourced.”

Plans for St Mary’s Church

The idea for a giant map on the floor of St Mary’s came when we were discussing ideas around the exhibition space with Rev Steve and another trustee, Emily Price. We were full of ideas – we would have a giant screen, a huge wooden wish tree (I still love this idea), a free-standing, stained glass panel of modern Totnes (also still love this idea), but it was the giant map that really caught on. I’ve been stopped by quite a few visitors in town asking where this and that and the castle are. Most residents have. The town maps we do have displayed are lovely but worn and out of date. We’d been discussing as a council, how we would get new ones and so the idea was fresh in my mind. The original thought was to have a great slate floor with a map inscribed into it, but that, of course, turned out to be too costly and as we wanted it to be very detailed that was going to be tricky in slate. The exhibition designer suggested polished black linoleum, which sounded perfect. We as a trust, are trying to raise an enormous sum of money to repair St Mary’s. We don’t only want to repair it, we want to add a toilet and a kitchen and make it a wonderful resource in the centre of town. It should be, it’s a beautiful building and we lack community space in Totnes. I am not a church-goer myself, but I am fully behind restoring this gorgeous building and opening it up to the wider community. We are planning on making it an exhibition space, a theatre, a place for community gathering. This doesn’t mean it won’t continue as a church; of course, it will, we just want to really make it accessible as an asset to everyone. The map will contribute to this. It’ll be huge, 15 square meters and situated at the back of the church by the back door. It’ll stretch from St Johns in Bridgetown to the Bay Horse in Totnes. We have chosen an artist, Anna Ventura, whose details I was sent by someone on Facebook when I asked for suggestions. She runs a gallery in Kingsbridge, The Tidal Gallery and is expert at very detailed line drawings. She’d done a drawing on the High St a few years ago and the style was just what we wanted. How to pay for all this though? We are a charity, we were supposed to be making money, not spending it, so we decided to ask the shops lining the route of the map if they would like to be specially featured and if they decided to, then that meant their names would be added to the drawing and some details of their shops etc. In that way, we have managed to pay the artist. I wanted it to be a snapshot of Totnes in 2018/19, so we were going to add some extra details; Christopher McCabe fighting his way out of his freezer with a black pudding, Graham Walker selling his Scum Bags on the High Street, XR doing a die in on the market? We will be asking for ideas from everyone soon. Anna is displaying some of her preliminary drawings of the map in the church for the next two weeks, so it would be great if people could come and comment. I will also be photographing every building pretty much from St John’s to the Bay, so if you have any particular stories about any of the buildings, which you would like to let us know about then that would be wonderful.

Treat your lovely mums in Totnes this Mother’s Day

There are so many ways to say ‘I love you’ to the important lady in your life. Whether you’d like some quiet time relaxing with just you and your mum or a more raucous affair with the whole family, there’s something and somewhere to suit all lifestyles and budgets in and around Totnes. Renowned for having many cafes and restaurants offering delicious, local and ethically sourced food and drink, you’ll find everything from a three course lunch to coffee & cake both in and out of town, with TQ9 at The Royal Seven Stars, the Waterside Bistro and The White Hart at Dartington to name just a few. If you decide to treat your mum to a home cooked meal this year, why not pick up some fresh ingredients from one of the local delis or farm shops and prepare a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner fit for a Queen. However much you want to spend, both Totnes High Street and the Shops at Dartington are full to brimming with perfect ways to show your lovely mums just how much they mean to you with some of the most unique gifts from a wide range of independent shops and retailers. From scented candles to wine, handmade fudge to pretty porcelain mugs, there’s something for all tastes and to suit all budgets. Visit Me and East, Firefly or Pagoda Interiors for something handmade and ethical, Timehouse for something retro, White Space or the Bowie Gallery for something arty, Colony for something funky or China Blue, Out of the Blue or the new Moon Stone Hare for something simply beautiful. If you’re looking for a fun day out for all the family why not visit Pennywell and mums will be treated to a complimentary cream tea, take a ride on the steam train at South Devon Railway or paint an ornament at China Blue. Or if you just want to spend some quality time together without any fuss then why not go for a walk along the River Dart, sit and relax on one of the benches and simply take the time to catch up with each other. Take a trip to the beautiful St. Mary’s Church to admire the architecture or visit one of the wonderful surrounding villages from Dittisham to Broadhempston or anywhere in between. Why not go ‘crabbing’ in Stoke Gabriel or walk around the stunning gardens on the Dartington Estate. Whatever you choose to do or however you show your appreciation you’ll be sure to find something truly magical here in Totnes. For more information please contact Samantha Branch on info@visittotnes.co.uk