Category: Blog

The River Dart and Totnes – Trade and the Town

As well as being a key feature of the town's picturesque landscape the River Dart has been an important part of trade in Totnes for hundreds of years. Today Totnes is a tourist hotspot but up until the late 20th century it was an important trading post on a busy river. Wool and Wealth Totnes owes much of its Elizabethan charm to the River Dart, the trade it enabled making many merchants rich and allowing them to build luxurious houses that still stand to this day. In the 16th century Wool and tin were the main exports, and helped Totnes to become the second wealthiest community in the country. As Totnes failed to respond to new trends in cloth manufacturing, and tin production in Ashburton declined, the boom failed to last and trade on the river diminished. However, as of 1636 it was still rated the country's fifth wealthiest community. As debris from the last of the tin mines made it difficult to navigate the river, traders started to go to Dartmouth instead. Plains Sailing It may not have recaptured the town's Elizabethan heyday but the area of Totnes now known as The Plains was once a thriving district of factories exporting the goods they produced via The Dart. Notable businesses included cider makers Bentall, Lloyd and Co, and Symons and Co. Today upmarket residences can now be found where the factories once stood. Although the coming of the railway reduced the demand for traders on the river the Dart remains an important part of the town's economy as a tourist attraction. Anyone visiting Totnes can make the most of the beautiful river, whether it's by hiring a canoe, walking along its banks, or taking a cruise down to Dartmouth.

Rest and BE Wild…with a Den in Devon!

The BE Wild! initiative follows a study of 1,000 parents by Beyond Escapes which found that over a third, 36 per cent, of UK mums and dads don’t think their children spend enough time playing outside. Whilst parents themselves nostalgically remember tree climbing (19 per cent), den-making (17 per cent), playing hide and seek (12 per cent) and even making mud pies (5 per cent of them!) as some of their favourite childhood activities, they don’t think their own kids get outdoors enough…and are looking for ways to get them off their smart phones and engage with the wild! beyond escape 3 Although many parents, 32 per cent, have built dens with their children during the past six- months, these are made from mainly sheets, curtains, chairs and towels; indoors, in the lounge! In fact, 52 per cent of all dens are now made at home in the bedroom, playroom or lounge, with only 23 per cent made in an outdoor space! So, now is the time to turn this around to bring back true the true den building experience! Mark Sears, from The Wild Network and Director of Dens at Beyond Escapes, commented: “Beyond Escapes approached us with this great idea to introduce complimentary den making kits to hire at their Devon resort, which we have helped advise on. Getting kids outside, detoxing from their smart-phones and tablets and ultimately rewilding them is what we are all about and we have seen more and more parents join us to encourage families and communities to do just that with positive results. “Beyond Escapes has the perfect setting with acres of land, sea views and plenty of flora and fauna. Families, or even big kids can enjoy some fun time foraging, building and getting involved with nature in their own time. I’m sure it will be a huge success and is a fantastic activity whatever the weather.” For those keen to get den building in their own garden, or to practise their den building skills before visiting Beyond Escapes, Devon, follow these key steps produced by BE Wild! 1. Find: Locate your perfect den spot 2. Forage: Source the material you want to use to make your den 3. Foundation: Pick your base tree to build your den around 4. Frame: Construct your den frame 5. Finesse: Add the final personal touches to your den 6. Fun: Games to play with your new den 7. Friends: Make den friends and have lots of adventure Jason Bruton, Managing Director at Beyond Escapes, said: “Our new den-making initiative was designed following a study which found that families were crying out for a reason to enjoy their nostalgic childhood activities, whilst simply getting outdoors. “With its breath-taking views, stunning beaches and abundance of natural attractions nearby, Beyond Escapes Devon is the perfect location for families to get outdoors, whilst still having the luxury of staying in high-end boutique accommodation. We welcome everyone staying to make their very own Devonshire Den, just hire the kit and get building!” beyond escape Helena Wiltshire, from Save the Children, added: “We’re thrilled that Beyond Escapes will be supporting Save the Children’s Den Day. The BE Wild! ‘re-wilding’ initiative is a fantastic way to encourage families to spend quality time together, get creative and build some dens this summer. We hope lots of families get involved and have some fun, whilst raising as much money as possible! “The funds raised will enable Save the Children to help transform children’s lives and provide them with the things they need to grow up healthy and happy, like a safe place to shelter or a vaccination to protect them from pneumonia. All children deserve the opportunity to fulfill their potential.” Beyond Escapes, Devon, set in the glorious South Devon hills, offers luxury self-catering accommodation options ranging from one bedroom BE Chic Studios to BE Deluxe Mansion Suites and two, three and four bedroom BE Deluxe Lodges complete with their own private hot tubs, as well as dedicated pet and baby friendly lodges. Top-class facilities on-site include the BE You Spa and Gym, and BE Tempted Restaurant serving locally-sourced dishes as well as offering tempting takeaways and hearty breakfast packs delivered directly to your accommodation. For more information or to book, call 0333 230 4538 or visit website beyondescapes beyond escape 2

Review of the White Hart at Dartington

By Muddy Stilettos

Hey, culture vultures, its time to eat! Muddy feasts more than just her eyes on The White Hart's new Devon o'clock menu. 

Click here to read the full review.


The White Hart at Dartington

Totnes Pride 2020

Due to the uncertainty around how long the current COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and/or social distancing measures will be in place, and with the risk of a second wave of the virus towards the end of the year, we have taken the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Totnes pride as it stands, and instead, host an online event in its place.

This has been a difficult decision, as for us, some of the highlights of the previous events centre around people coming together in person, and celebrating and protesting together.

We are, however, extremely excited to take all that is fabulous about Totnes Pride and create an online event that reaches even more people, including those who, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to attend the event in the past.

More details to follow!

All our love and respect,

The Totnes Pride Action Group (TPAG)

New retreat venue at Sharpham

Charity invests £1.6million in a new retreat venue at Sharpham

The Sharpham Trust is investing £1.6 million to convert a stable yard behind Sharpham House to a new centre for mindfulness courses and retreats.

The charity, which works to connect people to nature and themselves, has begun the creation of The Coach House - which will feature a new meditation space and 18 en-suite rooms.

The current, disused stableyard is a Grade II-listed building, dating back to 1760 when Sharpham House was built for the naval sea captain Philemon Pownoll.

Now work has begun to develop the single-storey quadrangle directly behind Sharpham House into a new retreat centre where participants can stay, amid historic grounds thought to have been landscaped by Capability Brown.

The Trust runs an annual programme of courses and retreats featuring mindfulness meditation and nature connection on the wider Sharpham Estate and on the adjacent River Dart.

“Prior to the pandemic we were finding that our programme was fully booked with long waiting lists,” said Trust Director Julian Carnell.

“As a charity we want to help as many people as possible and so creating more accommodation became a priority. The stable yard had become rundown and so there was a fantastic opportunity to give the building a new lease of life and restore it as part of the Sharpham Estate’s important heritage,” he said.

The Coach House behind Sharpham House INSIDE April 2021 LO RES
The Coach House

Retreats in The Coach House

The Coach House will join the Trust’s other retreat venues Sharpham House, The Barn Retreat and Woodland Campsite and it will offer a weekly programme for those in need of developing and deepening their mindfulness practice, compassion and their connection to nature.

Participants staying there will be able to spend a week living in community surrounded by the amazing natural environment of the Sharpham Estate.

They will spend time volunteering in the 18th century Walled Garden – helping to grow food for the retreats at Sharpham – and conserving the heritage and wildlife of the wider estate.

Helping 1,000 more people a year

Chairman of Sharpham’s Trustees Daniel Stokes said: “Our mission is to connect people to nature and foster mindfulness and wellbeing. There is now a plethora of research showing the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature.

“This project will enable us to help another 1,000 people a year, giving them a chance to spend time slowing down and reflecting in a beautiful natural setting,” he said.

Using local construction companies

The Trust is using South Devon firm Carpenter Oak to build the frame for an eye-catching glass structure linked to The Coach House which will be the new centre’s meditation and dining space.

Classic Builders, a local South West-based construction company, has been awarded the contract to convert the Coach House and hopes to complete the works by January 2022.

“We are delighted to be working with The Sharpham Trust on this significant local project. The Coach House is an important listed building, not only in a sensitive location but also next to Sharpham House. We’re looking forward to drawing on our years of experience delivering comparable works in similar settings to make this project a success,” said Adam Brimacombe, Director at Classic Builders.

The Trust has been busy over the last ten years developing its charitable programmes and refurbishing the heritage of its listed landscape and properties. Every year, some 2,000 people attend retreats, courses and events on the Sharpham Estate.

See our events here: www.sharphamtrust.org/Calendar  

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 about Conversant Traveller

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 ramblers. 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).

Wild animals caught on camera at rewilding site Sharpham

Thrilling images of animals and birds have been caught on camera on the Sharpham Estate, near Totnes, South Devon.

Foxes, a tawny owl and a hedgehog are amongst the creatures caught unawares by hidden cameras on the Estate, around the site of the Sharpham Trust’s rewilding project which began earlier this year.

The Trust was awarded £177,400 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to make more space for wildlife and take action for nature in a three-year project called Sharpham Wild for People. The grant will help in turning the Sharpham Estate organic, re-wilding parts of its historic landscape and helping more people engage with the nature there – from members of the public to students of conservation learning to use camera traps.

“These first pictures of hedgehogs are amazing because as far as we know this is the first record of them being this far into the estate for over 20 years.” said Simon Roper, from Ambios Ltd, the nature conservation & education organisation which deployed the cameras via its trainees.

“Although our rewilding project has only just begun it is so encouraging to get this image of an animal likely to benefit from our future work in restoring nature.  Sharing these pictures is a step towards connecting people with nature,” he added.

Sharpham Trust Ambios camera trap pheasant
Sharpham Trust Ambios camera trap pheasant

Camera Trapping

The day- and night-time images show a variety of feathered and furred animals, from a Tawny Owl in a tree to a Blackcap by a pool.

There’s a fox, believed to be a nursing mum, a song thrush bathed in the sun’s rays, a crow close-up and a variety of songbirds beside a pond.

One of the happiest sights is a hedgehog, caught in a night-sight shot, snuffling in undergrowth.

“Hedgehogs have been in decline for many years,” said Jack Skuse, Director of Ambios Ltd, the nature conservation training organisation helping Sharpham Trust to deliver The National Lottery Heritage Fund project. “It was exciting to catch one on camera.  This is the mating season, so perhaps this one was looking for a mate.”

The images were collected by students on an Ambios course in camera trapping.  The hedgehog pictures were gathered by student whose place is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Sharpham Trust Ambios camera trap fox 4
Sharpham Trust Ambios camera trap fox 4

Organic conversion for Sharpham farmland

An important aspect of the project Sharpham Wild for People is the exploration of organic farming techniques such as less-intensive grazing, in order to support biodiversity.

Ambios Ltd already operates Lower Sharpham Farm, an organic farm on the Sharpham Estate, and has just signed a tenancy to take over a further 50 acres of Sharpham parkland, which will be restored to parkland and wood pasture (a habitat with trees that would have characterised Sharpham parkland at the time of its design, in 1762). An additional 137 acres of land has been leased to farmer David Camp for organic conversion.

“A key mission for Sharpham is to care for wildlife and enable people to connect with our natural world,” said Trust Director Julian Carnell.

“Because of this project, almost all the estate land will be managed organically which has proven benefits for wildlife,” he said.

Sharpham Trust Ambios camera trap tawny owl
Sharpham Trust Ambios camera trap tawny owl

The effects of Covid-19

The project was to include school visits, public events, volunteering & training opportunities this summer and autumn, in order to enable a wider range of people to engage with and understand the land’s natural heritage.

The Coronavirus pandemic has meant that these have been postponed. However, the Trust hopes to start some of these in September, and is pressing ahead with other project goals such as introducing livestock, fencing and surveying wildlife. 

Sharpham Trust Ambios camera trap hedgehog
Sharpham Trust Ambios camera trap hedgehog

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 about Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies 
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