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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South Devon Railway

After the South Devon Railway (SDR) stopped running Mince Pie trains after Christmas on Wednesday 1 January, work began in earnest on the winter track renewal plan between Staverton and Totnes where approximately 1/3 mile of old track will be re-laid with new flat bottom rail instead which will help ease future maintenance and cost considerably. And, with the SDR needing to undertake such a large, on-going programme of important work on both the railway track and locos and rolling stock over the winter period and into 2020, a reluctant decision was made last year not to run any train services over the coming February half-term period. That said, the SDR was well aware that a good number of visitors and local people will probably still arrive at the railway during the February school holiday and be expecting to see the line in Springtime despite there being no advertised services running. An SDR spokesman said: "Many people will expect the SDR to be open for business in February simply because we always have been in recent years when they can enjoy the glorious display of early Spring  line-side flowers and open views of the river, so the SDR felt it's important that something is provided for people to see and do rather than them simply finding that the railway was closed and then being disappointed. "Whilst there was no way a normal pattern of train operation could be provided without causing serious disruption to the tight schedule of vital winter works, and following a series of detailed discussions with all of the departments involved, a plan has just been drawn up which will see a limited train service for visitors with just minimal disturbance of important winter works. "As a result, diesel rail-car No.W55000, affectionately known as the 'Bubblecar' due to its great all-round visibility, will operate a limited shuttle service each day from Saturday 15th February to Sunday 23rd February between Buckfastleigh and Staverton only. South Devon Railway
"Trains will be running every 45 minutes with the first one leaving Buckfastleigh at 10:30 and the last one departing at 15:25, with a slightly extended break at lunchtime. In addition, it's planned to stable a static steam locomotive in the platform at Buckfastleigh where the loco's footplate will be accessible for visitors to inspect.  Totnes station will remain closed however. "This compromise solution will give some level of service to valued visitors and locals whilst minimizing the disruption to the winter work programmes for the SDR's locomotive, carriage & wagon, and civil engineers. The Buckfastleigh café and shop will also be open and, subject to weather, the gardens will also be accessible and, in addition, it's hoped that the museum can be opened too." Please check the SDR website for more details at: www.southdevonrailway.co.uk and some colour photos are attached for your use of the Bubblecar courtesy of Sarah Anne Harvey.

The atmospheric town taken by the sea

Only 18 miles from Totnes the village of Hallsands near Kingsbridge in south Devon is the village that fell into the sea. To say the village is still there would be bending the truth slightly, however the remains (which are now closed) can still be seen from the safety of a viewing platform over the cliffs. No-one knows exactly when Hallsands was established although some say it was probably in about 1600 and growing in the 18th and 19th centuries. By 1891 it had 37 houses, the London Inn and a population of 159 with a very close community. Most residents owned their own homes and depended on fishing, mainly crab, for a living. It was a hazardous business with irregular earnings and frequent losses at sea. Everyone, including women and children, helped haul in the boats and nets. Everything was fine until the 1890s when the Admiralty decided that the naval dockyard at Keyham near Plymouth should be expanded which required hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete. In January 1896 the construction company Sir John Jackson Ltd was granted permission to dredge shingle from the coast between Hallsands and neighbouring Beesands. Many fishermen at the time, who knew the area offshore intimately, opposed the plans saying the dredging would alter the seabed as well as the beach and what was taken would certainly not be replaced. Despite the resident’s protestations dredging began in the spring of 1897 and during the next four years some 660,000 tonnes of material were removed. Activity was eventually paused when opposition from several fishing villages grew as they saw their shingle beaches being relentlessly carried away.  
It took 18 years from the start of the dredging to the final destruction of Hallsands village. It had been assumed that the removal of any shingle would be replaced naturally but we now know that the same shingle which protects the nearby villages of Beesands and Torcross was deposited thousands of years ago during the ice ages, and is not being replaced.
  An inquiry was established in response to protests from villagers who feared the dredging might threaten their beach and village, but dredging continued after it was decided that the activity was not likely to pose a significant threat. However by 1900 the level of the beach had started to fall and in the autumn storms that year, part of the sea wall was washed away. In November 1900, villagers petitioned their Member of Parliament, Frank Mildmay complaining of damage to their houses, and in March 1901 Kingsbridge Council wrote to the Board of Trade complaining of damage to the road. The Liberal MP for the area was extremely supportive of the residents of Hallsands and on more than one occasion offered his own money to help out the residents. In September 1901 a new Board of Trade inspector concluded that further severe storms could cause serious damage and recommended that dredging be stopped and on 8th January 1902 the dredging licence was revoked. On 26th January 1917 a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached Hallsands' defences and the village fell into the sea! Miraculously no one was hurt but many families had to relocate to neighbouring villages having lost everything. Only one house was left standing after the destruction. The owner Elizabeth Prettyjohn stubbornly refused to leave and lived there with her chickens until her death in 1964. She acted as a guide to the visitors who came over the years curious to see the remains of the village. Today her house is used as a summer holiday home. Another famous Hallsands resident was Ella Trout together with her sisters Patience, Clara and Edith. When their fisherman father, William, became sick, Patience and then Ella gave up school and operated his boat which was the only source of income for the family. William died in 1910 when Ella was 15 years old. On 8th September 1917, after the Hallsands disaster, Ella was crab fishing with her 10 year old cousin William when they saw the SS Newholm struck by a naval mine one mile south of Start Point. With William Stone, another fisherman in the vicinity, they rowed to the scene and helped rescue nine men. In recognition of her bravery she received the Order of the British Empire. The sisters, with compensation for the destruction of their cottage at Hallsands plus some earnings, built Trout's Hotel on the cliff above the deserted village. The Trouts ran the hotel successfully until 1959. More recent owners moved down from London and attracted some of their well-known friends to stay including Danny La Rue and Larry Grayson, and for years their signed photographs hung on the walls of the dining room. The hotel has since been turned into apartments now called Prospect House. In more recent years the story of Hallsands has been turned into an opera called ‘Whirlwind’ commissioned by acclaimed company Streetwise Opera and written by Will Todd, one of the country’s leading young opera composers, and Ben Duwell, and has also featured in a book by Steve Melia called “Hallsands; A Village Betrayed”. You can walk to Hallsands from the villages of Beesands or Torcross following the South West Coast Path. Beesands, albeit a small village, has a café and toilets and free car parking. Torcross is bigger with a few cafes and a pub and more (charged) parking. Please note that you can no longer drive from Blackpool Sands to Slapton Sands and then on to Torcross because of the recent storms and road damage which in itself is somewhat ironic. Hallsands and Beesands are both walkable with a moderate degree of accessibility from Torcross, which has ample (paid) parking. Beesands however has free parking. If driving from Totnes head for Dartmouth, then Slapton and finally Torcross. If you want to travel by bus you can take the 164 to Kingsbridge or the X64 to Dartmouth and then catch the number 3 to Torcross. All routes joining the coastal villages are part of the South West Coast Path and therefore accessible at all times.

Why we love Totnes

Why We Love Totnes - by Blueriver Cottages.

One of the first things you might notice when you visit Totnes is the eclectic fashion and alternative attitude to life. Don’t be surprised to see festival dress or the occasional parrot on someone’s shoulder as you make your way to one  of the many cafés and coffee shops.

Totnes is the first transition town with a global reputation for its interest in environmental and sustainability issues. Take a trip over to Dartington Hall which has a programme of wonderful courses, talks, festivals and events set in beautiful surroundings.

Staying in the town centre, a visit to the Totnes Museum will give you a rich insight in to the history of this enchanting town. Right in the middle of the hubbub is Totnes Castle which offers super views of the town and surrounding area.

Totnes prides itself on its high percentage of independent shops, cafés and restaurants. Interestingly, in 2012, the town came together to protest against a large coffee chain opening locally and won. This is a town with heart and spirit.

Its narrow winding roads, hidden passages and half-timbered housing give Totnes a certain Harry Potter charm. It’s hard not to succumb to the magic of this quirky, friendly town.

The team at Blueriver Cottages are passionate about where they live. Gemma, local Property Recruiter and Quality Assessor shares what she loves about the town..


" Down the road from Dartington, this arty town has plenty to satisfy all senses from the food, to the entertainment, and the views.

TIPS FOR EATING OUT
Pie Street is a great place to visit if you are looking for great comfort foods.

BEST VIEW
Standing at the top of Totnes Castle looking out over the town.

DON'T MISS
The Totnes Elizabethan Market is unique. I also love the Christmas markets which are great to get a bargain."


You can take a look at Blueriver Cottages’ collection of holiday homes in Totnes and surrounding area by clicking here.


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