Totnes Castle stands on a 17.5 meter high manmade motte, which looms over the historic medieval town of Totnes. From its battlements, it commands a splendid and picturesque view across the town below as well as offering scenic views of wild and rugged Dartmoor. Totnes Castle is steeped in a rich and varied history and is the one of the best surviving examples of a Norman motte and bailey castle. Both ‘motte’ and ‘bailey’ are old-French words, ‘motte’ meaning ‘hill’ or ‘mound’ while ‘bailey’ meaning ‘low yard’. Due to Totnes’s strategic position and close proximity to the River Dart, Totnes was a logical place to build a motte and bailey castle.

Totnes was a well-known port town and had a reputation of being one the best places to harbour a boat; this was due to how far a ship could navigate inland. Evidence of this can be found in a book called “Historia Regum Britanniae” which was written in 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. With a port, Totnes became a fairly wealthy town, as a result of this influx of prosperity, King Edward the Elder in 907 had the town fortified, this resulted in Totnes becoming one of the only fortified towns in the South West, which is evidence that Totnes started to become distinctly affluent. However later on in the town’s history, the mint in Totnes at the time of 1036 (thirty years before the Norman Conquest) had ceased minting, which was an indication that the importance of the town had started to dwindle. Totnes was accorded with a royal charter by King John in 1206, which transformed Totnes into a free town. This meant that Totnes was allowed to formulate its own laws. However Totnes grew to be once again a very prosperous town and in 1523 it was the second richest town in Devon and sixteenth richest town in the whole of England.

READ MORE

 

You may be interested in...

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.”

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)
 

From Troy to Totnes – The Tale of the Brutus Stone

"Here I stand and here I rest, and this good town shall be called Totnes". These are the words with which Totnes is said to have been founded by Brutus the Trojan while standing on Fore Street's easily missed granite attraction – The Brutus Stone.

Brutus in Britain

According to the legend of the Brutus Stone the origins of Totnes stretch all the way back to ancient Troy. After accidentally killing his father Brutus set off to Greece with his army of followers, where he defeated the king Pendrasu. The king gave Brutus his daughter to marry, and 324 well-stocked ships, at least one of which ended up on the River Dart. Following the advice of the oracle Diana, who suggested the Trojans should travel to an island in the Western Seas that was possessed by Giants, Brutus set sail for Great Britain – at the time called Albion. It was on the Brutus stone that he made his proclamation after landing on Britain's shores, undeterred by the giants and attracted to Totnes by its location and fish-filled rivers. Not only was Totnes named by Brutus, but it's said he named Britain after himself.

Ice Age to New Age

The Brutus legend is recorded in several ancient books, though there's little evidence to suggest any of it is true. The stone itself probably settled in its location during the great Ice Age, and may have been called several things which sounded similar to 'Brutus'. More recently, when Fore Street was widened in 1810, the stone was reduced in height from 18 inches above ground to the level of the pavement. Whether or not Brutus stood on the stone it's a town custom that royal proclamations should be read there by the mayor. No matter how true they are, the legends surrounding Brutus and the stone persist and are enjoyed to this day. Visitors to Totnes can see the stone in the pavement on their right-hand side when walking up Fore Street next to number 51.