Totnes – 10 of the best small UK towns for winter breaks

Once again, Totnes has been mentioned in the Guardian newspaper – listed as one of the ’10 of the best small UK towns for winter breaks’.

Easy to get to by mainline train, the article goes on to mention how Totnes has a glut of independent shops & cafes than any town of comparable size. You can read the article in full here.

 

 

 


 

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Famous Tunesmiths from Totnes

The street performers of Totnes are as much a part of the town's character as its castle, shops, and quay, and while musical tastes may differ there's no denying that a few Totnesian troubadors have gone on to greater things. Below are two popular musicians you may have heard of but may not have known hail from Totnes, and one to watch out for.

Joe from Metronomy

Electronic music group Metronomy was formed by Joseph Mount in Totnes in 1999. In addition to being the lead singer, and playing keyboard and guitar, Joe releases remixes of songs by the likes of Gorillaz and Lady Gaga under the Metronomy name. In 2016 Metronomy released their latest album Summer 08 though it was 2014's Love Letters that delivered their highest chart position at number 7. If the name of Metronomy's first album Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe) seems familiar it was inspired by the message painted onto old cars parked around town.

Ben Howard

Although not born in Totnes, Ben's musical career did start here - one of his first musical gigs was in the Seven Stars Hotel. Since then Ben has released two critically acclaimed albums, Every Kingdom and I Forgot Where We Were. In addition to his musical achievements which include two BRIT awards and a number one album, Ben also has the honour of appearing on the Totnes £10 note. Ben's clearly never forgotten his roots and the video for 2011's 'Keep Your Head Up' was filmed at Dartington.

Ryan Keen

Busy working on his second album and one to watch out for Ryan Keen was a guitarist and songwriter for other musicians before starting his own career in 2009. You can find Ryan on Twitter or listen to his latest song 'Guidance' here. With a thriving local music scene in Totnes and the South Hams the next big thing could be attending an open mic night near you, or even busking on the streets. So keep your eyes out and your ears open when you're walking down the high street.

The Dart and Totnes – Bridges and Bridgetown

Flowing from two sources on Dartmoor, down to the sea at Dartmouth, Totnes is an important stop along the River Dart situated between the moors and the river's mouth. The town offers an excellent jumping off point for exploration of the river whether by foot, boat or canoe, and is the point where it becomes tidal. Even for those who just want to admire the river without getting their feet wet there are many ways to enjoy the Dart, and many things Totnes has to thank the river for – and the two bridges crossing it. Bridges and Bridgetown Totnes Bridge has the honour of being the last bridge to cross the Dart before it reaches open sea, as plans to build a railway bridge across the river mouth from Kingswear to Dartmouth in the late 1900s never came to fruition. There have been multiple bridges across the river in Totnes beginning with a river ford and evolving to the familiar stone bridge today. It was once a toll bridge that separated Bridgetown from Totnes until it was opened up on October 31st 1881 for everyone to cross. A second bridge was built in 1982 and although less picturesque than the older bridge was necessary for the increasing amounts of traffic passing through Totnes and across the Dart. It is named the Brutus Bridge after the legendary founder of the town. Whichever side of the bridge you're on there are many places to enjoy the river from. Vire Island is worth a visit for anyone looking for a nice spot to enjoy a picnic. Although not a proper island the 400m peninsula is named after the French town Totnes is twinned with (not Narnia) and is the perfect spot for contemplating the river from in the summer. And there are plenty of restaurants  and cafes to eat or enjoy a drink in, high tide or low, rain or shine.

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.