Winding country roads where you hold your breath around blind corners, quirky pubs, and secluded coves are to name but a few things which make South Devon, England, one of the top holiday destinations for British people. In the summer, the roads are jam-packed with British holidaymakers flocking to the stunning beaches and endless beauty spots. Yet from all my travels in the world, I have never met anyone from outside of the UK who has heard of Devon. London always seems to be on the map, and it’s always a pretty safe bet that people will know the Queen, the London Eye and the Tower of London – but venture about a three and a half-hours drive south of London, and you are in South Devon. The nearest airports are Exeter (a small airport) and Bristol – both cities are worth a visit.
Situated at the head of the estuary of the River Dart, lies a market town seemingly indistinct from any other Devon town at first sight, with an array of cream tea and charity shops. Hailed as probably the most eccentric town in Britain, Totnes is well-deserving of this title. The local joke that Totnes is twinned with Narnia is perhaps a good indication of where the town is at – a town where anything goes, provided it’s green. The first transition town in the UK (grassroots community projects that aim to increase self-sufficiency), Totnes is all about community. A volunteer-run art house, cinema, and public gardens are but a few to mention. Totnes’ high street, leading up to a Norman motte, attracts shoppers from all over Devon with its indie shops, art galleries, boutiques, and interior design shops with work from local artists. If I could sum Totnes up in a few words, it would probably be a boho-chic town with ethical values.
Fields in Totnes
Where to eat and drink
Willow Vegetarian Restaurant: A cosy vegetarian restaurant with an outdoor seating area with upcycled furniture and a beautiful garden serving organic seasonal vegetarian and vegan dishes. During the summer months, the restaurant has live music with local musicians playing.
Totnes Brewing Company: A spacious pub with a giant sash window and decorative interior. A haven for the beer geek with a wide range of local and international craft beers and weekly gigs with local bands.
Ben’s Wine and Tapas: A reasonably priced tapas and wine bar with organic food supplied by Ben’s Farm Shop features a wide selection of pleasant and reasonably priced wines. You can eat al fresco in the garden on a sunny day, which has a Mediterranean feel.
The Steam Packet: A family-run pub on the banks of the River Dart with a good menu. You can enjoy your meal outside with a beautiful view of the river.
River Dart, seen from the top of Totnes.
Sharpham Estate, Dartington, and Staverton
If you are looking for something a bit more tranquil, you can venture out to the local villages or the Sharpham estate, which has beautiful walks if you do not mind steep hills. The estate has its own vineyard and produces its own cheese. The estate has a café where you can enjoy the cheese and wine with breath-taking views out over the estate.
Walk to Sharpham estate from Totnes
A picturesque village nestled in the River Dart, Dartington attracts artists from all over the world. The estate runs as a charity with a focus on sustainable living and hosts many artistic events. The estate is open to everyone free of charge and has some stunning walks. The river is often busy in the summer with paddleboarders, canoers, and wild swimmers. Down-to-earth with a pleasant atmosphere, it’s a great place to escape to and relax.
If you’re looking for something a bit quieter, Staverton is another surrounding village. A quaint but scattered village, it’s perfect for a quiet swim and was voted as one of the best places to swim in the UK by the Guardian. You can enjoy a pint in the local pub, The Sea Trout, after a swim or walk. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, wild swimming has become a lot more popular in Britain, whereas before, it was perhaps more niche.
If you’re looking to study
English in Totnes: A boutique language school offering English and cultural courses.
Schumacher College: A college on Dartington estate running holistic and horticulture courses.
Totnes, walking towards Sharpham Estate
Where to eat and drink
Pizza Side: A casual dining experience with ample outdoor seating and mouth-watering artisan Italian style pizzas, full of flavour, has a playground for children and an outdoor (unheated) swimming pool next door.
The Cott Inn: A quintessential English pub and one of the oldest thatched-roof pubs in the UK. It offers its guests delicious seasonal food and a beer garden.
What to do
Have a walk around the Dartington estate and gardens or take part in a Transition Tour, which are walks that are organized about once a month where you can learn about the local environmental and economic projects as well as the estate. Look out for cultural and artistic events and the Barn Cinema on the estate.
A traditional and quirky public house and leading music venue in the South West is untouched by tourism. The interior is reminiscent of a bric-a-brac shop, and you can pick up a knitting basket and knit at any table you choose. On a band night, the pub has a buzzing atmosphere and has hosted famous artists and acts such as The Boomtown Rats, Damon Albarn, and Atomic Kitten. On the menu, there is locally caught fish and chips, an award-winning pie, lasagne, and beer straight from the casket. Located in a village in the South Hams (an area of outstanding beauty), southeast of Salcombe (a popular resort), you can walk down from the pub to Prawle Point – a dramatic coastal headland. The village has a few campsites overlooking the sea and are reasonably priced.
Dartmoor is southern England’s highest and largest wilderness - a wild swimmer and walkers’ paradise. Deep wooded valleys with dwarf heather and gorse shrubs that blanket the moor with vibrant purple shades. Rugged tors and wandering wild ponies, the ‘wildness’ attracts many ramblers. The weather on Dartmoor can change suddenly and unexpectedly, so be prepared if you go walking off the beaten track. There are many walks and plenty of pubs with character to stop at and enjoy a local ale. For magical, fairy-tale looking woods, head over to Wistman’s Wood and be enchanted by the old, stunted, gnarled oak trees, and then enjoy a cream tea or tea and cakes at the Two Bridges Inn.
Where to eat and drink
Rugglestone Inn: A cosy inn with log fires in rural Dartmoor and a great place to stop at after a walk. Full of character, this rustic cottage serves cask ales and good quality, homemade food.
The Riverford Field Kitchen: Seasonal vegetables, grass-reared meat, and sustainable fish are on the menu with all food grown on Riverford’s own farm.
If you’re looking for some adventure
Gorge Scrambling on Dartmoor: As close as you can get to rocky canyoning in South Devon, gorge scrambling is a fun activity that can be enjoyed by children and adults. Explore the gorges and wild pools with jumps, squeezes, and wild swims. For other adventure activities, try coasteering, canoeing, or release some pent-up stress with axe throwing. See www.gocoasteering.com
Wild ponies on Dartmoor
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