Here I am and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.
So, allegedly, declared Brutus of Troy, mythical founder of Britain, upon landing at the “coasts of Totness”. Given that Totnes is a good 6 miles to the coast it seems unlikely, but nevertheless the town has become the de factoadministrative capital of the South Devon region known very cutely as the South Hams.
Brutus is commemorated with his own Stone on Fore Street (see here for pic and more info). Whatever its actual origins, by the 12th century Totnes was a bustling market town situated on the river Dart and on the major route through this part of Devon – even today, Totnes is just off the excitingly named A38 Devon Expressway and on the main rail route from Paddington through to Penzance.
It’s a nice town, is Totnes. You can start at the bottom or the top – recommended would be the Steamer Quay car park by the river: it’s a hike and a half to the top of the hill, and you’ll not likely want to do that to go back to the car. Cross the river Dart and make your way to the foot of Fore Street where we start our trek.
First stop, a low-beamed Scope, sets the tone. A large shop, well-stocked with all manner of interesting things in an attractive setting. Amidst the many butchers, handmade shoe shops and other such boutiques, the charity shops of Totnes slot in admirably. Scope yielded me a Phaidon book of boring postcards, which was maybe the highlight of my whole holiday.
We continue up the steep slope via Save The Children (good for board games, and I’ve seen some excellent records here in the past) and British Heart Foundation. The hill peaks at Castle Street, where you can turn off for the small but charming Totnes Castle. It’s worth taking the time to poke off the main drag – the residential streets around the old part of town are really cute, especially leading up to the castle.
Finally, there’s a few shops bunched together as the High Street bends round: an Oxfam and accompanying Oxfam Books & Music (I left with an Andre Gide, but as usual, not the cheapest), then two more local shops (a vast and sprawling Rowcroft Hospice, and a much smaller, but jam-packed Animals In Distress.
Definitely a well-worth-it trip out, because once you fight passed the massed ranks of hippies and crystals Totnes is a really lovely town, and one of my favourite haunts when I’m in a Devon way.
Find: Totnes on Google Maps
Transport: Totnes railway station is on the mainline from London to Penzance.
Consume with: Lunch, coffee, whatever at the Tangerine Tree Cafe – this was a great discovery.
Visit: The castle, of course. But nearby is the wonderful wilderness of Dartmoor, and I prefer that.
Overall Rating: four battered Mills & Boons