Tag Archives: dartmoor


Tavy Toy Town by Jamie Henderson. Image used under Creative Commons; click pic for link

Tavy Toy Town by Jamie Henderson. Image used under Creative Commons; click pic for link

There are some towns which are just lovely, and Tavistock’s one of them. It’s found secluded in the Tavy valley, nestled amongst foliage at the foot of the Dartmoor hills – just a short drive from Plymouth, but a world away in character. The town centre is chock full of local granite buildings, many of them named after the Russell family, Earls of Bedford and lords of the manor, who held great sway in this stannary town from Henry VIII onwards. The towns roots run much deeper than that though – today’s pannier market was charted in 1105, and the ruined abbey goes back to 961; but there’s plenty of evidence of habitation way before recorded history. It isn’t just an olde town though – Tavistock’s history continues through its favourite son, Francis Drake, a wide range of mineral mines, even a canal and two railways – although none of these are functioning today. These last do make for some highly attractive features though – you can walk the canal for several miles through this part of the UNESCO world heritage site. In fact, any direction you wish to strike out from the town you’ll find something rather beautiful.

So – plenty of history and plenty of scenery. But that does not make a charity shop tourist destination in itself, does it? Happily, Tavistock is just as good here. The outermost shop here is Children’s Hospice South West, on West Street, on the corner of Russell Street (that name again…). A large shop this, with some huge linguaphone sets and mad Pyrex dishes causing certain individuals trouble here. On the same stretch is Sue Ryder, opposite Brown’s Hotel, which served us very well for a coffee stop.

Further down there are two Oxfams, an ordinary one and an Oxfam Bookshop with a collection of beautifully illustrated children’s books. Thankfully, at this stage on our holiday we had convinced ourselves that when we returned to civilisation we were going to go and live on a boat, which rather limited our purchases (and somewhat relieved our bank accounts). I’m not even joking; if Diglis marina weren’t so overlooked, we might well have been living afloat by now. St Luke’s Hospice is large and bright and well-stocked; Woodside Animal Hospice is almost its exact opposite, dingy, cramped and crowded, and filled with all sorts of amazing gubbins you had no idea you needed.

We found several secondhand-by-commission shops in this part of the world – Handmedowns takes a small cut on any children’s clothing you want to sell on, which doesn’t seem a bad idea (although I’d a bit rather donate to the charity shop). That just leaves us with MacMillan, tucked away up a little shopping alley called Paddon’s Row, surrounded by hifi shops, art shops, vintage clothes shops and the like. In fact there’s plenty of this sort of shop scattered through the town. A few chains aside, the majority of shops here are independent concerns, some of a highly excellent nature – the cheese shop and health food shop in the market come very much recommended. The market itself is, to be honest, a bit pricey for the likes of me; but again it’s mostly individuals selling their own crafts and produce, and there’s a very lovely atmosphere indeed.

I feel I’ve probably failed to sum up Tavistock’s charm. We spent a whole day here, which is very rare for us, not just pacing the charity shops but exploring the alleyways, browsing the market, walking along the river and canalside through the very charming Meadowlands Park. We certainly have plans to return and will be walking the canal route, as well as lunching in the Tavistock Inn on Brook Street, home of pretty much the biggest pub grub portions ever, and a lovely pub to boot. If you’re ever in Devon, try and make a detour, this is my advice.

Find: Tavistock @ Google Maps
Get there: no railway connections anymore (as yet) – you’ll be after the A386 halfway between Okehampton and Plymouth.
Consume with: definitely lunch at the Tavistock, though bear in mind you’ll need that riverside walk afterwards.
Visit: plenty to go to, but to be honest our loveliest time was spent walking the canal and riverside paths in the park, trying out the outdoor gym equipment and chasing ducks.
Overall rating: five mad pyrex dishes


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Filed under 5/5, Devon


Ashburton bunting, under creative commons from eversions photostream, click pic for link.

Ashburton bunting, under creative commons from eversion's photostream, click pic for link.

There’s a certain credibility that comes with being the first town in the country to elect an official from the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Alan “Howling Laud” Hope was elected to Ashburton council in 1987 and eventually became mayor of the town in 1998. Hope became co-leader of the party after the death of Screaming Lord Sutch and continues today. The Howling Laud is now as departed from Ashburton as his former co-leader of the party Cat Mandu (although not quite as terminally), as is the former party headquarters, Hope’s pub The Golden Lion.

There’s little trace of the town’s illustrious recent past in Ashburton these days, and much more is made of the historic stannary status (i.e. the town was a tin mining centre in this part of Devon) and for being the gateway to the scary wastes of Dartmoor. It’s been there since Domesday times, and was certainly there in the Civil War, being a hideaway from scared cavaliers running from Fairfax. Today, Ashburton is a small town just off the A38 Devon Expressway (the title reminds me of Billy Bragg’s A13 Trunk Road To The Sea) with about 3,500 residents, and 3 charity shops.

All three are local concerns. Brainwave is a little shop with no much that was worth buying in the end – but it’s well maintained with a good variety of stock. Animals In Distress is more of the same, but the best is the Mare & Foal Sanctuary store. As usual, my opinions are based on just the one visit, but nevertheless. I came out of here not only with a personal triumph (an etymological dictionary) but two Le Creuset saucepans – £100 odd new, £5 each to you, guvnor.

There’s not a great deal of Ashburton, and it won’t take you long to wander around and sample its sights. There’s cafes and inns and bookshops and giftshops, but the appeal of the town is less the shopping, more the magnificence of the moors on its doorstep. Therefore, it’s definitely a good stopping off point, if only for a pub lunch and a charity shop mooch.

Find: Ashburton @ Google Maps
Best buy: Definitely the Le Creuset. Mmm, saucepans.
Consume with: I went with the full English at Katie’s Kitchen, and it was not half bad.
Visit: There’s not really much to look at in Ashburton, but who needs it when the whole of Dartmoor is awaiting your walking shoe?
Overall rating: three hardback boxset


Filed under 3/5, Devon



Totnes, by dachalan, under Creative Commons.

Totnes, by dachalan, under Creative Commons.

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


Filed under 4/5, Devon