Totnes and Around


Twinned with Narnia

On the ‘Welcome to Totnes’ sign that greets people to the town somebody added ‘Twinned with Narnia’ below it. It’s been removed since by those who don’t have a sense of humour, but to me it’s a perfect description of Totnes.

The town has been described as ‘New Age’, ‘Alternative’ and even ‘Funky’ but however you like to describe it, Totnes is different to any other town in the South Hams, or even Devon for that matter.

This small ancient market town of around 8,000 people, is the administrative hub, if that’s what you can call it, of the South Hams. There are other towns that may feel that they have a claim to hold that mantle, but the history of Totnes has a more valid claim in my view.

Its history, if you can believe it, starts from when Brutus arrived at Totnes. Brutus is supposed to be the first British King, but as I wasn’t around at the time, and there’s no concrete evidence to support this claim, I’m going to move on to when Alfred was King of the Saxons.

There’s not much dispute about what happened during King Alfred’s reign, but to keep it confined to what’s relevant in the South Hams, he built one of his fortified towns (known as ‘burhs’) at Halwell, which lies about six miles south of Totnes.

In the early 10th cent. after Alfred’s death, it seems that his son, Edward the Elder, thought that the lowest crossing point of the Dart was a more strategic position and replaced Halwell with fortifications at Totnes.

These fortifications were nowhere near strong enough to repel the Normans when they arrived, and they in turn built a castle to control the Saxons, and this is the castle that overlooks the town today.

In some respects, not much has changed, because the Saxons had their own currency back then, and the town has one again now. In 2006 the ‘Transition Town Movement’ made Totnes the first Transition Town in England, and it was this ecologically motivated organisation that introduced the Totnes Pound.

Twelve years on and it’s still being used and supported by many of the local businesses. It sounds a great idea in many ways, and I’d be surprised if there was any fraud, insider dealing, or money laundering activities going on. Neither by the way, can you have an offshore account, unless there’s one on Burgh Island that I haven’t heard about.

The alternative lifestyle that many people in and around Totnes have adopted originally stems from the Dartington Hall Estate, and in particular the ideas of Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst. Dartington is just a couple of miles outside of Totnes and I’ll be writing in more detail about it later.

There’s more to this likeable town than its quirky ideas and long history though. Its location on the River Dart between Dartmoor and the sea makes it an ideal place for exploring the rolling South Hams countryside and the fabulous South Devon coastline. Welcome to Narnia!