Of all Devon’s rivers, the Dart has to be my favourite: From source to sea, it’s the most beguiling of rivers, and for this post I’m going to describe its charms between the lowest bridging point at Totnes to the mouth of the river at Dartmouth.
At Totnes the river is still tidal, and until the area around Totnes Bridge was drained, it was wet, marshy ground; and I suppose it must have been around here where Brutus, the first king of Britain landed – that’s if you believe the story of course – but I’ll be covering more about the history of Totnes in a separate post.
Totnes Bridge was built between 1826-28 and is the latest in a long line of bridges that has spanned the river here over many centuries. Today a modern road bridge just upstream, called Brutus Bridge, has taken the brunt of the traffic, not just away from this bridge, but from the town centre as well.
Berry Pomeroy Castle - Romantic Ruin, or Just Plain Spooky?
Berry Pomeroy Castle has been described as one of the most picturesque and romantic ruins in England, but it has also been described as one of the most haunted castles in England as well!
The village of Berry Pomeroy lies just a couple of miles east of Totnes and gets its name from the Pomeroy family whose first owner was Ralf de Pomaria, a Norman knight from La Pommeraye near Falaise. He was given the manor by William the Conqueror, but it was another four centuries before the castle was built. Neither the precise date, nor the reason for its construction is really known, but it was most likely at the end of the 15th century, and possibly because of the family’s involvement in the War of the Roses. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty certain that it never saw any real military action.
Dartington - A Place of Culture, Learning and Social Thinking
If you’ve come to Totnes
and wondered why the town has become a place of alternative lifestyles then look no further than Dartington, a village just a couple of miles outside of town.
The village is dominated by the Dartington Hall Estate which occupies 880 acres of this part of South Devon. With a long history dating back over a thousand years, it was bought by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst in 1925 and since then has earned a reputation for being a centre for individual thinking and freedom of expression in music, art and all things ethical.
Totnes has a reputation for being one of the country’s quirkiest towns, and even its foundation has a mythical story attatched to it. According to legend, after being defeated in the Trojan War, the Trojans sailed off to find another home, and one of them, a prince by the name of Brutus, landed at Totnes, where he proclaimed “Here I stand and here I rest, and this town shall be called Totnes”.
Thanks largely to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century account Historia Regum Britanniae, Brutus was regarded as the founder of the Britons and therefore the first King of Britain. If you subscribe to this part of our island’s history, and want to embrace it even more, then there’s a granite slab in Fore Street called the Brutus Stone, which is supposed to be the spot where he came ashore. Seeing that it lies several hundred yards uphill from the river, either the stone or the river has moved since then, but I suppose that wouldn’t bother anyone who has magic mushrooms on toast for breakfast.
Totnes - 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 ‘eccentric’ but however you like to describe it, Totnes is different to any other town in the South Hams, or even Devon for that matter.
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 who came here in 1925. Dartington is just a couple of miles outside of Totnes and I’ve given it a separate page, but for now I’ll just say that it’s somewhere that specializes in the ‘arts, social justice and sustainability’.