Dartington – A Place of Culture, Learning and Social Thinking

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.

Dartington Estate

Many people who come to Dartington to visit the craft shopping outlet that used to be called the Cider Press Centre, probably don’t realise that Dartington Hall and gardens are open to the public and, apart from the car park, is completely free of charge.

To get there, you need to take the road out of the village towards Buckfastleigh from the roundabout at Shinner’s Bridge, and just past the Cider Press Centre (which is now imaginatively called the Shops at Dartington) is a turning on the right-hand side next to St Mary’s Church which leads down to the hub of the estate.

Most of the buildings are used and occupied by students, but you can’t fail to be impressed by the Great Hall as you walk into the courtyard. That said, it’s not quite as grand inside as it might first appear, and that’s because when the Elmhirsts bought this medieval mansion and estate, the Hall was in ruins and needed some serious renovation. Nevertheless, they did a good job, and it’s also interesting to note that previous owners included two of Henry VIII’s wives – Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr.

Inside the Great Hall

One of the joys of taking a look around the estate is the chance to wander around the tranquil gardens. They may not be quite up to the standard that you would expect from a National Trust property perhaps, but they are one of the area’s best kept secrets, and a real pleasure to walk around, especially as very few people come here.

The Rear of Dartington Hall
The Summer House and the Elmhirst Children's Playhouse

The word ‘Garden’ probably conjures up an area of formal design with herbaceous borders and the like, but in reality, the 25 acres that it covers is more of an informal arrangement. Spring is especially alluring when banks of snowdrops give way to crocuses, daffodils, primroses and some especially magnificent magnolias.

Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst rejuvenated the medieval estate with ideas of their own, and there are some interesting sculptures dotted around that are no doubt there to get you thinking.

Try not to miss the one entitled Flora which is on the site of the Elmhirst’s ashes.


If your first port of call at Dartington Estate was the Great Hall, then it may also be your final one as well because attatched to it is the White Hart. As you might imagine, the food on offer and everything connected with it is done as ethically as possible, which doesn’t necessarily translate as cheap, but any profits that they do make gets ploughed back into the system that is held so dear here – to help make society a better place – and who could argue with that?

The White Hart

I couldn’t possibly let you leave Dartington though without mentioning another pub – the Cott Inn, which is located in Cott Road on the other side of the roundabout at Shinner’s Bridge.

According to the date above the entrance, this pub has had a licence since 1320, and was apparently named after a Dutchman called Johannes Cott, who converted the original cottages into a staging post for shepherds and their flocks on their way to the port at Totnes.

There are older pubs elsewhere but what I like about The Cott is that its appearance would have hardly changed over the years. You won’t find a longer thatched pub roof anywhere – at least not in England, and the inside has many genuine reminders of how long the building has stood here.

The Cott Inn

I haven’t brought you to Dartington for a pub crawl though, because for me, the Dartington Estate is a hidden gem in this corner of the South Devon countryside: The Elmhirsts were, in a way, ahead of their time, and their philosophy is one that we should aspire to – if only most of us didn’t have to live in the real world instead



18 thoughts on “Dartington – A Place of Culture, Learning and Social Thinking

  1. Toonsarah

    I can see why you like it here – beautiful old buildings, lovely gardens and a couple of tempting pubs! The magnolias look magnificent – they would definitely be a lure for me 🙂

    1. Easymalc Post author

      The real beauty of it though Sarah is that you hardly ever see anybody here. Thanks for taking a look 🙂

  2. Fergy.

    Hello again Malc,

    for some reason WordPress won’t allow me to log in here with my a/c, it is the same with Sarah’s and I have no idea what the problem is.

    This is a fantastic piece, I visited Dartington many years ago whilst IK was doing a bit of walking down there, I loved it, proper “hippy central”. I even found a brilliant record shop and scored a few rare bits and pieces. I am so glad to see you are keeping up the blogging, it seems to be about all any of us can do these days.

    Two cracking looking pubs there although I dread to think how much that thatched roof costs to replace when it becomes necessary, it must be a fortune.

    I do hope you and yours are all well and you are riding out this craziness as best you can.

    Speak soon,


    1. Easymalc Post author

      Hi Fergy, good to hear from you.

      I’m not sure why you can’t log in to our accounts, but sometimes WordPress can be unfathomable, especially, for people like me who hasn’t got a clue about how some of this stuff works.

      I’m pleased to hear that this post has taken you back in time, and ‘Hippy Central’ is a good name for it :-). As for blogging it’s helping me to keep sane (sometimes), but this pandemic is sending some people over the top, and it’s not difficult to see why. Anyway, it’s great to hear from you again and I must pop over to your website to see what you’ve been up to.

      I hope you’re recovering from that nasty episode you had last year. Stay safe


  3. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    Lovely place for sure! Great photography Malc, as usual. Another interesting and beautiful place you’ve presented, especially with your photos of the nature and the place itself, the statutes and buildings. Loved it! Hope you’re well and good and getting ready for the weekend. All’s well here, our president still doesn’t want to open the bars but…we still celebrate wine time at 7p! All the best to you my friend!

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thank you Francesc. Your comments always brighten up my day. The bars are all still shut up here as we’ve been in a complete lockdown for the last 6 weeks, but as you say it doesn’t stop people having a drink does it?
      I’ll be raising a glass to you later and dreaming of when we can all go back out and start enjoying life again. Have a great weekend my friend and keep those fabulous blogs coming 🙂

      1. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

        Thank you Malc, I’ll raise my wine glass to you this afternoon! Our president is sticking to his orders restricting the community by closing bars, restaurants, and our much beloved terrace pubs! Stores also must close by 6p and curfew is at 10p to 6a. Now the hoteliers and restaurant associations are suing the government, but the judges said that they waited far too long, that it does not seem to have been a serious matter to them. That they should have filed earlier! It’s crazy. The city is dead. Every day more and more businesses are closing, closing forever and our rate of unemployment is going through the roof! If people don’t work, they cannot buy, if they cannot buy businesses cannot function and they must lay off their employees, so it is a vicious cycle…who knows when it will end because the damage is not only done by COVID but by the measures taken to “protect” us…In any event, let’s just enjoy the weekend, at home or anywhere, but thankful to God that we are well and fine.
        Cheers my friend,

        1. Easymalc Post author

          It’s a terrible situation isn’t it? people are going missing on a regular basis, walking into the sea and jumping in front of trains – and that’s just where I live. Heaven knows what some people are going through. Stay strong F. We will come out the other side and then we can deal with the debris that’s been left behind.

  4. Alli Templeton

    Another hidden gem from your neck of the woods, Malc, and one that particularly appeals to me – I’m sure you can guess why. I love the idea of this medieval manor as a kind of refuge from the real world. The internal shots look wonderful, and I’m sure I’d feel right at home in that great hall. It looks very evocative. And lovely looking pubs too! That’s one mightily long roof! Very appealing. Another one for the ‘to do’ list. 🙂

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks for checking this one out Alli. What I like about living down here is the variety of things to and places to go – depending on the mood 🙂

      1. Alli Templeton

        You’re right there – it must be wonderful to be so spoilt for choice. No wonder it’s such a popular holiday destination. 🙂

        1. Easymalc Post author

          And there’s the added bonus of going to these places when there aren’t too many people around 🙂


I welcome interaction with readers, so if you would like to make a comment or ask a question please use the comment box below

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.