A Visit To Dartington
The Village of Dartington, Devon, in the United Kingdon
I didn't grow up entirely in Dartington*, but I was six when I moved there, and ten when I left, so most of my childhood memories are of a little village in the county of Devon, buried amongst the hedgerows.
Dartington is mostly made up of the estate of the local 14th century manor, Dartington Hall, now a famous Trust that supports the arts and local industry. It is a couple of miles from the town of Totnes and the hamlets of Cott and Week are found around the edges.
Dartington is one of those lovely little English villages - more boring now to look at as an adult, and after the inevitable development of course, but still with many hidden secrets to charm a visitor. It's in the South Hams, on the edge of the moors. It's easy to get to from the nearest town - either easily less than an hour's walk along a river bank, and then a cycle path, or a short distance by bus or car. The name comes, like many places along the river, from the River Dart.
*There are those who claim I still haven't finished growing up, but I recommend that you ignore those people. I do. All the time.
Have you ever been to Dartington?
A Map of Dartington and the Surrounding Area - The location of Dartingon, the Hamlets of Cott and Week, Dartington Hall and Totnes
You could walk out from the village to all four corners of the compass, and find a walk to take through quiet woods or past old worn cottages, resting in corners. There was always a river flowing past, tumbling under friendly stone bridges and rushing smoothly over the weir, down from the Cider Press, along the cycle path.
The Cider Press was the village centre - a tourist attraction now, but impressive and entertaining to children. Old buildings full of gift shops and restaurants, and enchanting Dartington Crystal. There's a garden centre, too, full of plants, and at weekends in the summer, we could sit along the high wall and watch the juggler in the courtyard with flaming torches and balloon animals, while our parents snuck away for a quiet cup of tea (or whatever they were actually doing!).
Cranks, the last representative of series of vegetarian cafs that produced my family's favourite cookbook, is there now. That's new, it used to be in Totnes.
Cranks Restaurant - A vegetarian restaurant hidden away in Dartington
Cranks are a vegetarian/organic restaurant chain in the south-west of England, and the one in the Cider Press in Dartington is the last one remaining.
Their recipe books are about very well explained, tried and tested recipes (they served everything in there) that default to wholemeal flour, brown sugar, and other heathy ingredients - and only include white, processed options and extra ingredients when absolutely necessary, They cover smoothies to soup, cakes to biscuits, main courses to appetisers.
Our family grew up cooking from this - and when it fell apart, we had to hunt down more copies on trips back to the UK. I actually forget that it's vegetarian, as it's so useful for everything! (And I guess because I don't eat much meat anyway). As children we'd find biscuit recipes, as we got older, we graduated to 'proper' food. When we moved out of home, we took copies with us.
The Gate Onto the Dartington Hall Estate - This is where Dartington begins, right at the edge of Totnes
This is halfway along the cycle path out of Totnes - right in front is a bridge over the river, and the road leads up around the hill until it reaches the Hall. Or you can turn left when you reach the trees, and follow the path along past the long pastures, which flood in winter and fill with grazing geese (barnacle geese mostly), and even small deer. It can be muddy, or cold, but it is usually peaceful and in good condition. Overhead, the trees constantly reach over, and in autumn, you can crunch through the leaves and gather chestnuts in a couple of places.
Further on, there's the old textile mill at Shinner's Bridge, and then the path enters the woodland proper for a few minutes, passing over a stream where it forms ponds, and we used to make wishes at. Then you come out of the trees, passing a couple of old caves, and the ceramics shop right on the edge of the Cider Press Centre. And then you're back among buildings and can find a cafe, if you wish, or walk through and up behind, and then either go across the fields to Dartington Church or take the back road upwards among the hedges until you leave the sounds of the road behind. And there you can find a little gate, hidden along a wall, and step quietly into the woodland glade of one corner of the Dartington Hall gardens.
Dartington Primary School - ...and other memories
In Dartington, the school was much larger than the one in Totnes - oddly, as the village was smaller. It sprawled across a river, a bridge sharply marked juniors from infants (seniors went to Kelston High School in Totnes). An original Cider Press was the assembly hall, now moved across the road, and the library was a church, donated to the school when the real church was built.
I've been back to visit twice since - it's shrunk, of course, Dartington Hall now connected by path and road, rather than floating in an island of memory. But it's grown, too - each memorable place no longer bobbing in tiny sections, but mapped out into a larger whole.
The school has grown. I remember learning about the Dewey Decimal system in the library, and being bullied, and not being allowed to play Richard in , because 'I'd be here next year and the other person wouldn't'. I wasn't there next year, I was in New Zealand, trying to understand people who talked too fast and couldn't say my name properly. I had to be the Duke of Huntington, instead (it was fun and I got to declaim Shakespeare and wave a sword around and die, but I still wish I could have played Richard). King Richard III
Every summer, in the school fields - huge great expanses of grass - they'd mow it, and all the school would pour out and start gathering armfuls of soft cut grass. We'd build huge forts, taller than us, and compete, then lay in more grass as ammunition. There's a great oak out near the path to the park, and I found a dormouse sleeping in the roots once. At the other end, along the road, were sycamore trees and they became my favourites, as they spun their flying seeds down on my head as I adventured.
The other way, a path ran along the top of the field, leading to the hamlet of Week. My family used to walk along there - I remember hiding under an enormous umbrella, because pouring rain was hardly a barrier to making the children take some exercise!
There were slow worms in the grass in summer - we'd catch them on the way down to school, on the path past the orchard and the catkins and the crab apple trees. Gently, of course - if the tail is stubbed and short, then it was safe to pick them up, as they couldn't cast them off again yet. At least, that was my reasoning, but I always wanted to play with them!
The Cott Inn, which was built in 1320
Dartington Hall Estate and Trust - About the Elmhirst family, the Hall and the Trust itself
The Dartington Hall Trust is a registered charity that aims to promote the arts and local industry in Devon. It runs an arts library on the estate, takes care of the gardens, and - among other things - opens the Hall to performances and retreats. It has a strong interest in social justice and sustainability, and runs several educational programs.
The estate itself is 1,200 acres, and the hall was built between 1388 and 1400 for John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon, half-brother to Richard II. The Elmhirsts moved in in 1925 and restored the old buildings, then set up the Trust in 1935. Dorothy Elmhirst is responsible for the gardens - along with famous landscape designers, Beatrix Farrand and Percy Cane.
A photograph of a tree in the grounds of Dartington Hall, a statue behind them - by LawrieCate
A closer look at the sculpture by Henry Moore
Sculpture by Henry Moore, Willi Soukop and Peter Randall-Page; a tiltyard; rumours of the resting places of Knights Templar, and a 2000 year old yew tree are all contained within the gardens. There is also a Japanese zen garden, a herb garden and cottage and a summer pagoda.
The Trust has promoted, created and inspired many forms of art and education and the vast majority of books about Dartington are a product of the Trust's efforts.
Dartington Hall from the gardens. (Foreground: Tiltyard)
Dartington Hall Gardens - An estate preserved in beauty.
Dartington Hall was wonderful, and still is. An Arts Centre, with a library, and history, and old buildings - and the most beautiful grounds.
From the herb garden to the woodland sweep of hill, full of snowdrops, wood anenomes and bluebells in spring, to the smooth green steps of the tourney field (or theatre of some kind, I never knew exactly), every corner was different.
Best of all, we loved the little bronze donkey - I was still small enough to ride it when I left, and I remember that we all had to say goodbye.
These gorgeous photographs are all from Dartington, although sadly not mine.
One of the intriguing pieces of sculpture around the grounds, known as Jacob's Pillow.
there is a delightful amount of the spring flowers and wildlife around the gardens
Autumn colours in Dartington Hall gardens, Devon, UK in late light.
Dartington Crystal Handmade Glass - Dartington Crystal Glass is a highly successful company founded by the Dartington Hall Trust
Dartington Crystal are a glass-making company, who create quality handmade glass using traditional Swedish glass blowing techniques and are the only glass company still producing their glass within the UK.
They are actually based further north in Torrington (in North Devon), but have a shop in the Cider Press. Founded by the Dartington Hall Trust in 1967, they are now known worldwide for their quality and elegant design. They are also known for their commemorative and corporate commissions, such as the Cinderella-style glass slippers pictured
The slippers were presented in 1988 to the City Of Plymouth, when Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal attended the British Olympic Appeal Gala Ball.
Dartington Crystal on Amazon
The Three Churches
Dartington has three churches standing.
There are three churches to be found in Dartington, but only one actually acts as a Church.
The current church is St. Mary's and stands alone a short walk out of the village, among the fields. The entire school used to walk up there for Harvest Festivals and May Days, but otherwise I never saw much of it. It was completed in 1880.
The next church I know very well - as I had two years of classes in it! Built as a schoolhouse, at the same time that St. Mary's was being built, it was also designed to use as a temporary church, between 1978-1980. The school itself began in 1800, at Week, but moved to Shinner's Bridge when the land was donated and the school built.
The last church is the oldest, and no longer really a church at all. Tucked away behind Dartington Hall itself is a little, grim and quiet, graveyard, with ancient gravestones and a tall church tower. Built in the thirteenth century, the church was torn down in 1978 and the stone taken away to build St. Mary's with.
Tower at Dartington Hall (Devon)
Arriving in Devon - It begins in Totnes, the oldest town in England
One and a half miles down the lane, quiet with Jack-in-the-pulpit bulging red along it, or via the cycle path (when we were older and had bikes to whiz along, in a family), was Totnes - a charming, crooked little town, full of old buildings, a curiously steep and narrowing High Street, cobbles, and a castle. In the grounds, in summer, you could go in and watch Shakespeare performed outdoors, and learn about the old Norman fort.
We had lived there for six long months, during which I turned six, lost two teeth at once - once in my sleep, the other in a peach - and we lived in a great, dusty, dark house full of secrets and other people's furniture. I learnt what 'rented' meant there, and went around telling everybody proudly that we rented the house. I used to go to the tiny school, up the narrow High street, and we'd go to the weekly market, even after we moved (probably more, then, when us children were old enough to appreciate it!). There, I'd wander past heaps of clothing, art and slow, captured, next to the bric-a-brac... and then I'd run and beg for pocket money!
Totnes is the oldest surviving town in England, on average - the narrow streets are lined with houses built under the reign of the Tudors, and many people live in a house from the 1600s. There's a very steep High Street running up the hill past the castle and the church, which is surrounded by the old fortifications. These walls and gates mark the original Totnes - like East Gate, the clock bridge in the photograph.
It's an interesting place to visit - the castle is closed in winter (November-March), but there are shops and history aplenty. The town is famous for its market and bohemian culture. The Norman motte-and-bailey fort was built in the 13th Century. It, and Dartington, are very much connected - one of the gates onto the grounds of Dartington Hall is actually the edge of Totnes itself.
Orient Yourself: Google Maps - Still not sure how everything's connected? Have a look at the map!
If you zoom in to street level, you can even have a wander around among the trees and houses and read the signposts!
Dartmoor National Park - Dartington was on the edge of the great moor
But above Dartington, I love Dartmoor. Wide and open, and windy, and rolling. Free and clear and full of secrets. I'd climb the tors, great piles of granite bursting up towards the sky and my parents still laugh about how I'd overtake the rock climbers with their ropes and shoes.
We'd wander the moors and visit a dozen different places, trying to find the quiet spots, the hidden corners, without the tourists. I remember hiding in the bracken, and running through it, crunching and brown. We'd stalk the ponies (I was kicked by one one, in a carpark - I was looking at the foal, curled happily on the ground, and the mother sneaks up behind me and Wham! A souvenir bruise embedded on the back of my leg!).
You get blueberries on the moors, too, in the sheltered spots among the crusty lichen boulders and sheltering bracken, lower on the slopes. And streams, rippling all over, full of stepping stones, and twists and turns. And sheep, and sheep droppings, so you had to be careful when you flung yourself down on the cropped-short turf. And old stone circles of stone walls, all that's left of ancient little villages.
I remember one single day when the wind wasn't being sucked across the moor, and my hair didn't whip my eyes. Just one.
Getting Around South Devon - Make sure you grab a good guidebook
Devon is fairly easy to get around in, but only if you have bus and train timetables in hand and plan beforehand. There are buses up to the moors, for example, but if you spent too many hours walking around, you'll miss the return bus!
in other cases, you can easily plan to visit several places in one go - such as visiting Totnes, then popping over to Dartington!
More Links: Dartington Websites
A pioneering charity, working to advance the arts, sustainability and social justice
- Dartington Primary School
Dartington C of E Primary School
- Dartington - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Dartington is a village in Devon, England. Its population is 1,917. It is located south of Dartington Hall and about two miles (3 km) from Totnes. Dartington is home to an obsolete cider press (now the centrepiece of a shopping centre named for it
- Dartington Parish Council
Dartington Parish Council
- GENUKI/Devon: Dartington: [Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (
Genealogical and general information about the parish of Dartington, Devonshire, England.
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