Dartington Estate, Totnes
A leafy go-to for scoffing, shopping and garden-gandering - the perfect place for a culture top-up and an outdoor meet with friends and family.
Want to swerve the shopping malls and soft play this weekend? Lord, yes! If you’re after somewhere more cultural to shop, scoff and do some garden mooching, then lady, I have found the place for you. The 1200-acre estate on the outskirts of Totnes has been Muddy’s cross-generational boredom-buster since my little un’s were, er, little, because it’s just one of those lovely leafy places that’s always good for a meet-up. And the Grade II listed gardens are stunning all year round, with magnolia and witch hazel in spring, a Henry Moore sculpture and a whispering circle where you can hear your whisper echoing across the tiltyard.
Dartington has a fascinating history – waaaay too much to write here – but I’d be doing it a disservice if I didn’t give a nod to Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, a pioneering pair who bought the estate in the 1920’s and used it to promote the arts, social justice and sustainability. It’s Dartington’s influence that’s made nearby Totnes, ‘a bit Totnes’ as they say, with its indie shops and bohemian vibe. The estate is now run by a charitable trust who still walk the talk, hosting famous arts events, including the International Summer School, the 15th century Barn Cinema and meets for literature lovers.
So, plenty of food for thought but woman cannot live on ‘progressive international thinking’ alone – coffee, home-made cake and Sunday roasts are needed too – so you’ll be glad to know, there are two cafes called The Green Table (so good they named it twice!) and The White Hart in the courtyard, which dates back to medieval times with a Games of Thronesy hall. Dartington’s menus are very, very good – overseen by Head of Food, Tara Vaughan, who channels the estate’s local outlook – and food from the kitchen garden and tenant farmers – into the farm-to-fork dishes. I urge you to give it a try.
The other firm favourite in Muddy’s calendar is the annual Ways with Words, a brilliant literary festival which pops up in the Great Hall every summer and where famous authors come from all over and talk fascinatingly on a fantastically curated range of fact and fiction. A must for culture vultures – I never miss it if I can help it.
At the risk of raving on, I just want to name-check their courses too – which run all year-round, from the practical like wreath or furniture making to the more esoteric and mind-expanding, plus there is a vibrant music and arts programme. Other highlights include the Cider Press Centre shops, including the new Green Table Deli down at the Cider Press Centre (Pip’s smoked brisket n pickle bagels are amazing). There’s also a toy shop for kids, homeware and gifts, and of course those gardens which are, due to being a charity and yep, lockdown, are now charging for entry – but members go free and locals get a discount.
Lucky locals have loads to keep them coming back (a family membership costs £50) for but if you’re at a distance, you can make a stay of it by booking into one of the B&B courtyard rooms (genteel like staying at Cambridge Uni), set up a tent at Camp Dartington, or new for 2021, they’ve just converted a gorgeous old fisherman’s cabin right on the edge of the River Dart where you can go off-grid for a few days with just the babbling of the water and kingfishers for company.
Sounds like a soul-soothing topper-upper to me, and that pretty much sums up Dartington. Go, go, go!
Dartington, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EL
Monday: Cider Press 10am-5pm; Green Table 10am-4pm; Garden 9am-5pm (4pm in winter)
Tuesday: Cider Press 10am-5pm; Green Table 10am-4pm; Garden 9am-5pm (4pm in winter)
Wednesday: Cider Press 10am-5pm; Green Table 10am-4pm; Garden 9am-5pm (4pm in winter)
Thursday: Cider Press 10am-5pm; Green Table 10am-4pm; Garden 9am-5pm (4pm in winter)
Friday: Cider Press 10am-5pm; Green Table 10am-4pm; Garden 9am-5pm (4pm in winter)
Saturday: Cider Press 10am-5pm; Green Table 10am-4pm; Garden 9am-5pm (4pm in winter)
Sunday: Cider Press 10am-5pm; Green Table 10am-4pm; Garden 9am-5pm (4pm in winter)
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