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Best in the South West: Totnes

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Carmen Paddock urges you to venture further into Devon to Totnes…

FOR hippies, history buffs, and those looking to explore a unique local area, Totnes is an ideal day trip.  Situated an easy* forty minutes’ train journey or an hour’s bus ride from Exeter, this small Devon town is most famous for its alternative, new-age scene but also features relics of past centuries.

Before my first excursion to Totnes I was told by a local that it is the ‘hippy capital’ of Devon.  He was not lying.  You cannot walk more than a few paces along the main streets (Fore and High, just like our good ol’ Exe) or any of the numerous small side streets without seeing signs advertising health foods, gluten-free bakeries, spelt pizzas, organic menus, all-natural wellness, yoga and meditation programmes, and book stores with well-stocked holistic health and alternative spirituality sections.

Willow Vegetarian Restaurant is one of the most famous and well-established; its seasonally changing menu of soups, salads, mains, and cakes is freshly prepared every day.  Vegetarians are not the only ones catered for; there are always several vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and wheat-free options available for those who require more specific dietary requirements.  You can get full meals for under £10 and light lunches for around £5.  Whatever your favourite food, a day in Totnes would not be complete without at least a small snack from one of these unique independent places!

If afternoon tea is your thing, Totnes has two fantastic options: Grey’s Dining Room and the Totnes Cat Café.  The former garners rave reviews for its exquisite high teas, with people coming from all across Devon for its massive scones and antique atmosphere.  Yes, you read the second one correctly – there is a Japanese-style cat café in this tiny hippy town.  You have to book a slot ahead of time, but there is no cover charge, and planning ahead for the privilege of tea and cake whilst cuddling adorable kitties is a small sacrifice.

For its size, Totnes has quite a few historical attractions.  The Tudor Merchant’s House on the High Street houses the Totnes Fashion and Textile Museum; although small, its rotating exhibitions feature some stunning relics of past clothing trends.  Every Tuesday, the Elizabethan Society fills the Civic Square for their charity and craft market, and yes, all vendors are in full Renaissance garb.

Image Credit: Lawrie Cate
Image Credit: Lawrie Cate

Perhaps the most notable (and noticeable) of Totnes’s historic offerings is its Norman Castle, situated an easy ten-minute walk from High Street.  The castle, a classic motte and bailey situated on a hill above town, was constructed soon after the Conquest to maintain order in the Saxon region.  It is open every day during the summer and at weekends until 31 March 2014; admission is £3.20 for concessions – a small price for the sweeping views of the town, countryside, and River Dart!

Totnes is a recommended excursion to any Exeter student looking for a change of scenery, a new-age vibe, some history and culture, or all of the above!

(*easy, were it not for flooded tracks!)

Carmen Paddock

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