Near not far
Inland, Torquay is ringed by a series of small towns and villages, each of which have a unique character and well worth a visit. None are more than 30 minutes drive away so perfect for a morning or afternoon visit, or indeed lunch.
Arts and crafts and artisan skills are very much on show in these locations. From Devon's first whisky distillery to a world class gallery, they all exhibit a distinctive style. Who knows, it may be down to the looming presence of Dartmoor from which they draw their inspiration, or perhaps there's simply something in the water, but something's definitely brewing!
Set on a steep hill with its very own Norman castle, Totnes has attracted a slightly alternative following for many years, hence the road sign leading into the town bears the legend "twinned with Narnia"! Yes you will find crystals on sale in the picturesque and somewhat steep high street that drops down to the banks of the River Dart, but you'll also find a range of boutiques and craft shops as well as eateries. But be warned it can get somewhat crowded in high summer.
The Plains, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 5DD
In 1925, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst purchased the neglected 14th century Dartington estate. The Elmhirsts were pioneers and through Dorothy’s inherited wealth, exceptionally well-off. They poured their resources into the “Dartington Experiment” – restoring the estate buildings and setting up a host of farming, forestry and educational projects. This experiment was formalised in 1932 with the creation of The Dartington Hall Trust. Early initiatives included Dartington Hall School, Dartington Tweed Mill and later Dartington Glass. Dartington also rapidly became a magnet for artists, architects, writers, philosophers and musicians from around the world including potter Bernard Leach, composer Igor Stravinsky, cellist Jacqueline du Pre, musician Ravi Shankar, playwright Bernard Shaw and environmental activist Vandana Shiva. Today the estate is home to the Dartington Hall Trust – an educational charity that supports learning in ecology, the arts, social enterprise and within the wider community. From woodland walks and riverside trails to cafés, restaurants and shops, there is plenty to explore as well as a year-round programme of art and craft activities, theatre, music and dance events.
Dartington Hall, Totnes TQ9 6EL
Buckfast first became home to an abbey in 1018 but was surrendered for dissolution in 1539, with the monastic buildings stripped and left as ruins before being finally demolished. In 1882 the site was purchased by a group of French Benedictine monks, who refounded a monastery on the site. Buckfast was formally reinstated as an Abbey in 1902, with work starting on the construction of a new church in 1907. Incredibly (especially when you see the size of the building) there were never more than six monks working on the project at any one time, although the whole community had repaired the ancient foundations up to ground level.The church was consecrated in 1932 but not completed until 1938. The abbey continues to operate as a Benedictine foundation today and is self supporting with a farm. It has become famous for its fortified wine and honey (well worth a try) as well as their magnificent church with the most stunning stained glass.
Buckfast Abbey, Buckfastleigh TQ11 0EE
Known as gateway to the moor, Bovey took part of its name from the river Bovey with its second name coming from the de Tracey family who ruled the area after the Norman Conquest. Bovey Tracey was the scene of a major battle during the English Civil War, which ended in victory for Cromwell’s troops. Apart from the picturesque nature of the town, there are three specific places of interest. First is the Devon Guild of Craftmen in the converted Riverside Mill. Here you can watch craftsmen and women create unique jewellery, sculpture, prints, glass and textiles, as well as browse their extensive ever changing exhibitions and shop displays. Second is the Dartmoor Distillery located in the old town hall. The distillery is a new addition to the town being built in 2016 to produce the first whisky from Dartmoor. Lastly is the House of Marbles the name of which gives a clear indication of what to find within but also a lot more besides.