Totnes Town

I’m very lucky. In order to do my work, I have to fetch myself to yet another delightful English town. This time my destination is located in the southern part of the charming county of Devon. I am headed for the delightful town of Totnes. It is spoilt with a wealth of charming architecture and fascinating history – how lucky am I.

As I start to put together some blogs about one of my favourite parts of England, I’m so happy to have discovered Totnes. I will admit that the first time that I arrived here as an adult that I wasn’t really interested in the town and happier to go about chasing the local steam train with my father while other members of the family hit the shops. How wrong was I to write the place off?

This fascinating market town sits on a hill, overlooking the breath-takingly beautiful Devon countryside and the River Dart. The view is slightly impeded these days as the town is built up. At the top of the hill sits Totnes Castle – it is easy to see why they built it here. The castle belongs to the English Heritage portfolio. Sadly, I’m not currently a member and pressed for time I had to forgo a visit here – perhaps next month.

Leaving the castle, one descends to the high street. The steep hill is full of charming buildings that have managed to keep their outside facades as the modern shops fill their insides. At the top of the town sits the Civic square, where the local markets are held on a Friday and Saturday. Nothing much happening here on this occasion, I followed the high street. Walking down the steep hill I am fascinated by the East Gate arch, which was once the gateway to the medieval town and has now been faithfully reconstructed after a devasting fire in 1990.

To the left of this archway as I wander down the hill there are a set of steps. Take these and follow the path as it meanders around St Mary’s Church. This 15th Century church is built in a glorious red stone – some research claims this is from Devon county. A step inside is worth it as always, although on this occasion I am rushing around so I take a couple of quick photos before departing on my exploration once more.

Directly adjacent to the Church grounds is the Guildhall. Founded in 1088 as an abbey, I believe, it was built in 1553 as the building it is today. For something that is tucked away and hidden, it is surprising that it once was the heartbeat of the town. It is now a museum to times gone by and a small fee of £1 – a suggested donation – gains one entrance. As time was an issue I had to save this visit for another day, perhaps when the cold and rain come. A quick peak inside reveals the names of the 600 mayors that have ruled the town and what looks like a royal standard on the wall.

I leave here and retrace my steps back to the high street where I follow it on down. Again, I admire all the lovely buildings either side of the street. I am drawn to a beautiful looking pub up the corner but as I’m working that pleasure has to be missed. It also distracts me from the ‘Brutus Stone’. According to local legend Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, stepped off his ship here and the stone marks the spot. It is claimed that he said, “Here I stand and here I rest. And this good town shall be called Totnes”.  It is not that I would know what or where it is. I shall look out for it next time in Fore Street and near to number 51. At the bottom of the hill a striking pink building captures my attention as its brilliantly lit up in the autumn sunshine.

Its perfectly located next to the bridge over which I cross for wonderful views of the River Dart. Bathing in glorious autumn sunshine late in the day, it’s so still and peaceful even though the tide had gone out! Some customary shots were taken of mirror like reflections. A quick dash to the car and then a slower, mundane drive along the A38 lie in wait. Totnes, I can’t wait to see you again.

Totnes, England, United Kingdom

Beautiful Bath

I don’t quite know how to go about my second blog but I decided to write about a place that seems to be capturing more of my heart every time I visit. To my way of thinking I haven’t been to a more charming, peaceful or romantic place in all of England or the world. Perhaps I ought to get out more.

I had been to Bath as a youngster but just cannot remember anything about family visits. My memory of my first visit as an adult is of being distinctly underwhelmed by any beauty that the place possessed, but, slowly, mostly as a result of time spent with those who have graced me with their company when visiting, or even when exploring on my own, I have been captivated by its (unique?) charm.

The town’s small and compact footprint is appreciated best of all by standing on one of the surrounding hills which provide a stunning backdrop to this delightful town. Alternatively, a climb to the top of the abbey gives the view from the other direction. It is, without doubt, best explored by foot, allowing one to feel the energy that flows through its streets, its wonderful squares creating a sense of calm amid the excitement popping up elsewhere, usually associated with street performers of various energies and abilities. Every square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants which are normally full, have outside seating for one to feel the buzz in a detached and inactive way. Sit back, and soak up the atmosphere as the world passes by, those pockets of excitement coming from some street entertainment, more often than not a musical player or singer.

My favourite of the many is the main square though finding a suitable place to sit is often a challenge as these popular hotspots can’t cope with the demand. Seating is provided outside, but taking a place means to rely heavily on the British weather which, as Britons often remark, is unpredictable. When the sun is shining, though, it’s great to sit back and appreciate the view of the Abbey and the atmosphere it creates. This results in it becoming the main hub of activity as people flock to admire this fantastic building and the Roman Baths which are located on the edges of this square. I sit, admire the architectural lines and wonder how these buildings were ever created; how much time went into building them; the levels of dedication and devotion required; how they have managed to stand the test of time, etc. By this I mean that some people must have spent their whole lives just building them. As we all marvel at the architecture around us we are joined by street artists and buskers, trying to earn their living from the obliging tourists. They add something very special to this electric atmosphere as these musicians are generally more talented than the wannabees you see on TV. Then there is the bird man; he captures the rats in the sky; and manages to coax them down, his targets being those people so determined to have the perfect Instagram photo.

Drag yourself away from the square and wander towards the river. It is here that the only part of Bath that disappointments – I refer to the iniquity that one is forced to pay to enter Parade Gardens – a travesty. I can’t understand the need to pay to enter, so as a matter of principle I’m left to enjoy the view from the walkway above. After appreciating the gardens on a five minute elevated walk, one follows the path around to get a first view of the famous Pulteney bridge. This iconic bridge, unique and famous just adds to the romance of the town or is it a city? When one walks across it one is blissfully unaware that there is water 15m or so below such is the abundance of shops and cafes to distract. Armed with a camera means that a different view is recorded by shifting a few metres each time and then clicking. Try to freeze the water in the photo as it cascades down the semi-circular weir or, conversely, try to capture moving water by an adjustment to the settings – what joy loaded with a single regret in that a tripod has been left at home. The bridge connects the main town to the Great Pulteney Road, a superb street packed with Georgian buildings, in a straight formation leading to the Holburn museum. The beauty of this house parade is, sadly, spoiled by the large number of cars parked on either side of the street – surely there is another way? Cars are such an important part of modern life but ruin the appearance of this historic and wonderful street.

As mentioned the Holburn Museum sits at the end of the street. Free entry is claimed by the literature although, understandably, a small donation is requested and best to pay as the frowns are palpable. Paying up front was a mistake as, sadly the museum, was wasted on me. I don’t understand art! The museum is situated in Sydney gardens, a small park with not much going for it. On walking through the park, I’m not drawn to anything else other than the fact there is a closed down and abandoned bowls club, a painful reminder of the current issues facing grass roots sport. If this country has more and more elderly people living in it and is struggling to run a bowls club, how are other sports going to survive? We have more and more older people – they can’t all be sitting at home playing computer games.

Upon leaving the park and crossing the railway line, I pick up part of the canal path – well worth the walk -giving spectacular views across the town dominated by the Abbey. Again, only as a result of visiting with someone, was I introduced to this pathway; it weaves its way around the edge of the town and furnishes brilliant views. There are many locks on this canal as it climbs out of the town through the surrounding hills, further evidence of this being a relatively modern town. I leave the path and follow the signs for Prior Park. I had high expectations for Prior Park gardens (National Trust), all the pictures I had seen had portrayed a mirror lake, rare bridge and gardens. Maybe it’s the long and steep climb to get there or the dingy lake (were those pictures photoshopped?) but I was not impressed and the walk did not seem worth it (800 metres at 1 in 10). I appreciate the work that goes in to preserve these places for us to enjoy but it appeared that green algae had troubled the efforts this year.

After completing this part, I return to the Abbey and main square. It’s here that I plan my next route which is to head towards Victoria Park via the circus. As one leaves the square and wander along the high street, I’m drawn to the alarming number of ‘to let’ signs in abandoned stores. Is it a sign of the ever-changing society in which we live? Are commercial juggernauts and the internet taking over and killing this country? How many pubs and shops cannot survive anymore due to a lack of business? One only has to walk along the high street and everyone is glued to a phone, blissfully ignorant of all the beauty around them, whether it be people, shops, pubs, etc. The ability to only communicate through a phone deprives many of the beauty of both people and places that surround us as we live in a cyber world.

The high street is short enough that I don’t have to worry about it for too long before arriving at ‘the Circus’. Not formed in a square, this circular masterpiece is a gem. Houses surround a circular middle green all looking at each other like numbers on a clock face. Cars are the only caveat. Removing myself away from this circular wonder and making the final walk to Royal Victoria

Park, I am fascinated by the view of the ‘most majestic street in the UK’, the Royal Crescent. It is hard not to argue with this statement. This is the masterpiece of the younger of the John Wood architects that had such a influence on this town’s design. Sit on the green and marvel at the view in front of you and let your mind wander through yesteryear (ignore the cars).

In my opinion no visit to Bath is complete without some time spent in Alexander park, a free beauty spot which is known to the locals but not to many outsiders. It provides exquisite views of the town. I would recommend driving up to it, but walking up would be worth the not inconsiderable effort.

Perhaps its location has meant that no one has wanted to fight over it and why it has become a place for relaxation and pleasure seeking. All that is needed is for folks to wrench themselves from their phones to lift eyes, move their legs and see what is around them.