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Totnes: sustainability and alternative life in England

This is an article dedicated to the place where I live these days: Totnes. I did not come here by chance, I heard many good things about this place in the past and it was in my mind to come one day. One of the reasons I came here is because Totnes is pioneer in the movement “Transition Town”, created by Rob Hopkins, a model that now many other towns and cities in the world are adopting. It is a social movement dedicated to increase the sustainability of a city through various community actions. For example, some measures were implemented to save energy or for recycling, and many of the people of Totnes were involved in them. Furthermore, in March 2007 Totnes was the first city in the UK that introduced its own local currency, the pound of Totnes, another initiative of “Transition Town”.

View of Totnes Devon

Totnes is a market town at the head of the estuary of the River Dart, in South Devon. This county, located in  Southwest England, is well known for the beauty of its landscapes and it is one of the most touristy areas of the country. The official population is around 10000 inhabitants, which it might be as twice as that with the non-registered population. Many people of different places in England and the world come to Totnes attracted by all the movement around alternative life, sustainable initiatives and cultural/artistic activity. There are many yoga and alternative therapies centres, so this is a very attractive place for all the ones interested in the “New age” movement. Furthermore the people of Totnes are very aware about local, organic and healthy food; proof of that is the great abundance of shops of this kind compared to the small size of this town. It is not strange that many organic farms, ecovillages, community gardens and other similar initiatives were created around Totnes.

Totnes Market England

Totnes has a long recorded history, dating back to AD 907 when its first castle was built; it was already an important market town by the 12th century. It has been written that “the coast of Totnes” was where Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, first came ashore on the island. Set into the pavement of Fore Street is the ‘Brutus Stone’, a small granite boulder onto which, according to local legend, Brutus first stepped from his ship. Despite this legendary history, the first authenticated history of Totnes is in AD 907, when it was fortified by King Edward the Elder. The site was chosen because it was on an ancient trackway which forded the river at low tide, due to its position on one of the main roads of the South West, in conjunction with its easy access to its hinterland and the easy navigation of the River Dart.

If we walk the main street, High Street, we will find East Gate Arch, with its famous clock, one of the symbols of Totnes. This street is full of historical houses, some of them belonged to rich merchants of 16th and 17th centuries. St Mary Church and the town museum (Totnes Elizabethan House Museum) are in this street as well.

East Gate Arch Totnes England

If we continue walking up, we will get to the main square where the famous market takes place every Friday and Saturday. The building of the Civic Hall is there, which is used for events and activities. Bogan House is just in front of it, a building of the 16th century, that is also used for events and activities. Behind Fore Street you can find the Guildhall (old town hall), which was built in 1553 over the ruins of a medieval priory (from 1088).

Guildhall Totnes England

In Castle Street is the Totnes Castle (English Heritage), that was built by Juhel, the Normand governor of Totnes. From there you can see fabulous views of the village and the countryside around it. It was built in the 11th century but it was rebuilt in the 14th century.

Castillo de Totnes Inglaterra

Totnes Castle England

Finally, another distinctive place of Totnes is its bridge over the River Dart. Crossing it you will get to another part of the town called Bridgetown. Near the bridge, cruise tours to the town of Dartmouth (in the stuary) leave, a very recommended trip.

River Dart Totnes England

Bridgetown Totnes England

Apart from Totnes, there are many other interesting places nearby to visit. For example, Dartington, a small village 5 km away from Totnes, where it is possible to get by foot following a path besides the river. Over there it is worth to visit Dartington Hall, a group of historical buildings with a big area around them (Dartington State) with gardens and forests. There is also an alternative cinema, the Barn Cinema. In Dartington State it is also located Schumacher College, where it is possible to study interesting courses such as sustainable horticulture, social economy and holistic science, among others.

Dartington Hall England

Dartington Hall England

A bit further away (around half an hour by car) we can find the Dartmoor National Park, which is a moorland with granitic hills or tors.

Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor National Park

Although Totnes is not on the coast, it is not very far from it. In about 40 minutes by car it is possible to get to some beautiful places on the Devon coast. There is a Coast Trail that goes around the Devon and Cornwall coast, for more than 1000 km.

Coast Trail Devon

Finally, a curiosity about Totnes, something that lately seems to has become a tourist attraction. Totnes is twinned with the fantasy land of Narnia, and although this started as a joke, now it has become another distinctive of this town. Certainly, there is no better place in the world to be twinned with Narnia; just for the great variety of characters that one can see walking in its streets, anybody could realise this. In short, Totnes has all the necessary ingredients to be one of the most interesting and peculiar places in England.

Soon, we will offer ecotourism trips, internships, volunteering and language immersion programes in Totnes and Devon. Be aware and check our website regularly, we will publish them soon.

Author: Belén Paredes
Co-founder and general coordinator of EcoMind Travel

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