Welcome to Narnia - most historic town in country
- Credit: Keith Perry
It has been named as Britain’s most eccentric town and was once said to be twinned with Narnia. Its residents have a reputation for alternative lifestyles and its independent shops are known for setting the bar high in terms of being eco friendly, vegan and plastic free.
But how well do we really know Totnes? So much emphasis has been placed on all of the above in recent decades that its historical significance is too easily overlooked.
Local legend links the town to the very beginnings of Britain, the classic Norman motte and bailey castle, which stands sentinel above the rooftops, was founded just two years after the Conquest, while the town itself has more listed buildings per head of population than anywhere else in the country.
In this two-part Totnes town trail, we check out some of the historical landmarks that help set Totnes apart from any other town in the country.
The walkabout begins at the Town Mill near the entrance to the Morrison's superstore in Coronation Road. The mill, with its restored Victorian water wheel, is now home to the Image Bank and Rural Archive, a volunteer-run project which holds a growing collection of more than 60,000 images of the area dating back to the 19th century. For details of opening times and for specific inquiries visit www.totnesimagebank.info
The road bridge, which spans the Dart at the entrance to The Plains, was built in 1828 to a design by Devon architect Charles Fowler. Steps, on the left, lead to a riverside walk that eventually links with the Access for All path at Borough Park, while those on the opposite side of the bridge lead down and around Vire Island, named after the Normandy town that is Totnes’ real twin!
Turn back to Fore Street where, on the corner, the Royal Seven Stars Hotel has served the town since the 17th century.
Walking up the hill the eye is drawn to the numerous independent, creative shops and galleries along the way but look up to take in the rich variety of architectural styles of properties built for the town’s wealthy merchants in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Set back from the main street in Bank Lane is the distinctive 18th century Gothic House and further along is the imposing Mansion of 1795, once the grammar school and now a community space.
On the opposite side of the road is the Brutus Stone where the explorer Brutus the Trojan, credited by some with founding the British people, is said to have first stepped ashore. Given its location, it's unlikely to be true but tradition has it that town proclamations are still read from this spot!
Next week, we continue our walkabout to the castle and to a shop run by a former Manchester United footballer and his wife, who are doing their bit to save the planet!