On the back of a family visit to ‘The Shops at Dartington’, we end up at this rather special place. I’d been sold the excursion as, ‘a manor house with nice ground’s’, so you’ll excuse me maybe for not being that excited initially by the prospect.
We arrive en masse, get stung for more parking tickets and head off. Quickly it becomes apparent that we don’t know where we are going, so I trot off to the Information Centre I’d spotted on the way in. I relieve the friendly lady of a folded information map and finally we are on our way with some purpose…
Dartington Estate is indeed a manor house with lovely grounds, but it turns out that there’s a lot more to it. It’s got it’s own pub and restaurant, accomodation, a cinema, and an arts school. They offer courses up to postgraduate level, have a community hub and are involved in refugee support. I would normally use the folded info pamphlet for the ‘you are here’ and ‘you buy cake here’ signs but I’m getting pretty engrossed.
Large estates diversifying is not uncommon now, but I think the Elmhirsts (who bought the estate in 1925), must have been real pioneers in this. However, as I read I realise this is not the average landed genrty estate, begrudgingly allowing visitors to pay for an ever increasing maintenance budget. The Elmhirsts ‘Dartington Experiment’ looks to have been undertaken out of passion not primarily a need for cash – they were already seriously wealthy. My initial indifference has now turned to intrigue.
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Then there are the grounds. According to the guide, these are the successive works of several highly regarded landscape architects. You don’t need to be an architect to realise they are special though. The little girl who runs by me says it best,
”Mummy this is the most magical place we’ve ever been!”
There’s 500 year old sweet chestnut trees, clever vistas, deep multi-coloured herbaceous borders and a magnificent grass terraced ampitheatre.
I should mention at this point that with us today is Grandad Charlie, Huey’s Great Grandad. Charlie has already made me laugh once today with his heroic disregard of medical advice, (large fish and chips for lunch, followed by cake, chased down with a strong local ale).
I’m sat quietly admiring a view of the ampitheatre framed by Yew hedging, when a waving Charlie on his mobility scooter rolls from stage right directly into view. I’ve seen the ‘no scooters on the grass’ sign, but clearly Charles has not. Plotted on a graph the curves of care v age are going in very different directions and I’m laughing aloud for the second time today.
We only get a sense of how big this place is as we are driving home. We’ve only taken in the ornamental gardens and I’d like to come back to see the rest, not just in the day but an evening out to the lovely little cinema too. If your local I recommend a visit.
Going to Dartington with a baby?
Despite the no scootting signs we encountered no access issues at Dartington. The gardens we journeyed were largely accessible. Though we had Huey in a sling you could easily manage most of it with a buggy.
You pay for parking but entry is free to the gardens. It’s located a few minutes drive North of Totnes, TQ96ED.