A Spring Saturday

by Margaret Powling-

We have had a lovely day.  OK, the weather could’ve been better – it was dull but that didn’t darken our spirits and we  really enjoyed ourselves.

First of all we had a few errands to attend to in Torquay, and then we decided to visit the gardens of Dartington Hall which are just a few miles from the town of Totnes. 

However, as it was nearing lunch time we decided to stop en route and have a light lunch at the Steam Packet Inn which is situated close to the River Dart in Totnes.

It has been several years since we visited this old inn and today we went into the conservatory restaurant which overlooks the river.  Even on a dull day the river view is always pleasant. 

We chose ham hock, pea, and black pudding hash with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce (that is, for each of us) and a cup of Americano.  This was a ‘starter’ course but it was quite sufficient for ourselves for lunch, and it was delicious. 

After our lunch we drove the short distance to Dartington, parked our car and strolled around the gardens.  We were between the crocus going over and the magnolia not quite being in bloom, but nonetheless we saw many flowers including snakeshead fritillary, camellias, and hellebores.   Once the magnolias that border this flight of stone steps (below) are in bloom, we hope to visit again.

I cannot begin to tell you how lovely this flight of steps looks when all these trees are smothered in pink and white magnolia blooms.  For now you will just have to use your imagination!

Here (photo above) is the area known as the Tiltyard. It is reputed to have been the site of an ancient tiltyard (or tournament ground) created in the 14th century by John Holand, Duke of Exeter.  Knightly contests were very likely to have been held here, spectators assembling on the surrounding grass terraces. 

 And here is a small pavilion half-hidden in a woodland glade.

Here is Dartington Hall, from which the estate gets its name. It was in a state of ruination  until the American heiress, Dorothy Elmhirst and her husband Leonard, bought the estate in 1925.  When they arrived  the grounds were neglected and overgrown. The shrubberies were laid out in the Victorian manner and the tiltyard was a pattern of formal flower beds but they could see that underneath all this was what has been described as an “extraordinary dramatic landscape setting – a coombe [valley] with terraces flowing into a wider river valley, whose folds drifted away southwards to the sea.”  And so they set about not only the restoration of the hall, but also the gardens, and today they are a lovely place to visit, especially in spring and early summer. 

Around the grounds you will see various pieces of sculpture.  The bronze donkey is by Willi Soukop (1907-1995) and the reclining figure (known to all as the Fat Lady) is by Henry Moore.

After our stroll around the gardens, we visited the Cider Press Centre, an area of old buildings with some new additions, a lovely area of shops and cafes.  We were on the look-out for a suitable retirement gift for someone, and found just what we wanted in the Dartington Glass shop (and yes, it’s a lovely piece of Dartington crystal.)

We then made our way home, and enjoyed mugs of hot chocolate by the fireside while the England v. Scotland rugby match was on TV.  What a lovely day we have had. 


Margaret Powling


  1. Eloise

    Great photos, Margaret, and that sounds like a very nice kind of day. A walk around interesting gardens is one of my favourite things to do. I’d have said that I didn’t think I’d been to Dartington, but I recognise it from your pictures so I certainly have visited at some point. I have visited Devon many times so It’s not really surprising. I don’t like Saturday very much (it’s a work day). At the moment I am babysitting and have had to listen to “The Princess and the Pea” story three times ?. Parents will be home by 9pm and I am looking forward to a warm bath and an early night. By the way, what beautiful Tulips in yesterday’s post. Love the colour.

    11 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      If you have been to Devon many times, you will most certainly have visited Dartington I am sure, Eloise. Another lovely garden is Cadhay, in East Devon, but as far as I know (for we visited some years ago and things sometimes change) it is only open on Friday afternoons between Easter and Sept, but it’s certainly very much worth a visit. But we love Dartington. Cranks used to have a restaurant/café there, but this has recently been taken over by another company. It looks good, its in the same building in the Cider Press Centre, but we’d already had our lunch in the Steam Packet Inn so didn’t stop even for a cup of tea but went home for hot chocolate by the fireside.
      Oh dear, I’m sure The Princess and the Pea is nice first time around, but three times … well, that could be a bit much!
      Glad you liked the tulips – they have been glorious.

      11 . Mar . 2017
  2. Pieta

    I love seeing spring flowers emerge and I’m sure the colder climates do it so well. After a very hot summer here I’m appreciating the cooler days and the change of foliage on the deciduous trees. Dartington gardens look beautiful and its lovely to know that someone had the money to restore them.

    11 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, Dorothy Elmhirst was a wealthy American heiress and I really don’t think we’d have those lovely gardens today to enjoy had it not been for her and her husband restoring them and the rest of the Dartington Estate in the 1920s/1930s. It was very much a working estate, with its own saw mill, too. Today there is even a cinema in the Barn Theatre, one we enjoy visiting occasionally. A multiplex cinema with tubs of popcorn it is not!
      Glad the weather is cooling slightly for you – I find very hot weather harder to cope with than cold weather, although I’m not keen on either. Thank goodness for our mainly temperate climate here in the UK.

      11 . Mar . 2017
  3. Lara

    Again I feel as if I’ve had a personal tour around a beautiful part of your world. Thank you ! Those photos are stunning and I especially liked the photo showing the terraces where the audience would have once sat. Darlington Hall looks beautiful.

    13 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      The gardens of Dartington Hall are beautiful, Lara. Indeed, I’m surprised they are not used more in TV and film dramas, they would make stunning backdrops! I am glad you have enjoyed the little tour of this garden. It is not a large garden, and it’s certainly not a formal garden, there aren’t lots of flower beds, but it’s a tranquil, mainly woodland garden and lovely in spring.

      13 . Mar . 2017
  4. Fiona Adams

    I live in Brixham – has Cranks really gone? I used to love it for lunch : (

    13 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, Fiona, over the Bay in Brixham. Yes, Cranks is no more, but there is another café in the same area, called Bayard’s Kitchen, Café & Restaurant. We will try this out on our next visit to Dartington.

      13 . Mar . 2017

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