Main: Devon coastline at Teignmouth; bottom left and right: the historical market town, Totnes
Many years ago when I still at University, I was invited to be the witness at two good friends’ wedding ceremony in Exeter. I have since lost touch with the couple ( I don’t even know if they are still together) and I have not been back to Devon since. Yet last week, as I was sitting on the train and passing through Exeter, memories came flooding back… and Exeter looked more beautiful than I remembered. Though the most famous and spectacular coastal scenery can be enjoyed from Exeter to Newton Abbot via the historical port, Teignmouth, a railway extension built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for Great Western Railway in 1843.
At the retreat, there was a book on Devon and its people in my bedroom and I was quite surprised by the facts and sights of this beautiful county. On the last day of the retreat, a friend I made at the retreat offered to show me around in the nearby historical town, Totnes before I headed back to London. I have never heard of Totnes before this retreat, but my new friend from Cornwall ensured me that I would like it and she was right.
Top left: Totnes clock tower; top middle: Totnes Elizabethan House Museum; top and bottom right: cool objects at the weekly collectables and flea market
Totnes is a historical market town that dates back to AD 907, with a population of less than only 8000. And what makes it special is that this town is full of independent shops with only very few chained ones. Even BBC News and the Telegraph have reported on this, as we are seeing the demise of high streets all over Britain, Totnes is definitely a town with an edge.
Thanks to my new friend who knows the town very well, we hopped from one quirky shop to another, and I ended up picking something interesting from each shop! I rarely go out shopping these days ( except for groceries and essentials), but I was thrilled by the town’s niche shops. Each shop has its own unique character and the diverse range include: hand and custom-made shoes, haberdashery, paper crafts, vintage fashion, organic beauty and bath products, wooden and retro toys, New age/ spiritual books and products, health food etc. There are even weekly food and collectible and flea markets on Fridays and Saturdays, and while we were there ( which happened to be Friday), the town was full of shoppers, which was very encouraging to see! Besides the shops, the town is also full of organic or vegetarian cafes, delis and restaurants. Spoilt for choice, we picked an organic cafes on the high street and had a delicious and healthy lunch.
After days of not spending a penny, I gave myself an excuse to spend and support the local community as well as fellow independent shop owners. I later discovered Transition Town Totnes, a community-led and run charity that supports the local economy. It seems to me that the locals are working really hard to make the town thrive without the need for big corporate businesses. They even managed to stop Costa from opening a shop here ( how cool is that?), so could this be the model for other towns to follow? I sincerely hope so.
Left: Paper works; Right: Curiouser and curiouser tea shop
Here are some of the cool and quirky shops in Totnes:
Paper works – being a stationery and paper lover, I was excited to see a paper specialist in this small town. The shop not only sells beautiful range of paper, it also sells lovely cards, notebooks, origami and various paper crafts. It is hard to even find a shop like this in London these days, how lucky are the locals to have such a unique shop in their town? I am envious.
Conker shoes – All handmade in Totnes, and you can customise your own pair or get a modified fit service for an extra £35. I love the classic and timeless style, and they provide a repair/resole service. Now I know where to go when I need a new pair of boots next time!
Aromatika – This shop is full of organic and natural skincare products made locally in Devon. I was tempted to go wild here, but finally opted for a box of lavendar & cornflower shea butter bath melts made by the sister company, Devon soap company.
Revival – this lovely vintage fashion shop reminds me of the amazing and iconic Steinberg & Tolkien on Kings Road that closed in 2007, though this one is about 1/8 of the size! Even vintage fashion shops in London are not as exciting as it used to be, so this tiny gem definitely brings back memories of the good old days when I was a student in London.
Toyday – how joyful it is to see traditional and nostalgic toys that remind you of your childhood? The wooden toy displayed in the shop window of Toyday caught my eye, and I was hooked… I didn’t even realise that shops like this still exist! And near the river, there is another toy shop, The Wishing Tree, which sells educational and interactive toys and games for children.
There are too many one of a kind shops in this small town and I didn’t even have the time to visit all of them, so the list above is only a handful of them. If you plan to visit Devon, a visit to Totnes is a must, though it could potentially be fatal for shopaholics!
Main: a free souvenir from the woods; Second row left and right: award-winning Sharpham cheese, Hillside biscuits and Pear, Apple & Herb Chutney; Third row left: Granola from Common loaf bakery; Third row right: Lavendar & cornflower shea butter bath melts by Devon soap company; Bottom left: Islamic design; Bottom middle: Meiji period or earlier ( 1868-1912) antique Japanese book on Buddhism; Bottom right: Natural cleaning solutions poster by Liz Cook Charts.