Days Out in Devon – Totnes Castle in Totnes

Totnes is a place that I’ve driven through many a time on route to other places in Devon. It’s a town in South Devon just 5 miles from the English Riveria but inland and located on the River Dart. Apart from stopping off there to watch a Newcastle United game one year in a pub and the end destination of the South Devon Railway where we visited the rare breeds farm, until this summer. it’s not a place in Devon that I’ve really explored even though I lived in the county for 2 years …  So if you want to find out more about Totnes and whether its a good place for a family day out in Devon, read on.

Days Out in Devon – Totnes Castle in Totnes

With Saxon beginnings, Totnes is today a vibrant market town, with a national reputation for its many notable buildings and monuments. It is on the mainline from London (Paddington) to Penzance and just 5 miles off the main A38 Devon Expressway, midway between Exeter and Plymouth.

Totnes Castle

Totnes also has a castle. Is a focal point of Totnes and stands as a mighty legacy to the power of the Normans. It is one of the best surviving examples of an early Norman motte and bailey castle. Managed by English Heritage it dates back to William the Conqueror and Norman times with the surviving stone keep and curtain wall dating from around the 14th century.

It is a small property with a central castle high above the courtyard – 73 steps to be exact, my boys counted them, with another 10 or so to take you to the top. In the courtyard there are picnic benches, outside of the main walls is a wooded walk around the moat and on the day we visited family activities too.

We tried out the archery before heading to the main part of the castle and up the steps. 

At the top, you get amazing panoramic views across Totnes, right across the River Dart as it winds itself away from the town and towards Dartmouth, and on the other side views right up to Dartmoor.

Our ‘Hands on History’ guide was very informative and interesting. As well as trying our archery during the ‘Hands on Objects’ session he asked the boys questions that really engaged them and brought the youngest into the conversation. He welcomed questions and answered them fully but in a way that was comprehensible for children. He imparted lots of detailed historical information, telling us about the siege of Exeter as well as Totnes castle itself, how it was bought, what people wore in battles at the time and the impact of William the Conqueror on the area. I used to live in Exeter and this was all new information to me.

Do bear in mind that there are no facilities such as toilets etc. However as it is in the centre of Totnes itself, there are public toilets around 150m away in the marketplace.


Delphini's Gelato

It was also in the Market Place where a woman stopped the boys to tell them that the best ice-cream to be had in Devon was to be found in Totnes, in a shop called Delphini’s and it was not far away. I’d actually spotted it on the way up to the castle, but after such a recommendation (she said she should be on commission but wasn’t) we were definitely going to try it out on the way back down the hill.

Delphini's Gelato is an independent gelateria on Totnes High Street, serving gelato and sorbetto, both dairy based and vegan, made daily on site from the finest and freshest ingredients. We tried the expresso, dark chocolate vegan ice cream and mango – all delicious. At £10 for 2 single scoops and 1 double scoop it's not cheap but is tasty.

Town and River Walks

We took a slightly longer route back to the car park walking alongside the river dart to reach the car. Totnes is a beautiful place. Its high street has a good mix of smaller chain stores and independent shops, with lots of local eateries, pubs and restaurants too. We didn’t have to time to stop for food on this occasion but the number of places noticeably selling vegetarian and vegan food has certainly increased since the days when I lived in Devon, and I must say the Totnes Brew Co and The Beer Library sounded very interesting.

Where is Totnes Castle?

You’ll no doubt see Totnes Castle before you reach it. Built on top of a hill at the top end of the high street it overlooks the rooftops. To reach it walk up the high street until you reach Castle Street, turn right and you'll see the castle looming above your head. Entrance is on the left.

The castle is within an easy walking distance from Totnes. There are limited pay and display parking available, and Totnes train station is a quarter of a mile away, as are plenty of bus links.

How much does Totnes Castle cost?

Admission is free for English Heritage members. For non-members, entry costs £4.70 for adults, £2.80 for children, £4.20 for concessions and £12.20 for a family ticket. It is definitely a better value if you are already an English Heritage member. The kids' activities were great but it's not somewhere you are going to spend a full day visiting or even half a day.

Where to park in Totnes?

Totnes Castle does not have its own car park but there are plenty of parking spaces in Totnes. We parked in the supermarket car park as you can park there for two hours as long as you shop in the store, as we were going to do before leaving. 

When is Totnes Castle open?

It is open all year but not everyday outside of holiday seasons. Best to check the English Heritage website for opening times for Totnes Castle before visiting.

What will I find at Totnes Castle?

A classic Norman motte and bailey castle, founded soon after the Conquest to overawe the Saxon town. A later shell-keep crowns its steep mound offering sweeping views across the rooftops to River Dart. Take a picnic under the shade of the ancient trees. It is also child-friendly and dog-friendly.

Originally an 11th century Norman timbered motte, one of the largest in England, overlooking the town and river. A stone shell-keep was then built in 1326 with a keep inside. By the mid 16th century it was in a poor state of repair and was not used in the Civil War. On one side there is the bailey around which are the remains of the curtain wall. The first walls were earth banks installed in the 10th century. The walls were rebuilt in stone the 12th/13th century and part of the town walls and two gateways still remain in the town.

Is Totnes good for kids?

Yes, the castle was I intriguing especially for 9 & 11-year-olds that have a thirst for knowledge, swords and everything historical that is about battles and bloodthirsty. The ice-cream was amazing, there is also the riverside and other open areas to explore too. It has the South Devon Railway, a seven-mile former Great Western Railway branch line, built in 1872, which runs along the stunning valley of the River Dart between Buckfastleigh and Totnes, with Dartmoor Otters & Buckfast Butterflies and the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm at either end of the steam train journey. It is one of the towns on a trip that includes steam train, riverboat and bus visiting the quaint towns of Paignton, Dartmouth and Totnes.

Totnes in Devon would be a great place to base a family holiday - close to the sandy beaches of South Devon as well as Dartmoor so if you are holidaying in Devon and need a break from the beach then it’s a great place to visit for a family day out.

Where is your favourite place in Devon? 

Deb x

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  1. Isn't Devon just lovely?! It's nice that you still like to visit even though you don't live here anymore - I always recommend it as a place to live but it's also a great day trip/ holiday destination! Totnes is definitely worth exploring - it looks like the kids had a great time in the castle. And you're right - it's definitely a good base for exploring local beaches and Dartmoor.