Millions of us are taking our holidays at home in the UK. It’s a strong trend that’s set to carry on. So let’s take a look at what one small town in beautiful North Devon has to offer Britain’s holidaymakers. The Amateur Brain Surgery Team welcomes you to our guide to holidays in Great Torrington, an affectionately frank article about Great Torrington and the surrounding area – including the shit bits you want to avoid – as revealed by the people who live there.
About Great Torrington – A sweet little town with a dark side
Staycation holidays in Great Torrington in Devon are on the menu. Like thousands of small rural communities across the UK the town has a surprising amount to offer. But Torrington also has a dark side that’s endangering it and the surrounding area’s visitor appeal. Read on to find out about a pretty little place with a hippy vibe and an arty feel, a friendly face, an awesome history… and a shameful hunt crime secret that’s keeping visitors away. First, we’ll look at the best things to do in Torrington. After that we’ll explore the town’s strong connections with fox hunting, the reason why it’s wise to ‘ask first, spend second’ in this town.
The best things to do in Torrington
Great Torrington itself offers some cool places to explore. Everything we talk about in this article is within walking distance of Torrington town centre. There’s loads of parking in Great Torrington and it’s unusually good value for money, as cheap as chips. Both of the town’s large car parks have access to a pathway with stunning views and a variety of benches to relax on.
Great Torrington Church’s eerie cobbled mass grave
Torrington is home to an attractive church whose yard reveals a story that’ll make your hair stand on end. Head for the St Michael of All Angels church entrance along the beautiful traditional Devon-style stone path. On your left there’s a strange long, thin stone-paved hump. It’s a mass grave, a particularly grisly element of Torrington’s Civil War history, a violent and turbulent story you’ll enjoy discovering.
Stay in Great Torrington – Magnificent Cawsey House
Want a smart place to stay in Torrington? There’s a gracious Landmark Trust property to rent for Torrington holidays. Go to Cawsey House on South Street, look above the front door and admire the stunning Devon plasterwork. There are more plasterwork masterpieces to enjoy indoors in a comfortable, elegant early 1700s setting. Book your stay at Cawsey House in Great Torrington here.
Holidays in Great Torrington – Explore Great Torrington Commons
Torrington Commons is common land, free for people to roam. It’s an enormous semi-wild, wildlife-rich area of land covering 365 acres and almost surrounding the town, lined with a network of public pathways. It’s a lovely place to wander, acres of fresh, open green space and you’re never far from the town centre, perfect for a mini-adventure. Sadly one member of the Commons volunteer team, Alan Mitchell, locally known as ‘Big Al’ and the ex-Town Crier, openly supports fox hunting.
Stroll alongside the magnificent River Torridge
The magnificent River Torridge, which flows far below the town, winds along a beautiful wooded route followed by the Tarka Trail, an ex-railway line popular with walkers and cyclists. Follow the lovely tree-lined trail for a few miles towards our vast local river estuary complex or buy picnic ingredients in Torrington, walk down the hill, find a quiet spot and enjoy the birdsong, the dappled shade, and the fascinating, decaying post-industrial area of the town, a place loved by some and hated by many. Sadly the Tarka Trail is regularly invaded by the Stevenstone Hunt, which is not allowed on the trail but uses it anyway.
Visit RHS Rosemoor
Visit Great Torrington for breath-taking views overlooking the north Devon countryside as far as fabulous RHS Rosemoor, right on the town’s doorstep. It’s a magical garden stacked with specimen plants. The Stumpery, the White Garden, ornamental lake, Mediterranean garden and much more are a delight at every time of year.
Peer down at Taddiport
Both of Torrington’s town centre car parks overlook the tiny village of Taddiport, a former Leper Colony with a remarkable history of its own. And, talking about lepers… we’re looking forward to seeing the Leper Museum in Torrington open again, part of the extraordinary and totally brilliant Faux Arts organisation. Either walk down the hill along the zig-zag path from the car parks or down scenic, super-steep Mill Street. It’s sad to know that Taddiport village is regularly surrounded by fox hunters in the shape of the notorious Torrington Farmers Hunt.
Exciting independent shopping in Great Torrington Pannier Market
Great Torrington Pannier Market offers a string of unique independent shops. There’s a quality gallery stacked with artwork by local talent. We have guitars and guitar accessories for sale, antiques and vintage, plants, home decor, knitting supplies, hats and socks. There’s a great cafe with plenty of seating. An area at the back of the market often features stalls selling all sorts of interesting and useful things. Local honeys and jams, quality second hand clothing, costume jewellery, there’s something for everyone.
Torrington holidays – What does Great Torrington town centre offer?
Great Torrington town centre is small yet perfectly formed, featuring a recently-restored and rather magnificent Town Hall. There’s a nice range of shops, from antiques and curios to quality jewellery. We have a number of great little cafes including Torrington 1646, another historic treat with a pretty garden for alfresco eating, plus a couple of very good bakeries.
There’s a fresh fruit and veg shop and a Post Office, hair and beauty, fish and chips, mini-supermarkets, a Lidl, Chinese take-away, Indian food, great Italian coffee, a creative florist, gifts and interiors, fashion, a professional photographer, a dress agency and a couple of charity shops. We have a chemist and a very well stocked hardware store.
Thankfully the town centre pub, the Black Horse, is closed right now, something we’re pleased about thanks to the premises’ notorious Boxing Day fox hunting event connection. More about that later. Luckily we have some welcoming town pubs close to the town square.
- The Torridge Inn on Mill Street, loved for its superb food, friendly service and cool views
- The Torrington Arms on New Street, a proper local pub with a warm vibe and a pool table
- The Puffing Billy, at the bottom of the hill on the Tarka Trail, with a nice family-friendly and dog-friendly garden and a large interior. It’s just a shame the Stevenstone Hunt kennels are so close by
The famous Great Torrington Mayfair
Visit Torrington in May for the delightful Great Torrington Mayfair. This curious traditional event includes a procession of attendants, the crowning the May Queen, maypole dancing, a Round The Tree race, carnival, fun fair and loads more.
The countryside around Great Torrington, Devon
Apart from the Tarka Trail, the rural landscape around Torrington is short on public footpaths compared to many areas of the UK. On the bright side for walkers, the winding, thickly-hedged country lanes make for great hiking. There’s very little traffic on most minor roads, none on many, and you get plenty of warning because it’s so quiet. You can easily join these lanes up with footpaths to create satisfying scenic walks. Night hikes and star-spotting are particularly good here thanks to the unusually dark skies in the region, where there’s less light pollution than most of the UK.
The countryside surrounding the town is farmland and agricultural land, not strictly countryside. It is unusually hilly, with more than its fair share of one-in-fours. The landscape is divided by a multitude of streams and rivers, crossed and re-crossed by mossy stone bridges. The lanes – the sort with grass growing down the middle – wiggle their way around irregular-shaped, lumpy fields. This is an unusually green and lush place where beech and alder thrive, lining the stream banks. Fern-lovers appreciate the damp, fragrant woodlands around the town, a wonderland of often-huge native specimens. If you happen to have a thing about moss, this place is a haven for a variety of intricate mosses and lichens. Great Torrington geology is just as interesting. The rocks poke through the earth to reveal their violent past, their strata folded and up-ended by ancient volcanic activity.
So what’s wrong with Torrington?
This is a lovely little town with plenty of genuinely interesting things to see and do. But as we mentioned there’s a dark side that puts people off holidays in Great Torrington. No wonder so many people enjoy visits to north Devon but are wary about visiting Torrington.
Great Torrington holidays scandal – How fox hunting shames our town
Like almost every fox hunt in the country, Great Torrington’s two local hunts – The Torrington Farmers Hunt and the Stevenstone Hunt – have brazenly trained their hounds on fox scent and slaughtered hundreds of foxes over the years since the Hunting Act made it illegal to hunt wild mammals with a pack of dogs. You can read all about them in a previous post we’ve written.
On Boxing Day the Torrington Farmers Hunt – an organised criminal gang – takes over the town centre. After their town centre jolly, they go out and kill foxes. The town, district and county councils let it happen, even though the people involved are seasoned criminals. All this sits against a wider landscape where at least 85% of the British public want hunting with dogs banned forever.
Our area is so badly impacted by these organised criminals that the local police force has been infiltrated by hunt criminals. One officer used to ride with the hunt and ran a hunt-related business on the side until – presumably – her bosses told her to shut it down.
A large group of local people who want to bring more visitors to the area have done everything they can to get official support from local town, district and county councils. Sadly, all three councils are infested with hunt supporters.
The money you spend in Torrington supports wildlife crime
A landmark 2021 court case proved ‘trail hunting’ is a cynical excuse for illegally hunting foxes with dogs. The court found trail hunting to be a ‘smokescreen’ and a ‘sham’. But our two hunts carry on slaughtering our precious wildlife. Until the killing stops, the money you spend in Great Torrington supports wildlife crime.
You can find out more about Great Torrington’s hunt support shame here on a Facebook page dedicated to the subject of fox hunting in Torrington and the surrounding area.
Avoid hunting friendly holiday cottages in Great Torrington
- If you want to book a holiday cottage in Great Torrington, make sure it isn’t owned by hunt-friendly people. It’s fine to politely ask
- While we love our area dearly, please don’t book a Devon holiday home near Great Torrington unless you have first confirmed with its owners that they don’t allow hunting on their land, support hunting, or ride with a hunt themselves
- You can also help us out by asking first before visiting a stately home, many of which actively encourage wildlife crime by supporting hunting and allowing it on their land. Castle Hill is a good example. Also ask hotels, pubs, and restaurants before you visit or book