"Great History AND Twinned with Roscoff!" Great Torrington by johngayton
Great Torrington Travel Guide: 7 reviews and 28 photos
The North Devon market town of Great Torrington sits majestically atop its' own hill overlooking the River Torridge and the 365 acres of common land bequeathed to the town in 1194 by Baron Fitzrobert of Torrington.
The town's history can be traced back to its market town roots in early Saxon times. Because of it's strategic position there have been several castles built over the years, initially by the Normans and then a couple of subsequent rebuildings and demolitions - in 1228 the castle built by a guy called William de Toriton had to be destroyed because it was built without a licence! The present castle ramparts are in fact of relatively recent origin.
Torrington's great claim to fame is that it was the site of one of the deciding battles of the English Civil war. In February of 1646 the town was occupied by the Royalist Western Army under the leadership of Lord Hopton. General Fairfax, who was in charge of the Parliamentary "New Model Army" which at the time was besieging Exeter, decided to quell the perceived threat from Hopton and led an army of 10,000 troops to Torrington.
The subsequent battle took place during the night of 16th February and had degenerated into street-fighting within the town itself when a stray spark ignited the Royalists gunpowder magazine in the church, creating a confusion which allowed Hopton and the remains of his army to withdraw and escape into Cornwall.
This was the last major battle in the Westcountry, effectively ending the Royalists ability to launch further attacks and the last two main remaining Royalist strongholds of Exeter and Barnstaple surrendered the following April.
The town is now a very popular site for Civil War re-enactments and houses the Torrington 1646 exhibition centre which claims to bring the period to life - it certainly looks interesting! (www.torrington-1646.co.uk)
Torrington prides itself on being a friendly, welcoming community and on my one and only visit so far I certainly found it to be so. The staff in the shops and the pub were unanimously genial and hospitable as too were the customers. The highlight of my afternoon however wasn't actually in a pub (for a change) but in The Secret Memorial Garden where I got chatting to the interesting character of its gardener.
The Secret Memorial Garden is a small out of the way space on Castle Hill, planted as a memorial to the 5 boys who died in a fire at Sydney House in 1942. The garden is what is known as a Knot Garden; which is a herb garden with a formal lay out and with the different plants enclosed by box hedge borders. It was in the mint section that the gardener pointed out these wonderfully iridescent green beetles.
We had been chatting about herbs and their different uses when he pointed these out to me, asking if I knew anything about them, or whether I'd come across them before. I hadn't but we were both somewhat fascinated that despite the fact there were dozens of them they were confined solely to the clumps of Chocolate Peppermint (as this variety is known). "Well they seem harmless enough and aren't eating very much, so I'll just leave them to it. After all the mint's growing pretty profusely and they are pretty to look at." He concluded.
A couple of photos were duly taken and a little research done when I got back home. These turn out to actually be called "Mint Leaf Beetles" (Chrysolina menthrastri) and strangely enough mint is what they eat! So that's my task for my next visit, to drop by and pass on my findings!
I must admit to liking this little place and I can see why it has a lively twinning relationship with another of my small town favourites, good old Roscoff in North Brittany.
Unfortunately I only had time for a quick pint here in the town itself - at the very friendly Newmarket Inn. Plus the one at The Puffing Billy which is the former railway station down on the Tarka Trail itself. Watch this space for further developements!
- Pros:Friendly Folk and The Secret Memorial Garden
- Cons:Being On Top Of The Hill (the bike had to be walked!)
- In a nutshell:Yet another of North Devon's understated little gems!
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