They say Dartington is situated on a ley line – now I’m not sure about all that hippy stuff, but one thing I do know is I always feel an incredible sense of calm and beauty when I visit.
It’s free to visit and wander at will through the 25 acres of Grade II* Listed gardens, where a harmonious balance of nature and art await, and the new bridge designed by Peter Randall-Page makes this garden wheel-chair friendly (you can also hire a mobility scooter). Majestic 500-year old Spanish chestnut trees reach for the skies while a reclining nude figure by sculptor Henry Moore languishes atop the garden terrace, perfectly summing up both the aspirational and the laidback qualities that characterises Dartington.
The promotion of the arts at Dartington has a long history, stretching back to the purchase of the manor and estate in 1925 by the philanthropists Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst. First a progressive boarding school, then an arts college, the medieval hall and buildings at Dartington have been a hub of creativity over the years, and it continues to be a centre of learning and experimentation to this day.
It’s easy to see why artists might come here for inspiration. The grounds are a symphony of colours – in summer there is a riot of colour in the wonderful herbaceous borders, which makes way to autumn golds, oranges and the rich reds of the maples in the woodland walks. Verdant evergreens and old oaks keep the interest in the winter, but it is in the spring that the garden really comes alive again, with the delicate freshness of magnolias, camellias, cherry blossom and snake’s head fritillaries. On one of the walks, a statue of Flora, goddess of the Spring is adorned with floral offerings.
Time seems to stop for me when I visit Dartington, I can easily lose an hour or two just sitting and daydreaming on a bench by the ancient trees. But waking from the reverie, it is nice to take a walk back along the main road to see the modernist architectural gem High Cross House (sadly now closed to the public) and on to the shops at Dartington. With a jazz band playing, food tastings and outdoor pottery demonstrations, this makes for a lively contrast to the tranquillity of the estate, and the shops are full of delightful things to buy or simply behold, including the famous Dartington Crystal.
A tranquil walk along the River Dart leads back to the Dartington Estate. The azure blue of the sky is mirrored in the still water, and over on the far bank you might just spot a colony of garden gnomes – a little reminder that the spirit of Totnes/Narnia is alive and well, and nearby.
By Mary Costello (of Molly and the Princess blog)
All image credits to Mary