Great Torrington is an historic market town in the heart of Devon. The town commands spectacular views over the River Torridge and the surrounding farmland. It is a pleasant little town built round the Market Square where there is a refurbished Victorian Pannier Market. This undercover market houses a variety of interesting shops and stalls selling local produce. In addition there are café’s, restaurants, pubs, a museum and a local Arts Centre within the town. Where the old Norman castle once stood is now a car park and visitor centre. From the car park there is a precipitous drop to the river below, illustrating the commanding view once held by the castle.
Since early Saxon times the town has been a market centre for North Devon. During the Tudor Period, Great Torrington was famous for its glove making and woollen gloves continue to be made today on a small scale. During the Civil War, Great Torrington was a Royalist Garrison until it was taken by General Fairfax in one of the largest battles of the Civil War in 1646. This proved to be one of the last battles of the Civil War in the West Country engaging around fifteen thousand men in ferocious street fighting. Two hundred Royalist prisoners met an unfortunate end whilst imprisoned in the church tower. A large explosion of gunpowder destroyed most of the church and the prisoners. The town was seriously damaged by fire in 1724, but there are still places of historic interest to be found today.
The name of the town is often abbreviated to Torrington, though the “Great” is intended to differentiate between the town and nearby villages of Little Torrington and Black Torrington. This is the very heart of Tarka Country, a landscape captured by Henry Williamson in his novel “Tarka the Otter” and practically unchanged since he wrote his classic novel in 1927.
The Tarka Trail is 180 miles long and traces the adventures of Tarka the Otter, as depicted in the book. The trail can be accessed from the former Southern Railways station at Great Torrington. From here it is possible to walk or cycle north to Bideford, or south along the line of the old railway track. During the summer cycles may be hired and refreshments taken at the "Puffing Billy", at the old railway station.
On the first Thursday in May is Mayfair, an annual folk festival believed to date back to 1554. At this event the local children dance around a maypole set up in the town square. A small but fascinating museum is situated on the first floor of the old town hall. It contains many local history displays. In addition there is the Civil War exhibition adjacent to the town car park.
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The hand blown glass, Dartington Crystal, made in Great Torrington, is famous throughout the world. A tour of the factory provides an insight into glass making and the skills of blowing glass. The finished fine crystal ware can be purchased from the factory shop which is open for most of the year.
The Royal Horticultural Society Rosemoor Gardens are situated just outside the town and are of interest to both gardeners and to those who just like to look at gardens. There is a winter garden, a bog garden, a cottage garden and fruit and vegetable gardens. In addition there is a large number of different varieties of roses.
Almost entirely surrounding Great Torrington is an area of common land known as Torrington Common. It covers 365 acres with more than twenty miles of public footpaths. The common provides habitats for a rich collection of flora and fauna. This so-called area of waste was donated to the town in 1194 by Baron FitzRobert of Torrington. In 1889 the rights to this land were transferred by an act of parliament to an elected Committee of Conservators who meet regularly to manage the land and to prevent the common from reverting to scrub and woodland. Features of the common include the original local crossings of the River Torridge at Taddiport Bridge and Rothern Bridge. Rolle Road is the site of a canal built in 1827 to transport various commodities to the tidal river at Landcross. It closed in 1871 and was later filled in to make a toll road across the Common. There is also a stone monument donated in 1818 by the ladies of the town, to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo.
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