Great Torrington is a historic market town, built mainly on an inland "clifftop", and thus it commands spectacular views over the River Torridge and acres of farmland set out far below you in a patchwork of natural colours that change with the seasons.
During the Civil War, Great Torrington was, first, a Royalist Garrison and then it was taken by General Fairfax, who mounted a surprise attack in one of the largest battles of the Civil War, on February 16th 1646. This proved to be one of the last and most decisive battles of the Civil War in the West Country, with a battlefield of some fifteen thousand men. The Royalists were defeated and events moved forward to the eventual culmination of the Civil War in England with the execution of King Charles I. The Civil War is commemorated by a permanent exhibition and interpretation centre "Torrington 1646", and by such lavish re-enactments as depicted in the picture above.
Great Torrington is a pleasant little town built round the Market Square. There are inns, café's, shops, a museum, a refurbished Victorian Pannier Market and entertainments such as can be found at the Plough Arts Centre.TTorrington is also the home of the world famous Dartington Glass factory, which may be visited on most days of the year. For cyclists and walkers, the Tarka Trail is nearby and, for gardeners, there is a day of great interest to be had by visiting the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens at Rosemoor.
Great Torrington - Past and Present
The old Norman castle has all but disappeared and, where it once stood, is now the main car park, Visitor Centre, and the "Torrington 1646" exhibition. From the car park there is a precipitous drop to the River Torridge below, which provides some truly spectacular views over the north Devon countryside.
Since early Saxon times the town has been a meeting place and market centre for North Devon. Today, there is an undercover pannier market with a variety of interesting shops, craft workshops and stalls selling local produce. During the Tudor Period, Great Torrington was famous for its cloth production and glove making. Great Torrington woollen gloves are still made today, though on a small scale.
The Battle of Torrington in 1646 is of note for its ferocious street fighting amongst the fifteen thousand Royalist and opposing Cromwellian soldiers. It is also noted for the unfortunate end that befell two hundred Royalist prisoners, who met an untimely end whilst held captive in the church tower, a large explosion of gunpowder occurred which destroyed most of the church, the tower and its prisoners. The mound that runs along the churchyard path is deemed to be the mass grave of these unfortunate souls.
Great Torrington was seriously affected by fire in 1724, which burnt many houses and destroyed much of the historic borough records. Despite this episode there are still places of historic interest to be found amongst the architecture of today's town.
The hand blown glass, made in Great Torrington, is famous throughout the world, the factory and shop is open for most of the year. A tour of the factory provides a fascinating insight into glass making and the skills of blowing red hot molten glass. The finished fine crystal ware can be purchased from the factory shop.
Royal Horticultural Society - Rosemoor Gardens
The RHS gardens are situated just outside the town and feature a Winter Garden, Bog Garden, Cottage Garden, Fruit and Vegetable Garden and over two thousand roses. There is an extensive gardening and gift shop, refreshment facilities and plant sales.
Situated on the first floor of the old town hall is a small but fascinating museum depicting items from Great Torrington's past.
The Tarka Trail can be accessed from the "Puffing Billy" which is the former Southern Railways station at Great Torrington. From here, you can cycle north to Bideford, or south along the line of the old railway track, through the quiet countryside to Petrockstowe and Meeth. During the Summer months bicycles, may be hired and refreshments taken at the "Puffing Billy"
The Tarka Trail is, in its entirety, 180 miles long and traces the travels and adventures of Tarka the Otter, as depicted in the book by Henry Williamson.
The wonderful countryside surrounding the rivers Taw and Torridge inspired Henry Williamson to write "Tarka the Otter" in the 1920's.