Let's go to Totnes
PUBLISHED: 12:46 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 12:46 20 March 2017
Creativity, passion and a touch of mysticism are part of the fabric of Totnes, a place famous for its alternative vibe. To see what we mean, head for the town's best-kept secret, the Timehouse Muzeum, writes Chrissy Harris
After a quick trip to the butcher’s and the newsagent, I find myself sitting on a cloud, listening to tribal drumming, wondering about the state of the planet.
Only in Totnes could you step off the main high street and be transported into another dimension.
To the unsuspecting passer-by, Timehouse Muzeum looks like just another shop but step through to the back and a whole world of sights, smells and sounds opens up.
One moment, you’re on a ship’s deck, the next in the middle of Morocco before you venture upstairs to an area devoted to The Beatles and into another room made to look and feel like a giant cloud. And that’s just the start.
This museum-come-art-installation with more than 20 interactive spaces is the work of artist and designer Julie Lafferty and is designed to take visitors on a journey through time. It’s a remarkable place - and one of Devon’s top attractions.
Yes, Timehouse Muzeum is ahead of Paignton Zoo and Exeter Cathedral on Trip Advisor’s top things to do in the county.
“I think we were even ahead of the Tate in London at one point and three places behind the V&A,” says Julie. “We’re a number one attraction and yet no one really knows we’re here.
“People tend to find out about us through Chinese whispers. They come here and then tell all their friends.
“It’s hard because we don’t want to sell it too much because we like the secrecy but we’d love more people – especially local people – to come and see it. We want to keep it a well-known secret.”
Last year, Julie and husband Martin Ryan were worried they would have to close because although Timehouse was popular on a global scale, with visitors from Germany, Japan and the US, not enough locals were coming through the door.
The couple bought the Grade II-listed 18th Century building, a former NHS community mental health treatment centre, in 2012 and have sunk their life savings into creating the unique attraction.
Julie - who spent years working in film and television, both in the UK and Australia – created Timehouse from scratch.
She hopes her efforts will eventually pay off and more people will come to enjoy her very special work of art.
“It was gruelling but worth it,” says Julie, explaining how she spent an exhausting 12 months painting every wall, every floor and filling every room with a dazzling collection of memorabilia, sourced from all over the world.
Vintage Barbie dolls, war artefacts, a ship’s figurehead, clocks, a circus game, toys and cameras - you could be in here for hours and still not see everything.
It’s all hands-on too, there are no ‘do not touch’ signs here.
“It’s meant to look like a collection and each piece is designed to work for each space,” says Julie, who sources her pieces (some of which are film props) from across the globe, as well as locally.
“I often get asked where I source stuff from but after working in films, you learn how to find things.
“We wanted it to have that Narnia feel – a sense that people were entering another world.”
Many visitors seem to have been captured by the magic of Timehouse. One happy customer even told Julie that the hour or so she spent here had ‘changed her life’.
“I hope everybody feels a connection,” says Julie. “I’ve tried to promote as many aspects of the human story as possible and the impact that, as a species, we are having on our home.”
You can’t afford to walk past this place.
Five things you should know about Totnes:
It likes a laugh: Amid some opposition, there is a bit of a local in-joke that Totnes has a connection with Narnia, the mythical land created by C S Lewis.
At one point, the sign at the town’s entrance was customised to read: Totnes: Twinned with Narnia. It has also been “twinned” with Area 51.
A tidal town: The wide area known as The Plains was, like everywhere flat around Totnes, tidal marsh. Many of the buildings were once warehouses. Totnes is said to be the second oldest borough in England, after Malmesbury in Wiltshire.
It has its own currency: The Totnes Pound is a complementary currency, intended to support the local economy. The initiative is part of the Transition Towns concept.
A rich heritage: The town is reputed to have more listed buildings per head of the population than anywhere else in Britain, with examples of properties dating back to Norman, Medieval and Tudor times. There are 66 houses in Totnes dating to before 1700.
Community spirit: they’re close knit here. A number of projects have been set up to help residents work together, particularly when it comes to growing food. Many communal spaces are used to grow herbs and vegetables. There are raised beds dotted all over the town for people to harvest.
From the streets:
“The Steam Packet is brilliant. You can have anything from a coffee or a drink, to bar snacks and a superb a la carte menu - the food is excellent!” Colin Bower
“When we have guests, it is a definite to take them to Grey’s Tea Room for a proper tea and clotted cream/scones.
“Also the White Hart pub and restaurant up at nearby Dartington is wonderful and we have taken guests up there so we could also share a walk thought the gardens.
“Willow Vegetarian Restaurant up at the top of The Narrows in Totnes is fantastic.” Anne Kelly
“I like to visit Totnes Rare Breeds Farm as I have two children, aged one and four. It’s perfect for them if you want a short day out. They can feed and handle some of the animals and go in the enclosures with some of them as well. If you want to make it a longer day you can also combine it with the South Devon Railway and Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies Sanctuary and/or a pretty walk.” Samantha Branch
Do you live in Torbay? Email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming up in Totnes:
2 March until end of April: join an exciting outdoor arts project at the Sharpham Trust. Artist Peter Lanyon is looking for up to eight volunteers (aged 16+) to help him build a large green oak bench over the course of seven days in March and April. Volunteers will work outside on the beautiful Sharpham Estate with traditional woodworking tools. See sharphamtrust.org
9 to 12 March: The third Transition Town Totnes Film Festival takes place this year, based at the town’s Civic Hall. Themes include community, environment and resilience. transitionfilmfestival.org.uk
18 March: Catch members of the Totnes Early Music Society performing at St Mary’s Church at 7.30pm.
25 March: Take part in Chicks charity’s Delicious Dart Trail, a food festival on the move. The event starts at Totnes Pavilion Leisure Centre and, participants run to the coastal town of Dartmouth, sampling a wide variety of the finest local produce along the way. See deliciousdarttrail.co.uk
The award-winning Totnes Good Food market takes place on the third Sunday of every month, between 10am and 3pm. totnesgoodfood.co.uk