Fields outside Great Torrington
Taking a tour around Torrington
By Jo Bishop
As part of BBC Radio Devon's 25th anniversary celebrations listener David McRoberts recommends this walk around Great Torrington, which follows part of the commons, the Tarka Trail and the River Torridge.
Long before the term "green belt" was coined in some government planning office, a certain William de Torrington had the foresight which would preserve a recreational space for local people for posterity.
From land within his ownership, he established Torrington Commons in 1185 for the benefit of the poor. Now covering 365 acres, it's a legacy that's been enjoyed by generations over the last 800 years.
David McRoberts knows the area well, being part of the Torridge Ramblers, who to celebrate the millennium, created a 20 mile circular walk around the town.
So what had he chosen for our short walk?
"I picked it," he said, "because it's a variety of riverside, it brings in what Torrington has to offer as a town and it has some lovely views."
David beside the River Torridge
We started from the commons car park on the western edge of town, where free parking, toilets and a refreshment van are available.
With the smell of bacon butties stirring us on we set off through the gate alongside the lower car park, down Alexander Path towards the golf course.
You keep on this wide stony track over the commons stream, then uphill until you reach the edge of the golf course. Turn left at the second sign where it says walkers have priority over golfers – well, of course!
Make your way along the contour of the gorse-covered hill, which is aptly called Furzebeam, until you reach Rice Point, which affords splendid views over the Torridge valley.
Descend through the woods, out into a field and then over a stile to head left along the Tarka Trail, a tarmac section of former railway line.
"It's unusual because it escaped Beeching and stayed open until 1982 because it was still collecting clay from the clay pits," said David.
"Then it became a footpath and part of the Tarka Trail. If it had been closed in 1965 it could have been broken up as other railways were and may well have disappeared.
The former Torrington railway station
"But it's a really good facility we've got as a result."
You shortly pass the former Torrington station, now the Puffing Billy Pub, and keep on the trail under the road bridge. You pass a set of steps leading left down off the trail, but a short diversion ahead will take you on to the viaduct bridge over the River Torridge. Try standing on the open grating and looking down at the rushing water below, eek!
Retrace your route to take the steps passed earlier, and now on your right. These lead down to the former Rolle Canal, which ran for seven miles serving various mills and the former creamery.
Shortly you come to a sewage works on your right, where you turn right, making for the river.
"It's an interesting river, the Torridge," said David. "It starts near Hartland and comes in a huge horseshoe loop all the way round to Hatherleigh where it meets the Okement coming off Dartmoor and then more or less heads northwards from there onwards."
Over a stile, a path leads upriver to Taddiport, with its attractive stone bridge and a convenient bench from which to sit and admire it.
Cross the road and continue along the canal route briefly, turning left uphill where it says "pedestrian access" on a tarmac lane named Millennium Path.
Looking back to your right as you climb you should spot two distinctive narrow fields.
These, said David, are known as the "leper fields" and were given to the leper colony at Taddiport to be self-sufficient in growing their own fruit and vegetables.
These two narrow fields were set aside for lepers
The climb continues up this steep side of the valley, but you can take the sting out of the hill, by effectively zig-zagging your way up, turning right on to Monument Path and then first left.
You reach the tarmac Millennium Path again and turn right up to the edge of Torrington's main car park, at Castle Hill.
Here you really can admire the valley view in all its glory, and if all the climbing has left you with a thirst the town has a good selection of refreshment stops as well as shops and a main centre with much character.
And the 1646 Experience is a must for followers of history – Torrington being pretty much one of the last battles signalling the end of the Royalist cause in the English Civil War.
Back on the route continue ahead, then right onto George's Path, which takes you down to the Waterloo Monument, a tall narrowing stone pillar erected in 1818 to commemorate the battle with the words "Peace to the Souls of the Heroes".
Pass the monument and keep left downhill to reach the main Torrington to Exeter road. Cross carefully to the footpath in the woods opposite and head left, to pick up a tarmac lane where you keep left.
Turn left at the junction, passing Teapot Cottage on your left, no doubt so named as it's in Caddywell Lane.
You're effectively now looping your way through the town, so pass the primary school on your left and keep straight across at the junction into what's now a pedestrianised road with bollards at the top.
Keep ahead and under the water pipe and then turn right at the next junction into East Street. On reaching the main road turn right towards the roundabout, and first left after the hospital where it's marked Juries Lane.
You pass a new housing estate on your left and keep on this lane until you come to the end, which is shortly after a house on the right called Wellmeadow. Turn right down hill and after a very short way, on the bend take a footpath off to the left which will lead you back on to the Commons.
Keep to the right hand hedge, shortly joining the road to Weare Giffard. Ignore the junctions turning right, and effectively keep straight ahead on the Weare Giffard road, also signposted with a golf course flag.
Just after crossing what's again the commons stream, take the left track – which is called Barmaids Path – and keep on this as it follows the contours around the hill. After less than half a mile it will bring you out below the golf course, on the original Alexander Path that you set out on.
From here it's a short step left down to the stream and up the other side back to the car park, where, if you time it right those bacon butties will be waiting.
Thanks to William de Torrington and David McRoberts, that's the tour of Torrington.
last updated: 29/08/2008 at 11:51
David's Torrington walk
Start/finish grid reference: SS 458193
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