Ashburton: South Devon's Quirkiest Delight

5 August 2022

A busy little spot right on the edge of Dartmoor, Ashburton was once a stannary town, one of a number of locations in Devon that mined, coined, and sold white tin up until the mid-nineteenth century. Nowadays it has a strong Bohemian edge due, at least in part, to its plethora of antique shops and galleries. Much like nearby Totnes, Ashburton is home to independent stores, delicatessens, and noteworthy restaurants, all within walking distance of the town’s centre. 

Ashburton Arts Centre

Situated in an old Methodist church, the Ashburton Arts Centre is going from strength to strength. A triumph of community goodwill, the centre has relied on the kindness and patronage of local citizens to get off the ground. The volunteers that run the place would be the first to admit that there’s still more to be done to fully realise the centre’s potential, but the programming is already very good. There’s a strong accent on jazz, as well as one-off film nights, classical music and poetry recitals, and stand-up comedy. The local community is served further with workshops, yoga classes and educational talks.


Rafikis is a rather lovely vegetarian and vegan café that’s extremely popular with locals. It also moves about a bit, switching between a space next to the arts centre and another across the road, depending on the season. So do be sure of its latest location before you go.  The food on offer is riffs on all manner of international styles and is always very good (and reasonably priced). A special mention must go to their hot squashed sandwiches (toasties, really) with filling likes cheddar and kimchi and bubble and squeak with onion marmalade. Opening hours are usually from 10AM until 3PM but and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Ashburton Swimming Pool

Tucked away out of sight of the main drag, Ashburton’s open air swimming pool really is a find. Open from May to September, it’s not massive (twenty-long metres long) but is big enough to get some decent lengths in, and it’s heated to a balmy 27°C to boot. Book what’s called a garden ticket and you can languish on the grass next to the pool and have a picnic after your swim.

Gnash Comics

Situated in the centre of Ashburton, the Gnash Comics shop specialises in graphic novels, comics and books for all ages. This is the sort of funky place that’s normally found in big cities, and the range of publications on show is excellent. The knowledgeable and helpful Gnash team also hold workshops and instore events with visiting authors and artists. Along with the literature, the store also sells art books, prints, games, cards and stationery.

Old Exeter Inn

Established in 1130, the Old Exeter Inn is a strong addition to Devon’s wealth of (very) old and historically important pubs. This is the place, after all, where explorer and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, Walter Raleigh, was drinking when he was arrested by the King’s men for treason against James I in 1603. Records don’t show which beer Will was enjoying when he was so rudely interrupted but these days, the Old Exeter prides itself on its rotating array of over 100 craft beers, ales and ciders. There’s also food available, and the team happily admit they keep it simple, with dishes like fish and chips, pie and mash, salads and sandwiches on the menu.


If we judge a town by its coffee shops, then Ashburton scores highly. The Old Library is a café and restaurant that serves an excellent brew as well as a neat line in Smørrebrød dishes. Smørrebrød being a deliciously dense Nordic open sandwich topped with various ingredients, from smoked fish and picked grapes to goat’s cheese and Marmite. Open 9AM until 4PM daily, closed on Sundays and Mondays. Further up the road is Café Latino, a colourful, vibrant little place that majors in speciality coffee. The café also hosts its own Noches Borracha (drink nights) serving a decent choice of cocktails. Open Monday to Saturday, from 9AM until 4.30PM.

Antique Shops

There are at least ten antique shops within a square mile of the centre of Ashburton. They vary in size from the multi-level to the single floor and it’s virtually impossible to leave the town without a bargain. If you can get through the door, Denis Perry’s shop is a treasure trove packed full of the bizarre and collectable, open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10.30AM until 5PM. Open daily (except Sunday) from 10.30AM until 5PM, The Shambles is as much an interiors store as it is an antique shop, with a good range of French stock.