The Weird, Mystic Pull of Southwest England

Totnes and Dartington

During the 85-mile drive southwest to Totnes from Glastonbury, Somerset’s plains and soft hills gave way to something wilder, more wooded, more forbidding. Before hitting the town itself, I had an appointment on its outskirts to meet Tom Cox, citizen folklorist and naturalist, author of best-selling books about his cats, for lunch at the Riverford Field Kitchen.

I arrived at the field kitchen — an airy, relaxed restaurant on the grounds of a large working farm — wearing a floral headband. I note this only because it is rare that I meet anybody, least of all a man, who shares my enthusiasm for floral headbands, but Mr. Cox is such a man. We sat down to a huge, wholesome lunch served family-style, and dug into miso-glazed eggplants, piles of freshly picked greens, carrots and broccoli, a homely but luscious fish pie crowned with a cloud of buttery mash, and two puddings with custard.

Mr. Cox’s new book, “21st Century Yokel” comes out this fall, and he said it’s about “being a walker and a lifelong country person, but it goes off into many other areas: folklore, family, little comedies of everyday life.” He moved to Devon in 2014, and feels “very spiritually at one with the landscape here” — a landscape he described as “rugged and rainy,” a “psychedelic countryside” and “the greenest place I’ve ever lived.” I apparently had come at the best possible time: “The explosion of colors is such a huge orgasm here in spring,” he told me.

Our bellies full, Mr. Cox drove us to the Dartington estate. Dating to the 14th century, Dartington was bought in the 1920s by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst (she, an American heiress; he, a landowning Yorkshireman) who aimed to establish a new model of rural life, community and education. Today, the Dartington Hall Trust is an independent charity and social enterprise with a focus on arts and ecology, supported by a range of…

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