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Attractions in Bideford

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      20.03.2002 19:15
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      Here is my story of a great experience I have had with my well known other half :- DARTINGTON CRYSTAL During a rare (she lied!) rainy day on our recent holiday in north Devon, John (ANDREWSJK) and I decided to visit the famous Dartington Crystal factory’s visitor centre. Here is what we discovered… WHERE IS IT? Strictly speaking it is not actually in Bideford but it was the closest category to it on Dooyoo. The factory is just about 15 minutes drive from Bideford along the A39, (or 5 minutes if John drives!) Dartington Crystal Ltd Great Torrington Devon EX38 7AN Tel : 01805 626242 Fax : 01805 626263 Email : info@dartington.co.uk Or: tours@dartington.co.uk Website : www.dartington.co.uk Situated in Great Torrington between Bideford and Exeter is can be accessed via the A39, B3217, B3227 or the A388. A BIT ABOUT THE VILLAGE Great Torrington is a nice little country village with a main street consisting of shops and tea-rooms. On Fridays they have what is locally know as the Pannier Market. Generally under cover it sells most things from bric-a-brac to hand knitted baby clothes. If you visit the factory on Friday, it's worth taking a stroll down through the town. We can thoroughly recommend the teashop called Taste Buds, just opposite the village car park. WHEN CAN YOU VISIT DARTINGTON? The factory is open to the public all year round at the following times: Monday – Friday 9am to 5pm (last tour 3.15) Saturday 10am to 5pm Sunday 10am to 4pm (Telephone for details of Christmas, New Year and Bank Holiday opening times). Entrance fees: Adults £4.00 Senior Citizens £3.00 Children £2.00 Family Ticket 2+3 £12.00 Free car and coach parking. THE TOUR When we arrived at Dartington I was somewhat surprised at the size of the fa
      ctory. The main public car park is situated past the front of the main building and a fair way around to the side. There is disabled parking a wee bit closer but I felt that given the steep climb back around to the tour entrance this is something that could be improved. Once in the building and having paid our entrance fees we strolled into a small room where we saw a short (10 minutes) film telling us a bit about how Dartington began and its progress to the present day. Then we strolled around the Glass Centre where we saw exhibits of some of their finest pieces costing thousands of pounds each! There is a side activity room where children (young or old!) can paint glass to make their own reminder of their visit and at the end of the main room there is a small glassmaking studio. John and I had a double hand cast made at a cost of £14.95, (plus £4.95 postage if you can’t get back the next day to collect it – it takes that long for the glass to cool down!) A single adult hand cast is £9.95 and a child’s is just £4.95. The procedure for this involved plunging our hands into a box of fine sand and leaving an impression, this was filled with molten glass and left to cool before we were able to collect it. We did take our hands out before the glass was poured in, you must understand that even he was sensible enough to do this, and the cooling process takes 24 hours, luckily we were on holiday ! (Lucky for whom you might ask?) Having had our joined hands immortalised in glass forever, John and I went through some double doors and up the stairs into the factory. We were walking above the workers on a walkway in the roofspace, this way work could continue and we got a bird’s eye view of everything happening. It was fascinating to see the teams working together; from the first man who would take the red-hot molten glass from the furnace onto a long pole, and eventually the final man in the team would have turned
      it into a recognisable piece of glassware. This would all seem to happen in a matter of minutes (depending on the piece being produced). We were amazed when we were told there are not really any accidents in the factory. With all the molten glass being carried around on poles it seemed incredible that the workers weren’t all covered in burns. The next area was the finishing department where the rough edges were ground down, then to the packing department. Any damaged pieces were either sent to the factory shop or returned to the furnace for the next day’s glass. The tour over, we found ourselves in the factory shop (now there’s a surprise!) where we were tempted by some amazing offers. There were many huge savings to be made by buying ‘Managers Specials’ and slightly flawed pieces. We were tempted into purchasing a huge heavy goblet (not for drinking from you understand) which was reduced from £145 to £25 and a large glass bowl from their Riffle collection which would normally retail at £80 and we paid just £20. There are many, many more bargains – along with the more pricey perfect section – the only problem for us was avoiding temptation to overspend our Dooyoo miles! After spending what little money we didn’t have in the glass shop we were then treated to another shop, Tarka Mill where there is an Edinburgh Woollen Mill for clothes and Denby, and Portmerion china can be bought (if there's any money left!) There is also a large Restaurant on the site. We partook of their food but as it was fairly late in the afternoon when we got there so there was not much left to choose from – I had a rather luke-warm lunch of gammon and vegetables whilst John chose a pasty and chips. Our impression – could have been better. THE HISTORICAL BIT… During the 1960’s north Devon agriculture was in decline. A wealthy American, Dorothy Elmhu
      rst and her Yorkshire born husband Leonard had seen a similar thing happen in the south of Devon and had established the Dartington Trust which rejuvenated the area. They set about doing the same for the north of the county. Their idea was to develop new skills in the area by setting up a factory to design and produce hand made glassware. Dartington soon became a major employer (now having a workforce of 360 people) and is now a world-renowned producer of high quality hand made crystal glassware. HOW THEY DO IT… Dartington use methods of glassmaking developed more than 3000 years ago along with the influences of the great 18th century English glassmakers. Today’s designers create modern pieces to suit today’s taste and style. The factory prides itself on their dedicated teams of 3 to 12 of glassmakers. Each team being led by a master craftsman who has worked for 10 years to achieve his position. The molten glass is made from silica sand, minerals, metal oxide, potash and soda ash and any broken glass from the previous day (called cullet). It is all loaded into a clay crucible and heated to a temperature of 1400 degrees Centigrade in the natural gas or propane fired furnace. Next morning the temperature of the glass is reduced to the cooler working heat of 1100 degrees C. This is when the glass is ready to produce the amazing creations Dartington is famous for. SUMMING UP… I think we both agree that all in all Dartington was a very good way to spend a rainy day in Devon. (What else could one do in the wet with ANDREWSJK?). The entrance fee was not too high and the bargains in the factory shop made it worth considering a special return visit in the future. The staff were friendly and helpful. On the less enthusiastic side I would say they should consider keeping the restaurant ticking over a bit longer during the day than they do and also find some way of situ
      ating the entrance a bit closer to the public car park. It was quite a climb up the hill at the front of the building and even the disabled would have to deal with this. I'm also not sure if they have lifts so I do wonder how anyone in a wheelchair or even with a walking stick would see the factory - given the stairs we had to climb. Do go visit if you are in the area. If you're lucky enough(?) you might meet us there stocking up on wine glasses - hic!

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