From Totnes to Buckfastleigh on the way to the Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary
Once upon an English day, Nigel and I went out for a day trip. We started in Totnes and took the steam train to Buckfastleigh to take a look at the butterflies and otters (bu’aflies and o’as if you are pronouncing in an English accent) at the Otter and Butterfly Sanctuary.
At the train station, there was a man with an owl. It was a magnificent creature with huge piercing orange eyes and beautiful markings in its feathers. I obviously had to get the obligatory tourist photo standing beside it.
The stream train followed the winding river and slowly made its way past fields of pink wildflowers and the occasional old stone building was dotted along the track. If you were tired the rhythm of the train would easily put you to sleep. We arrived in Buckfastleigh after about half an hour where there was a museum at the train station which we had a nosy through. There were signs up on the wall that were printed in wartime. My favourite one said, “To dress extravagantly is worse than bad form, it’s unpatriotic”
After the museum, we found a little cafe and I had my first pasty. Apparently, I didn’t eat it right. My friend told me I had to throw away the crust because that’s what the miners used to do. They used to hold onto the crust like a handle then throw it away due to the high levels of arsenic etc that was on their hands from the mine. We couldn’t eat the cake that we’d brought so we chucked it in a paper bag and left for the otters and butterflies.
Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary
Enjoy the tropical butterflies in the specially designed habitat and watch the life cycle unfold as you walk through the rainforest atmosphere. You may want to take your jacket off in here. If you sit still enough and just watch quietly you might find a butterfly sitting on your camera (true story).
Outside in the otter sanctuary, there are three species of otters to see. Native British otter, Asian short-clawed otters and North American river otters. A guided tour runs regularly, the guides are knowledgeable and entertaining while the otters are as cute and a button and know it.
We stepped into the humid butterfly enclosure and my camera immediately fogged up and the jackets came quickly off. At first, it was hard to see any as a lot of them were resting on various leaves and plants or flitting about near the top of the enclosure. Once I had an idea of where to look, finding them was much easier.
There were so many different varieties. Some looked very plain with their wings folded together but as soon as they took off you could see the top of their wings and they were stunning. There was a line of chrysalis all different shapes and sizes hanging from a stick. Each was unique, one looked like it was made out of silver, while another looked like it was made of wood. One butterfly was really interesting, normally they have bright tops and the underside is camouflage with their environment. This one was opposite, it was pure black on top and bright red and black underneath. It was an amazing contrast.
Fun butterfly facts
- A group of butterflies is sometimes called a flutter. You can watch a flutter go by and it becomes a flutter-by. Ok, maybe the latter is not an official fact.
- Butterflies taste with their feet. I’m glad we don’t…
- Many adult butterflies don’t poo, they use up all they eat for energy
- Butterfly wings are actually clear, the colours and patterns we see are made by the reflection of the tiny scales covering them (what?!)
- Butterfly wings move in a figure 8 motion
A Butterfly Photographer, I am not
My camera climatised soon enough and I started clicking away. Butterflies are not easy to photograph, well some are quite obliging and stand nice and still but the more interesting ones tend to be little buggers and flit around from plant to plant fairly quickly making it near impossible to get them in shot. I was determined though.
A green and black one I was having trouble photographing eventually took a little break from taunting me to sit on my camera (now if that’s not taking the piss, I don’t know what is) then quickly darted away again before Nigel could take a photo of it on my camera. There was one absolutely stunning large blue butterfly that I couldn’t get. I had to give up after quite a few failed attempts to go see the otter feeding.
Tips for taking photos of the butterflies in the Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary
- Let your camera adjust naturally. It will fog up with the humidity but will quickly adjust. Don’t try to wipe off the fog from your lens. You will just end up with a wet lens.
- Use a high shutter speed, butterflies move quickly
- Sit still and just watch. Movements can startle the butterflies
- If you do approach a sitting butterfly, do so carefully without large movements
- Use a burst shot if you are finding a flitting butterfly hard to capture. A burst shot will take a number of shots one after the other rapidly.
We got there just in time to watch the feeding and the feeder fed all the different otters in their various enclosures. He was a fountain of knowledge – like a human otter dictionary, an otternary if you will. The otters in their little enclosures were rather cute. Some were play fighting, others hiding from the rain, some chatting away rather impatiently for food. One of the otters liked to catch his food and if he got enough applause he’d do a high five. Well, a low five really – he was a tiny wee thing.
As we were watching the otters I looked towards the butterfly enclosure. On the other side of the window, I could see the blue butterfly who I had failed to capture a photograph of flitting about, taunting me. Butterfly: 1, Jem: 0.
Fun otter facts
- Male otters are called boars, females sows and babies are pups
- There are 13 different species of Otters found in the world. There is evidence that they have been around for more than 5 million years.
- Antarctica and Australia are the only two places in the world where otters aren’t found. While they are more likely to live in the cooler waters, they have been known to hang out where the water is warmer and the land is sandy.
- Humans are the main predator of Otters due to hunting for their pelts.
- They are the only known marine animals that don’t have blubber. Instead, they wear a fur coat.
The Hogwarts Express
We took the steam train back to Totnes, this one was different than the first one, it had little compartments to sit in. I secretly pretended we were on the Hogwarts Express. The window was open (the train doesn’t move terribly fast so you’ve got time to pull your head back inside before going through tunnels and cutting it off) so I popped my head out and could see all the way up the track and back down the track again.
On the train, we remembered about the cake that we didn’t eat from the cafe. It didn’t look particularly appetizing but we ate it nonetheless, it tasted amazing. Could be because of the setting we were in, could be because of its delicious stickiness and sweetness. Either way, best cake ever.
All in all a fun day out. I felt like I was a little kid being taken out for the day. But that’s OK because really, who doesn’t like otters and butterflies? Playgrounds also turn me into a big kid. Life is too short to not have fun though, embrace your inner child and make the most of butterflies, swings and whatever else takes your fancy!
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