Dartmouth from the passenger ferry from Kingswear, the small town on the opposite side of the River Dart
I will start by saying how delighted I was to receive all your kind comments on the first anniversary of my blog and to thank you all for coming to the virtual tea party. I hope you enjoyed the toffee apple cake, the tea, and the conversation! I left husband in charge of the washing up, and it didn’t take him long!
And now I think a little excursion is the order of the day, we need to walk off those virtual calories, don’t we? So let Dartmouth, in South Devon, be our destination.
Dartmouth Railway Station (there are no trains here, explanation later on)
Dartmouth is famous today as being home to Britannia Royal Naval College, situated high above the River Dart (unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the College – it is best seen from the opposite side of the river, in the small town of Kingswear). It was designed by architect, Aston Webb, and was opened by King Edward VII in 1902, and cadets there have included Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) and the Prince Andrew (Duke of York.)
The estuary of the River Dart, on which Dartmouth is at the mouth, is one of the loveliest estuaries in Devon and parts of the river were used in the 1970s’ TV series, The Onedin Line, about a shipping company in Victorian times, where it was used to represent the River Amazon! Maybe viewers were more gullible 40+ years ago, with this very English river standing in for the mighty Amazon, indeed! The river is navigable upstream as far as Totnes, about 13 miles away.
Upstream from Dartmouth, the river acting as the River Amazon (but at that time without those yachts!)
Indeed, it is said that Queen Victoria called the Dart the “English Rhine.” It is from this port that in 1944 Allied warships were at anchor in Warfleet, downstream from the town, in preparation for D-Day. In the Middle Ages the main interest was in wine trade with Bordeaux but today it is tourists that bring trade to the town and surrounding area.
A yacht at anchor on the River Dart, with Kingswear in the background
There are several ways of arriving at Dartmouth; by steam train from Paignton, by car via Totnes, by car via the upper or lower ferries, and by a pleasure cruise boat from Totnes.
I mentioned above that the railway station is without a railway line or trains. This is because the railway stopped at Kingswear and a passenger ferry took people across the river to Dartmouth, therefore this was still a station building, in the brown and cream livery of the Great Western Railway, but without a platform or trains.
The little inner harbour, reached via a gap in the river wall
Even at low tide, this is a pretty area (behind the trees there is a small park with a Victorian bandstand)
The Butterwalk (below) has some of Dartmouth’s lovely old buildings. The granite-colonnaded building was built c1635.
And on the Quay, by the inner harbour, is the Royal Castle Hotel, an old coaching inn …
I apologise for the poor qualify of some of the photos here because, to illustrate our virtual visit to Dartmouth, I am using some from several visits we have made, some of which have been taken in glorious sunshine, some on much duller days.
I love the small streets of Dartmouth where there are pretty individual shops (not chain stores, although there is a small branch of Marks & Spencer tucked away near the main town car park) especially in Fosse Street and where, in summer, the shops have displays of flowers outside …
Yes, Fosse Street, is a very narrow street
The Cherub Inn
After a little mooch around the town, I think a walk to the Castle is in order. The Castle (largely a ruin now) is at the mouth of the river and parts of it are now a café and gift shop. The walk is a bit hilly in parts, but nothing too strenuous, but it’s best not to attempt it in high heels or in flip-flops. We first pass the shops (below) and then make our way to Bayards Cove.
Old buildings with shops on the ground floor
Bayards Cove, where a recent afternoon TV series, The Coroner, was partly-filmed (the Coroner had her office in a building here, and it was also used, as was the river, in The Onedin Line
We start our walk to the Castle at Bayards Cove – once used by smugglers – and here, you can see the lower car ferry making its way across from Kingswear, the town on the opposite side of the River Dart. Had we been standing in Bayards Cove a few centuries ago we would’ve seen the Speedwell and the Mayflower at anchor before they sailed the Atlantic with the Pilgrim Fathers. From here we continue our walk, with the river on our left and pass pretty houses high on the hillside, and where there are glimpses of the river through the trees.
Rhododendrons in spring
Oh, to have a converted boathouse along this river, waking to that view each day, come rain, come shine …
Indeed novelist, Marcia Willett set one of her stories in Dartmouth at the time of the town’s Regatta in summer …
We eventually arrive at a little inlet called Warfleet Creek where, as I mentioned, parts of the Allied fleet were moored, ready to set sail for D-Day [6th June 1944].
During the English Civil War it was down the Warfleet valley that Royalists troops attacked Dartmouth in 1643. They seized the small fort which then stood on the far side of the Creek and from this stronghold, known as Paradise Fort, they fired on Dartmouth Castle and forced the town to surrender. Today there is a large mill building above the head of the Creek which was home to Dartmouth Pottery (now closed) and where the famous gurgling fish jugs were made (they were fish-shaped, as the name suggests, and as you poured liquid from their ‘mouths’ they gurgled.)
St Petrox church, adjoining the remains of Dartmouth Castle
Quoting from The Kings’ England – Devon by Arthur Mee [published 1965]: “For nearly 700 years St Petrox by the castle has been the last bit of Dartmouth that sailors have seen as they sailed away, and charming it looks still among trees on the rock where St Petrock built a wooden shrine 1400 years ago. It was largely rebuilt in c1640 in traditional style. [I have quoted the spelling here as in the book, the Church as St Petrox, and the saint as Petrock.]
Dartmouth Castle (part ruin) is now a café and gift shop
Looking at the hillside above Warfleet Creek, with some attractive Victorian homes which have find views of the river
After a cup of tea or a vanilla ice at the Castle café, perhaps even buying a postcard or two, we retrace our steps to the town, the river now on our right.
Some of the properties along the river have perilously steep gardens which have been terraced
And although some of them are 19th or 20th century properties, some of them have faux-castle embellishments
Kingswear from Dartmouth
Before long we are back opposite Kingswear. If you look closely at the above photo, you will see on the far left the slipway down to the passenger ferry, and in the middle of the picture the slipway down to the lower car ferry.
River Dart by the Embankment
Our last view of the River Dart, facing upstream to Totnes. I hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual visit to this lovely historic Devon town and its river. I’m no sure whether I will return home by virtual steam train on this occasion, or by car over the Dart by the ferry, or perhaps driving the ‘long way home’, i.e. not crossing the river here, but driving home via Totnes. Whichever way I choose, the journey is always a pleasant one, either up the steep hill out of Kingswear or through the lanes of the South Hams (aka southern hamlets) or back on the chugging steam train to Paignton.
Until next time.