Home / articles / Dartmouth, South Devon

Dartmouth, South Devon

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.

 

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

Check Also

The Kindness of Friends

My birthday, which was last Sunday, has been marvellously extended with each passing day by the arrival …

12 comments

  1. Eloise (thisissixty.blog)

    We are looking forward to spending a few nights in a cottage in Dartmouth in October. It is such a pretty place. Thank you for reminding me of what we have to look forward to, and also for the historical information.
    I have many happy memories of taking the children there when they were young, and photographs of them at Bayard’s Cove fort which they absolutely loved, or peeping though the trees in the gardens by the main car park.
    We used to take a mini-picnic and sit on the benches that faced the river – just about in the spot which your first photograph shows. We were usually staying nearby but never actually in Dartmouth itself. I’ve only once stayed in the town and that was many years ago at the Royal Castle Hotel, also in your photographs.
    Nowadays husband and I always visit the town when in Devon and enjoy sitting on the bench at Bayard’s Cove and just watching the ferry come and go. We’ve taken a ride across the river so many times.
    As you say, there are some wonderful little shops – it’s so nice that in many of your Devon towns are filled with such individual shops instead of the large multiples that most big towns offer.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      How coincidental, Eloise, that I have posted about Dartmouth today! It’s lovely to have a picnic by the river, sitting on one of the benches, if you can find one that is unoccupied, or walking to the Castle. I’m delighted my post has brought back happy memories of the town for you.

  2. We visited Dartmouth a few years ago, we took the train from Paignton to Kingswear and then crossed on the ferry. I chiefly remember it because a seagull pooped all down my top! My husband was most indignant and told me I should be more careful. I’m still not sure how I was supposed to avoid it…..It was a hot day and I was sweltering because I had to put my jacket back on to cover it up, it would have been better if it went on the jacket and then I could have taken it off.

    Otherwise, it was lovely 🙂

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Oh, tell me about them! The gulls are well-known for pooping on people! The first time it happened to me was when I was going to my new school (Torquay Grammar School for Girls) and I had on my lovely new navy winter coat and a gull dolloped all down the front of it as I stood waiting for the bus! I hope you enjoyed the journey on the steam train, though.

  3. Dartmouth is a place that I would so love to visit. It looks interesting, and of course, picturesque

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, Dartmouth is indeed, picturesque, Ratnamurti. I love not only to drive down to Dartmouth and arrive via the long hill which takes you down to the embankment, but to arrive by steam train along the river. We are fortunate in having so many lovely places to visit within a few miles of Torbay.

  4. Phew ! I spent a lot of virtual dollars on that outing and have several bags packed with gorgeous presents for friends at home. I bought several aprons and tea towels from the Caroline Drew store as their shopfront was so enticing. I also treated myself to a few items in the next shop, the canvas factory. So much so that I then Had to walk sideways down Fosse street as my bags were hanging off my arms. Just as well I had a great exchange rate converting my virtual Australian dollars to pounds sterling. I’ve opted to drive home as my feet are a bit sore after all that walking 😉

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      The shop where you parted with your dollars is actually Simon Drew, Lara. He is an artist and has written and illustrated many books. Do look him up on Amazon, his books are quirky to say the least! I had one once, but have since parted with it. He takes old sayings and rhymes and illustrates them in his own inimitable style, rather difficult to describe. They have also been made into greetings cards, they are great fun. Yes, you would have to walk sideways down Fosse Street with all those bags. When we are in Dartmouth my husband likes to visit Fosse Street as there is a gentleman’s outfitters (that’s what we used to call clothes shops for men, it sounds so old-fashioned today!) called House of Hawkins and last time we were there we both bought new panama hats (I use a gentleman’s panama hat because those for women are usually too large and floppy). I’m sorry your feet were virtually sore, next time wear trainers not your strappy sandals, ha ha!

  5. Priscilla Tempelman

    Fond memories of a visit to this lovely town 20 some years ago. It was a bit drizzly and chilly that day but ever so enchanting. Feeling a little happy heartache seeing your photos..it was the first time I’d ever tasted the pleasure of clotted cream!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Hello, Pricilla, and I hope the heartache wasn’t too painful and was eased by the fond memories of Dartmouth. But even on a chilly and drizzly day, the town by the river is rather pretty, with all the Elizabethan buildings. A light and fluffy scone, with jam and clotted cream is one of life’s little inexpensive pleasures!

  6. What a lovely area. We’ve visited several places along the Devon coast but didn’t make it quite as far as Dartmouth. Congratulations on your one year anniversary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *