Dartmouth Beside the Boat Float
On of the Southwest's Loveliest and Most Historic Ports
Dartmouth on the Dart Estuary in South Devon has established its place in history for almost a thousand years. It was a departure port for two crusades, including Richard The Lionheart's sailing in 1190. The town grew rich from the Newfoundland cod trade in the Middle Ages and has several wonderful medieval black and white buildings from that era. The Mayflower Pilgrims stopped in on their way to the New World and, during WWII, 480 US vessels, carrying the US Army 4th Armored Division, hid in its protected deep water harbor until their departure for Utah Beach in the D-Day Landings.
Today its a pretty yachting haven and only the presence of Britannia Royal Naval College, high above the town, suggests this is anything more than one of South Devon's prettiest destinations.
Dartmouth's Royal Castle Hotel is one of several venerable buildings in the town center overlooking the "Boat Float". This small marina in the town center came about after many rebuildings of the harbour. Small boats now enter through a passage under the main road.
Most in town accommodation in Dartmouth is of the bed and breakfast inn variety. The Royal Castle Hotel dominates the town center and has a restaurant that is always full of visitors. We didn't stay and it was impossible on an October afternoon to squeeze in for lunch. But we did hear that its accommodations are traditional and fairly luxurious.
When the Pilgrim ship, the Speedwell, sprang a leak, she ways laid up for repairs at Bayards Cove in Dartmouth, along with her sister vessel, the Mayflower. So for the Pilgrims, an unexpected stop and for Dartmouth, yet another place in history.
Dartmouth Castle has guarded the entrance to the Dart Estuary and protected the little port of Dartmouth for 600 years. It last saw active duty in WWII.
The deep water Dart Estuary, during World War II, hid a growing number of Allied vessels and soldiers preparing for the D-Day landings in Europe. Eventually, 480 ships and troop carriers left this apparently quiet estuary.
During that period, Dartmouth Castle, on the west entrance to the river, and Kingswear Castle, on the east, provided vital protection. Among the many armaments and gun posts around both towns, were the ancient castles new guns. The 600-year-old Dartmouth Castle concealed a battery of 4.7 inch guns. Across the river, Kingswear Castle had a machine gun post as well as a torpedo launching site nearby.
Exhibits in Dartmouth Castle include the story of its wartime service. Visit the English Heritage website to find out more.
Enter Dartmouth via the Floating Bridge
Dartmouth's "Floating Bridge" is a 36 car ferry that crosses between Dartmouth and Kingswear, drawn along cables. It's one of the more scenic ways to approach this pretty town.Find out more about getting to Dartmouth
A River Excursion on the Dart
Several excursion boats offer one hour tours of the Dart Estuary as well as one way and round trip steam boat service to Totnes, and "Sea-Train" excursions from Torquay, Paignton and Kingswear. The hour-long excursion is worthwhile as there is plenty to see and the boats have well-informed and interesting guides onboard. Find out more about River Excursions on the Dart.
Dartmouth Steam Railway
The Dartmouth Steam Railway makes regular trips across the headlands from Paignton on the English Riviera and then along the east embankment of the Dart Estuary to Kingswear. From there its just a short ferry ride across the river to Dartmouth. The operators of the scenic little steam train run regular boat and train excursions. Find out more about them.
One of Dartmouth's War Veterans
Dartmouth Harbour has several important vessels riding at anchor that saw service in WWII. This boat, our tour guide pointed out, took part in the D-Day landings. Another, "Our Lizzie", is a veteran of the little boat fleet that rescued troops from Dunkirk.
Dartmouth Old Market
St. Saviours Church, overlooking Foss Street in the Old Market area, was consecrated in 1372. Parts of it are reputed to have been built from the timbers of a ship in the Spanish Armada.
Foss Street and the lanes leading off it make an ideal pedestrian shopping area in Dartmouth,South Devon. The street is lined with art galleries, shops selling ceramics and glassware as well as designer fashion and upmarket casual wear.
Read more about Dartmouth shopping
17th Century Dartmouth
Dartmouth was a wealthy trading port in the late Middle Ages. In the early 17th century, when these buildings were built, the town grew rich on its fishing industry. Fishing vessels traveled as far as the Grand Banks for the Newfoundland fishery.
The Butterwalk, a Grade 1 listed building on the left of this picture, was built in 1635 by a merchant engaged in the Newfoundland cod trade. Partly open as a local museum, it has original plaster ceilings and wainscotting as well as an original, circular staircase. The facade was damaged by bombs in WWII and is now restored.
Walk the town to find several elaborate Tudor facades. And look out for the town's two oldest buildings, dating from the 14th century - The Cherub Pub on Higher Street and Agincourt House on Lower Ferry.
Chaucer was among Dartmouth's early visitors. He came in 1373 as a customs officer for Edward III. He complained that the town was full of lawless seamen.
Britannia Royal Naval College
High on Mount Boone, overlooking Dartmouth in South Devon, the Britannia Royal Naval College stands on 126 acres of land that once belonged to the descendents of Sir Walter Raleigh. Apparently, they were not too happy to give up the land and it was taken from them by compulsory purchase.
Generations of British Naval Officers have trained here, including two kings, George V and George VI and Prince Philip - then Philip Mountbatten. Queen Elizabeth, then Princess Elizabeth first met her husband, now the Duke of Edinburgh, while on a visit to the Commodore's house in 1939.
Designed by Sir Aston Webb, the college is considered to be a fine example of Edwardian architecture. Public tours are available between Easter and the end of October on Sundays and Wednesdays. Besides the building, there is a small museum to see. While you are there, make note of the Main Corridor, from the Chapel to the Senior Gunroom - at 1/8 of a mile long, it is one of the longest uninterrupted corridors in Europe. Tours can be booked through the Dartmouth Tourist Information Center.
Gallery Display on Foss Street
Shops along Foss Street are ideal for browsing, with many art galleries, art glass,ceramic and affordable jewelry shops as well as designer fashions. Find out more about shopping in Dartmouth.
Brown's Hill, a steep street lined with wide stairs, marks the old pack-horse route out of Dartmouth. Until 1825 there was no road for wheeled traffic into Dartmouth and most locals got around by boat - or simply stayed put.