Things to do in Dartmouth
Dartmouth is one of the gems of South Devon. It is a pretty little town which clings wildly to the steep banks of the Dart Valley. It overlooks an estuary at the mouth of the river Dart and stares across at the equally picturesque town of Kingsbridge on the opposite bank. The town has many interesting shops and art galleries, as well as fantastic little cafes and restaurants. The whole town is focused on the water with a rich boating history.
Dartmouth was developed as a port in Norman times soon after 1066. It prospered in Tudor times and still has many Tudor homes in the town centre. It’s most famous link with history was when The Mayflower set sail for America from here in 1620.
There is a small Tudor fort at Bayard’s Cove which is owned by English Heritage and which dates from the 1500’s. This is the site where The Mayflower first set sail.
The mouth of the estuary is guarded by the picturesque fortress of Dartmouth Castle. You can walk to it from the town or access it via ferry ride. It is unusual to see a castle on the banks of the sea which makes this site all the more interesting. The site is owned by English Heritage and the castle is well worth a visit for the small entrance fee.
An unmissable feature of Dartmouth life is the huge Britannia Naval College which has been training students for over 150 years. Guided tours of the college are available and visitors can learn about the college’s history and its role in Britain’s defences. The naval college commands spectacular views over the town and the river.
For families, one of the big days out near to Dartmouth is Woodlands. Woodlands describes itself as the largest family-friendly theme park in Devon and has something for everyone; a small zoo, a large indoor play area, lots of outdoor play areas, and a handful of big rides. The most popular rides for older children and teenagers are the pirate ship, the toboggan ride and the gigantic water slides. The water slides are ridden on large inflatable canoes which hurtle down the plastic pipes at terrifying speeds and seem likely to fly out of the top of the pipe at any moment – once experienced, never forgotten!
Dartmouth is so connected with the water that it would feel remiss to visit and not to take to the water. There are a whole host of different boat rides available, from short trips to Kingswear on the foot ferry, all the way to large sea-going cruises. I enjoy the one hour river cruise which takes you up the river and past Greenway, Agatha Christie’s holiday house. There are also fishing trips and sea-safaris available for people who want to make a day of it.
You can’t walk far along the river in Dartmouth without spotting the scores of people lined up along the waterside crabbing. Lots of shops sell cheap buckets and lines, and children love the challenge of hauling the little nippers into their bucket. The crabs seem to enjoy the bacon and other bait enough to treat being occasionally caught as an occupational hazard.
The Dartmouth Steam Railway must be one of the most memorable train journeys in the country. The Brunel designed route takes you right along the spectacular coastline along this attractive part of South Devon. From the beautifully vintage station of Kingswear the journey takes you past Greenway Halt, past Churston Station (which featured in Agatha Christie’s ABC murders), and then past numerous headlands and inlets all the way to Paignton.
Dartmouth is an arty town with many renowned small galleries and local artists. The best way to find out what is happening on the cultural scene in Dartmouth is to pop into The Flavel. The Flavel is a busy little arts centre set in a former church in Dartmouth Town centre. There is a cinema, cafe, gallery and concert venue.
The nearest beach to Dartmouth is the fantastic privately owned beach of Blackpool Sands. This picturesque bay regularly features on lists of the top ten beaches in the country. The view that you get as you drive along the coast road and first see this attractive tree-lined bay is one of the most impressive views I’ve seen in the whole of the UK.
Just along the River Dart from Dartmouth is Greenway. Greenway was once the holiday home of Agatha Christie and is now owned by the National Trust, who maintain both the house and gardens which overlook the river.
Along the River Dart is the small riverside village of Dittisham, the essence of Devon charm. It’s only a small village but it’s pastel coloured cottages which line the river-front are some of the most photographed buildings in the county.
Another must-see in this part of the world is the fantastic jazz-age house and gardens at Coleton Fishacre. This National-Trust owned property is built in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement and roars with 1920’s sophistication. The gardens are arguably even more breath-taking. There are many well established trees including spectacular Myrtles and Eucalyptuses which overlook a gentle stream flowing down the valley. The garden is laid out both imaginatively and beautifully. You are led down past bamboos, ponds and flower beds to an amazing sea view.
Places to Eat and Drink
For beautifully-presented seafood, right on the banks of the River Dart, head to The Seahorse. Food here is lovingly cooked over an open charcoal fire. The Seahorse offers a great value two course lunchtime menu for £20.
A more laid back but equally loved destination is Cafe Alf Resco, easily spotted because of its vintage grocer’s bicycle. There is always a buzz of activity here in the little covered courtyard. Food is cooked on an authentic French parlour stove. At weekends in the summer you can listen to live music.
Hidden away in the nearby village of Strete is the well-renowned restaurant The Laughing Monk. Run by chef Ben Handley, this restaurant has been awarded an AA Rosette and a Gold Taste of the West award.
For fish and chips which are well above the average head to Rockfish. There is both a take-away shop and an eat-in restaurant. The restaurant feels like a beach hut inside, it’s all beach colours and bare wood. The owner is the well-known chef Mitch Tonks and he has built something truly special here. Make sure you take advantage of the never-ending chips!