History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
This town at the mouth of the River Dart has been an important seaport since the early Middle Ages; in fact, it was from Dartmouth that English fleets left to take part in the Second and Third Crusades.
The naval heritage of Dartmouth is preserved in the Britannia Royal Naval College, sitting high on the cliffs above the Dart. The college has trained officers of the Royal Navy since 1905. Regular escorted tours of the college and grounds are conducted (see below).
The ships carrying the Pilgrims to America in 1620 called in at Dartmouth for repairs to the Speedwell before setting out across the Atlantic. Further along the port is Bearscove Castle, built in 1510 as part of Henry VIII's coastal defences against the French. The "castle" is little more than a gun emplacement meant to provide cover for the castle and chain at the mouth of the river.
At the head of the Dart is Dartmouth Castle. The castle was built after Edward IV offered 30 pounds a year "for ever" to the town burgesses if they would erect a "tower with a chain sufficient in length and strength to stretch across the mouth of the haven". The castle was begun in 1388 and not finished until about 1403. Only one round tower survives, with a section of wall and a deep moat. The castle, which is now in the care of English Heritage, can be reached by ferry from the town between Easter and the end of October.
St Petrox Church dates back to the 12th century, and it was the place of worship for the soldiers of Dartmouth Castle during the later Middle Ages. More striking is St Saviour's, built in 1372 and remodelled in the late medieval period and again in the early 17th century. The interior is richly furnished, and the traceried rood screen is especially striking. An early 15th century brass of a former mayor and his two wives lies in the floor of the chancel.
The area around the harbour is full of fine 18th century houses, most adorned with hanging baskets of flowers in the summer months. The Butterwalk is even earlier, with an enjoyable series of 17th-century houses, including that housing the Dartmouth Museum. But these buildings are newcomers compared to the restored 14th-century Cherub, a delightful half-timbered building on Higher Street.
One of the most influential natives of Dartmouth was Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729), who developed an engine driven by steam at atmospheric pressure. Newcomen's invention helped speed the advent of the steam engine and provided the impetus for the Industrial Revolution. A working Newcomen engine dating to the late 18th century stands beside the Tourist Information Centre.
The Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway runs along the coast daily from June-September, and on selected days in April, May, and October. Rail trips can be combined with river cruises to make for an enjoyable day out.
The Dartmouth area provides good opportunities for walkers to enjoy the countryside, with the Dart Valley Trail following the river inland, and the Coastal Path allowing excellent ambles along the shore. If you'd rather cruise on the water than walk, you can take a boat trip up the Dart and around the surrounding area. For an even more relaxing time, visitors can enjoy the award-winning Blackpool Sands beach, just to the south-west of town.
The Dartmouth area is much less developed than the seaside resort area around Torquay and Paignton to the north, and provides a more relaxed centre for exploring south Devon.
Address: Dartmouth, Devon, England
Attraction Type: Town
OS: SX877 513
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Bayard's Cove Fort - 0.3 miles (Historic Building)
Dartmouth Castle - 0.8 miles (Castle)
Coleton Fishacre House and Garden - 1.9 miles (Historic House)
Greenway - 2.3 miles (Historic House)
Kirkham House - 6.1 miles (Historic Building)
Berry Pomeroy Castle - 7.4 miles (Castle)
Totnes Castle - 7.4 miles (Castle)
Compton Castle - 8.4 miles (Historic House)
Nearest Accommodation to Dartmouth: