Great British Escapes’ tips for a short break in Dartmouth, Devon
Dartmouth, on Devon’s south coast, not only makes a great base for exploring the south-west, but there is so much to do in the immediate area that it is a complete destination in its own right.
Set on the ‘English Riviera’, it enjoys an enviable location right on the edge of the pretty River Dart. This lovely setting is combined with a rich and varied history. Back in the 12th century, Dartmouth was a point of departure for ships carrying Crusaders to the Holy Land, and in the early seventeenth century, it was here that the Pilgrim Fathers set off to America, and many buildings from this period remain in the town. Back in the present day, Dartmouth is a genteel harbour town filled with pretty winding streets, picture perfect pastel coloured houses, and interesting boutique shops and restaurants, all of which make for a great spot to take in the scenery and atmosphere of the South-West.
A Naval Stronghold
First of all, get set up for the day’s sightseeing with a delicious breakfast from popular Café Alf Resco – a modern café set in traditional surroundings with a distinctly nautical feel. Choose from fresh pastries, cinnamon toast or the classic full English, all served up with excellent coffee. Suitably refreshed, walk down to the harbour and take in the boats before setting off along the path which follows the River Dart to Dartmouth Castle, one of two medieval castles which stand on the cliffs guarding the entrance to the estuary.
Look over to Kingswear Castle on the other side of the river and it’s easy to imagine what an impressive – and potentially foreboding – sight they would have been as ships were forced to pass under the guns on the battlements before heading up the river. The castle is managed by English Heritage and the interesting exhibits detail Dartmouth Castle’s colourful history which stretches back more than 600 years. It also formed an important part of Britain’s coastal defences during the Second World War, with some of the defensive and artillery posts still visible.
Take to the water
From here, hop on the small taxi boat which takes you back to the centre of Dartmouth where you can pick up another boat which will take you down river to the National Trust property of Greenway, the beloved holiday home of the famous author Agatha Christie and her family, on the East bank of the Dart. Take some time to explore the house (which is filled with her belongings and looks exactly as it would have been when she was there) and the pretty gardens which tumble down to the riverside. If it’s a nice day, make the most of the sunshine by taking full advantage of the deckchairs outside the house which provide a perfect excuse to have a sit down and savour the views back down over the gardens towards the river. Also head down to the boathouse, which was the scene of the crime in Christie’s book, “Dead Man’s Folly” (the television adaptation of this classic featuring David Suchet as Poirot was filmed at Greenway for fans of the television dramas!).
With the help of another taxi boat, make the short hop across the river to the cute little village of Dittisham (known as ‘Ditsum’ by the locals) which, as well as its charming setting, has an excellent riverside pub, the Ferry Boat Inn. If you’re in the mood to try some of the local beers (we recommend the beer brewed for the Ferry Boat Inn by Otter Brewery) and the sun is shining, take your drink out onto the jetty to watch the boats sailing by. If you’re hungry, head to the acclaimed Anchorstone Café across the road. This is a perfect chance to try some of local seafood - think local Start Bay Crab, Lobster salad or a pint of shell-on prawns served up with a classic marie rose sauce.
It’s then time to head back down the river to Dartmouth (or there is a lovely but fairly strenuous 4 and a half mile walk over the fields if you have time). Stroll round the boutique shops and admire the historic architecture dotted around the town (don’t miss the Grade 1 Listed building of the Butterwalk on Duke Street). To make the most of Dartmouth’s historic feel, settle into your overnight accommodation in a charming Tudor mansion at Bayards Cove Inn. Bayards Cove itself makes a lovely spot to sit out and watch the world go by on the river and enjoy the extensive views down the estuary and out to sea.
There are plenty of great eating options in and around Dartmouth. If you are happy to venture out of town, drive along the coast to the excellent seafood restaurant at the Oyster Shack, with its almost Mediterranean feel. It has a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and no trip there is complete without trying the huge seafood platters full of oysters and shellfish. Check their website before travelling though as the best way to get there by car depends on whether the tide is in or out! If eating in Dartmouth, you can have an excellent fine dining experience at Mitch Tonks’ Seahorse or head to Rockfish for a less formal, but still delicious, seafood meal.
Time to spare?
If you have any longer in Dartmouth, consider taking a tour of the Royal Naval College, which has been the home of Naval Officer training since 1863, stroll along some of the Dart Valley Trail which takes in the charming surrounding meadows and riverside scenery on both sides of the River Dart, or take a ride in a traditional steam train which runs out of Kingwear (this also provides an excellent option for getting to Greenway as an alternative to the boat). Of course, there’s also the South-West coast path to tackle and we’ve put a couple of pictures of the stretch between Dartmouth and Brixham on our Facebook page.