Dartmouth is the siren of the Southwest, one common story you will hear from those who have chosen to holiday here on a regular basis or from those have made the move permanently, is how it captured their heart. It is hard to describe its beauty, on our first visit to Dartmouth we arrived by the car ferry from Brixham - WG Mason from the late 1700’s, pretty much sums up how we felt:
"We were in some measure unprepared for the enchanting scene which our passage across the river Dart opened to us.”
Dartmouth is a town that melts history, natural beauty and architectural wonder puts them into a crabbing bucket and serves you a cold beer, while you sit on the edge of a cobbled quay staring out to sea.
So if you are only here for a short break here is our essential hit list:
Take a walk out to the Castle
Perched out at the river mouth, this castle has kept Dartmouth safe over the centuries and the surroundings and the views back to Dartmouth can take your breath away. In autumn this is often the setting for Shakespeare week, where some of his best loved plays are performed above the castle, with the waves crashing on the rock below. The beautiful Church of St. Petrox sits next to the castle and it must be said there is nothing more magical than hearing the bells ring out as the sun rises over the river before the town awakens.
Once you have explored the Castle - if you have not worked up an appetite yet for the delicious cream teas available at the Castle Cafe - keep going and explore some of the secret hidden coves that can only be found by taking the beautiful wooded coastal path. On the way home rest your feet and catch the passenger ferry from the steps, back to the centre of town - keep an eye out for the mermaid sitting on the rock.
Explore The Town
Dartmouth is one of those towns that begs to be explored and it does not matter how long you have lived here, you will always find another set of cobbled steps or secet alleys that you have never come across before. You will miss some of the best views and prettiest streets if you don't explore off the main drag, so walk where it looks like you should not and lose yourself in this ancient trading town.
St. Saviours is a beautiful 13th century church - you don't even have to go inside to see one of its most remarkable features. The south door has been carbon-dated to 1361 (it bears the date 1631 but that was just the year it was repaired). The door is illustrated with wonderful medieval ironwork featuing a Biblical 'Tree of Life'.
Pop into the Flavel Arts centre and pick up a schedule to see the latest selection of films, plays, comedy nights or concerts that are being perfomred. Around the quay take a stroll through the beautiful Avenue Gardens (take time to smell the lovely roses!) and check out the town band stand - if you are lucky enough to be here on a festival weekend take in a free performance.
Visit and support the many local shops , galleries and boutiques that are scattered through the town - like many towns the chains have slowly moved in but Dartmouth still retains a majoity of independent traders, you just need to wander down the side streets and away from the main high streets - don't miss Lower Street, Foss Street and Newcombe Road - for antique lovers you need to walk right to the end of Newcombe Road to discover Mick's gem of an antique shop.
Soak in the atmosphere
When visiting somewhere as laid back as Dartmouth you need to take some time to soak in the atmosphere, to stop and sit and appreciate the beauty of the surroundings manmade and natural. Relax with a gin & tonic outside the Dart Marina Hotel and Spa at their Cloud Nine bar or grab a beer (and if you are lucky) a bench at Bayard’s Cove. Here you can sit and soak in the historic quay where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America 400 years ago.
Take a trip back in time
Hop on the evocative Dartmouth steam train to Greenways - Agatha Christie's beloved home on the River Dart. The station is not actually in Dartmouth but just over the river in Kingswear so use the frequent ferries to cross th water. Alight at Greenway Halt and walk to the house - you miss the last few minutes of the train journey (but the actual stop in Paignton leaves you rather in no mans-lands with not a-lot to do) this way you miss the crowds trying to park and get to explore her beautiful home and gardens before taking a steam train home.
Get on the River
If you come to Dartmouth you need to get on the river to appreciate the beauty and setting of the town. The options are endless, our favourites are the Castle Ferry (as mentioned above) the Lower Ferry (much more fun that the passenger ferry) to Kingswear, where you can enjoy evening drinks in the sun or for the more adventurous hire a small boat from Dartmouth Boat Hire and sail up to Dittisham, grab lunch at either the The Ferry Boat Inn (best pub view in Devon?) or the foodies favourite Anchorstone cafe.
When the sun is shining take a trip out of town to the nearest family beach Blackpool Sands (pictured above). Rarely does a beach offer such easy access, facilities, space and natural beauty - as you sweep down the road and see the beach fringed with Scots pine trees you would be hard pressed not to think you had suddenly been transported to somewhere in the Med.
Food & Drink
We are spoilt in Dartmouth for choice but these are our go to places. For a good old fish and chips head to the 'Wheel House' or for a wider choice of fish and more contemporary take head to Mitch Tonk’s ‘Rock Fish’. Breakfast - there is only one choice for the best cooked breakfast in town, head to the Dartmouth institution that is 'Cafe Alf Resco' (and then come and say hello to us afterwards!). For a cosy lunch we love Bayard’s Cove Inn at the end of our street, there is always a toasty fire in winter and always a warm welcome all year round coupled with superb tasty meals. For lighter bites, coffee and cake pop in and see Paul and Alan in Lower Street Deli, they always have scrumptious soups, sandwiches and deli treats on an ever changing menu. For more formal evening meals, fresh fish lovers should head to Mitch Tonk’s other Dartmouth creation ‘The Sea Horse’. For something simpler, especially if you have young children who only like pizza (you are not alone), head over the river again to the highly atomospheric and always busy 'Steam Packet Inn'.
If you're without the children and fancy a drink where you can soak in the historic atmposphere of Dartmouth, you can't beat the Royal Castle Hotel - Galleon Bar or Dartmouth's oldest building from 1380, the Cherub Inn.