Dartmouth Castle: Our handy guide
August 6th, 2016 | By Ross Purdy
- By car
- From the centre of Dartmouth
- From out of town
- Coming from Stoke Fleming
- Coming from Townstal
- The Dartmouth Castle Ferry
- On foot
The phrase ‘step back in time’ is often used to entice holidaymakers to reminisce about a gentler, more peaceful and leisurely age, especially when it’s said in relation to the traditional charms of Devon. But a trip to Dartmouth Castle reveals a darkness to the past, when the town’s men and women had every reason to be fearful over the envious eyes and sharpened blades that lurked beyond the horizon.
A tour of this splendid historic building is hugely evocative of a time when the merchants of Dartmouth had to take serious measures to keep their wares, wealth and even lives safe. These measures stretched even as far as building a giant iron chain which ran between Dartmouth and Kingswear Castle, creating a physical barrier to keep back invaders.
Dartmouth Castle’s history began in 1388 when John Hawley, the Mayor of Dartmouth, initiated work on the town’s new complex of defences. Around a century later the iconic gun tower was added. It is said by English Heritage to be ‘the very first fortification in Britain purpose-built to mount “ship-sinking” heavy cannon.’
Directions to Dartmouth Castle
If you’re driving from Dartmouth town centre…
Drive along South Embankment Road and turn right immediately after the RNLI Visitor Centre (before the hospital), signposted for Dartmouth Castle. Take a left at the end of the road, then an immediate right onto Newcomen Road (it is essentially a staggered crossroads).
Go straight for around half a mile until the road bears sharply right, after which the hamlet of Warfleet will appear in front of you. Take the first left over the bridge onto Castle Road.
Shortly after the bridge, you will come to a fork, from which both options are (confusingly!) signposted Castle Road. You can either turn right and head uphill in the hope of finding a free on-road parking space, or stay left and continue until you reach the car park next to Dartmouth Castle.
From out of town
If you are coming from outside of Dartmouth, there is an alternative route down to Dartmouth Castle on Weeke Hill/the B3205.
Coming from Stoke Fleming:
100 metres past Stoke Fleming, turn right, following the sign for Dartmouth Castle. (If you miss this turning, simply take the next right, then the next left, and you’ll find yourself on the same road.)
After a little over a mile, you’ll pass the hamlet of Warfleet. Turn right and head over the bridge. Shortly afterwards, you‘ll come to a fork. Either turn right, and head uphill to look for an on-road parking space (which will involve a walk), or keep to the left and continue until you reach the small car park by Dartmouth Castle.
Coming from Townstal (the top of Dartmouth):
Assuming you are entering Dartmouth on the A3122 with the Estuary ahead of you, go straight at the first roundabout at the very outskirts of town (by the Leisure Centre).
Take the next right onto Milton Lane and take the next right to join the A379. Just as the village of Stoke Fleming appears in front of you, you’ll see a brown sign inviting you to turn left towards Dartmouth Castle. Take this turn, approaching slowly as it’s very sharp.
This road will take you downhill to the hamlet of Warfleet. You’ll pass a narrow lane, lined with parked cars to your right.
Turn right, going over the bridge and continue until you come to a fork. You can either keep to the left and continue going straight until you come to Dartmouth Castle and the adjacent car park, or turn right and drive uphill until you find an off-road parking space.
Parking at Dartmouth Castle
There is a small council-run car park next to Dartmouth Castle, which tends to fill up quickly. At the time of writing, it costs 90p per hour for the first four hours and £6 to park all day. Parking between 18:00 and 8:00 is free.
Most visitors park on Castle Road, either on the lower road, where parking is more limited, or on the higher road. If you park on the former, simply carry on until you reach the castle. If you park on the latter, you can either walk down the hill to the junction and turn right or carry on uphill until you see a flight of steps on your left which lead down to the castle.
If you don’t fancy the 15-to-20-minute walk from Dartmouth, why not take the passenger ferry from the South Embankment? Weather permitting, you can enjoy this beautiful 10-minute voyage every day between Easter and the end of November.
The ferry costs £2.50 each way (£1.50 for the under 14s) and you can even bring your dog for free.
The first boat leaves Dartmouth at 10.00 am (the first one returns at 10.15, but it’s unlikely you’ll have finished touring the castle by then!)
Coming from Dartmouth, you can follow the instructions to drivers above. It’s just over one mile from the town centre.
Being a gateway to the South West Coast Path, Dartmouth Castle makes an excellent destination for walkers. Leave from Blackpool Sands (4 miles) or Stoke Fleming (3-4 miles) for example, and follow the path to enjoy some amazing coastal views. There is also a car park at Little Dartmouth, run by the National Trust (£2 all day), which is a good place to start for a slightly shorter walk.
The Castle Tea Rooms
Recently taken over by new management, the Castle Tea Rooms serves delicious, freshly prepared breakfasts, snacks and light meals during the day, and during the summer it opens as a tapas restaurant in the evenings.
There are several outdoor tables at the Castle Tea Rooms, so you can continue to enjoy the fantastic views while you take the weight off your feet. The café is located outside of the Dartmouth Castle grounds, so you do not need to purchase a ticket in order to use it.
Our guide to Dartmouth Castle
Dartmouth Castle is one of a pair of forts both guarding the entrance to the River Dart, with Kingswear Castle being the other. The building of these two forts began after local merchants felt vulnerable of attack and wanted to protect their warehouses and cargo. The character of ‘Shipman’ in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was said to be inspired by the director of the operation to build this complex defence system.
Over the 600 years during which Dartmouth Castle has stood at the mouth of the River Dart, it has had an influence in some of Britain’s major battles and wars. Playing a part in the Civil War and the Second World War, Dartmouth Castle was in service right up to the mid-20th Century.
When in the castle, make especially sure to explore the Gun Tower. From there you can see where the harbour chain ran, as well as watch an animated guide to how it worked. Also popular are the dark and dingy passage in Dartmouth Point Battery, and the guns and cannons – always particularly loved by kids. As well as discovering the interior, make a point of looking out to the spectacular Estuary views – some of the most breathtaking in South Devon.
At the time of writing, admission for adults is priced at £6.80, £4.10 for children and £6.10 concessions (these prices include Gift Aid). A family ticket, for two adults and up to three children, costs £17.70, again with Gift Aid included.
Between 25th March and 30th September, Dartmouth Castle is open from 10 am to 6 pm, Monday to Sunday. For times outside of this period, please consult the castle’s website.
Staying in Dartmouth
Dartmouth Castle is an ideal place to visit for those interested in exploring our history, and there are many other historical attractions in and around Dartmouth to satisfy curious minds.
Consider a self-catering holiday in Dartmouth, choosing from over 120 holiday homes from Coast & Country Cottages.
Discover attractions which include:
- Dartmouth Museum
- the Dartmouth Steam Railway
- the Paddle Steamer
- the South Devon Steam Railway
- Greenway House (the former home of Dame Agatha Christie)
- Totnes Castle
- Overbecks House in Salcombe.