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Dartmouth Museum is a Registered Museum. In 2004 the scheme was changed to Accreditation, so it is an Accredited Museum.
Dartmouth Museum is delighted to be supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund


So many things to do in and around Dartmouth

"I don't want to go to a museum!"

How many grown ups say that, let alone kids?

Pretty obviously we think they're missing out on something, a great big something, but we know that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. Though we also know that, if you put enough salt in its mouth, the horse drinks! Our website is the salt, so come and drink.

This page isn't a complete directory of things to do in Dartmouth or near Dartmouth, it just contains some things we think you might like to do as well as visiting the museum. We've loads for the whole family in the museum. Ok, we tried!

We're grouping things loosely into headings in a higgledy piggledy kind of way:

If you click any of them they go to their main heading on this page.

Historical

Bayards Cove Fort

Another English Heritage site, Bayards Cove Fort is a small Tudor artillery fort guarding Dartmouth's inner harbour, picturesquely sited on the quayside. It's empty and roofless today, but you can imagine guarding the town as the last bastion of defence against invaders from France or Spain. Allow about 20 minutes from the Museum for the stroll, described in the Walking section, longer if you dally, or allow 10 minutes if you don't take the small diversion up Smith Street to see other interesting sights.

Compass Cove

Nothing remains today except a secluded beach with steep access, but Compass Cove was the site of a telegraph cable terminus where, in 1884, the first UK telegraph cable was deployed to Guernsey. The steep access makes the whole enterprise seem very difficult. More information is found on the National Trust walks leaflet, which also describes how to get there. Access is not recommended for those who dislike heights, steep paths and steps, or with health conditions restricting mobility. The beach is not patrolled by lifeguards and is very secluded.

A good route is from Dartmouth Castle, following the signs for the Coast Path heading west. Allow 20 minutes from Dartmouth Castle. This reverses the route on the NT leaflet somewhat.

Brixham Battery

A historical site dating back to 1586. Full details here. There's a lot to see on the 14 acre site.

Brixham Heritage Museum

Brixham Museum & History Society was founded in December 1957 to record, preserve and promote the story of the historic town of Brixham and its people. In 1999, the members voted to change the Society name to include the word 'Heritage'.

The Brixham Heritage Museum takes a lead role in Brixham Heritage Week, providing a wide range of events in the town for residents and holiday-makers every May half-term. It organises a regular public talk series, and staff go out to speak to organisations on a range of historical topics. [Taken from Brixham Heritage Museum's web site]

Brownstone Battery

The Second World War Brownstone Battery is at Inner Froward Point (not a typing error), and the Battery Observation Point is the home of the National Coastwatch Institution station, where you will be a welcome visitor during opening hours. Access is either via the Coast Path from Kingswear, or from the Brownstone car park. Either requires a walk, though vehicle enabled visits for disabled visitors may sometimes be arranged by calling the NCI station during operational hours. The number is on its web site, and advance booking is essential. Allow an hour's walk with significant hills from Kingswear, or 20 minutes from, 30 minutes back to the Brownstone National Trust car park

The site is a heritage site under the ownership of the National Trust since 1982, bought as part of the Neptune Coastline Campaign.

The battery consists of several preserved buildings, the Battery Observation Point, two gun emplacements complete with railed ammunition delivery system, and two searchlight posts, all mounted on the steeply sloping cliffs of Inner Froward Point. The battery not only defended Dartmouth, its guns could deliver effective fire onto Slapton Sands in the event of invasion. It was never used in anger.

From the battery you can see the Mew Stone. With good binoculars and at low tide you can sometimes see Atlantic Grey Seals hauled out to relax. This is the most northerly haul out point for this species. It's fun that their Latin name of Halichoerus grypus, means 'hooked-nosed sea pig'. The NCI will let you use their telescopes for an even better view provided they are not involved in a coastal incident at the time.

Britannia Royal Naval College

A striking and imposing building designed by Aston Webb, built by Higgs and Hill, the Britannia Royal Naval College is the home of training of not just the United Kingdom Royal Navy's officers, but of officers from selected other navies around the world.

The college allows the public in as part of a fully escorted guided tour, bookable from the Dartmouth Tourist Information Centre. Booking details are on the college's web site

Dartmouth Castle

Under the care of English Heritage, Dartmouth Castle guards the entrance to Dartmouth Harbour. You can see exactly how old muzzle loading cannons were used to aim at ships that would have attacked.

The castle was started in 1388 by John Hawley and was used in World War 2.

It's a pleasant walk to reach the castle, leaving town via the old waterfront in Bayards Cove, and, if you like, walking through Bayards Cove Fort, and up the steep steps on the other side, then out along South Town to Warfleet Creek, past the old lime kilns were a young lad, Henry Avis, aged 12, fell asleep and tumbled in to be burned to death, and out along Castle Road to the castle itself. Allow about 25 minutes from the Museum for the walk, or take the Castle Ferry from the South Embankment there, or back from the landing by St Petrox Church, or both!

A Sad Death at the Limekilns.

The limekilns were still in use until nearly the end of the century [19th, ed], but gradually chemical fertiliser replaced lime on the farms. One sad story shows that the kilns were still burning in 1880. Henry Avis, aged 12, was burnt to death at the kilns by accidentally falling asleep on the edge and rolling in. It was said at the inquest that he was a lonely boy who lived with his grandfather at the "Baths near the Castle." He often stayed out at night till late, so his grandfather did not start to look for him and he was not found until the following morning

Thomas Newcomen Engine

Thomas Newcomen was the first to harness the power of steam with his invention of the Atmospheric Steam Engine. And Thomas Newcomen was a son of Dartmouth. His invention, a huge leap forward then, and woefully inefficient after the invention of high pressure steam engines, led to the rapid expansion of the mining industry. The engine houses of almost all Cornish tin mines houses newcomen pumping engines.

There is an example of a Newcomen Engine in the Tourist Information Centre, housed in its own small museum.

Totnes Elizabethan House Museum

Totnes Elizabethan House Museum is a treat and a joy. It's pretty much halfway up the main street, Fore Street, and near the arch. Several floors with varied collections repay the time spent. We suggest you plan a morning there, followed by lunch, or lunch followed by an afternoon. They have collections from 5,000BCE to today.

How to get to Totnes? Well, you could drive, but why not plan to use a riverboat excursion?

Walking

A view of Dartmouth from Kingswear

This is a lovely circular walk using the Lower Ferry and the Higher Ferry. Our favourite direction is clockwise, starting from either the Museum doorway, or from the band stand in Royal Avenue Gardens. Allow 90 minutes for a leisurely stroll and waiting for ferries.

From the inshore entrance to Royal Avenue Gardens, walk towards the river. As you enter Royal Avenue Gardens notice the fountain, usually running in Summer, and, to the left, the statue of the two fisher boys. Notice, too, the memorial to Theodore Veale VC on your left before the bandstand. At the water's edge, turn left, up river. There's a good, clean public toilet on your left. Stroll up river, staying on the embankment. After the blocks of flats on your left Coronation Park opens up with a view across to the Grade II listed terrace of cottages, once Coombe Terrace, now Coombe Road, built in the 1860s by Samuel Lake using a new technique, that of poured shuttered concrete. A normal construction method today, these are probably the first such terrace in the country. The technique was experimental, but obviously well done. After all, they still stand today!

Wait safely for the Higher Ferry, standing clear of the cables which may move suddenly. Cross the river and take the path on the river side of the railway. In summer you get a superb view of the steam engines from this path. Head down river towards Kingswear. The view changes and it's easier to see how Dartmouth developed, first from a settlement at the top of the hill in Townstal, and then to the town by the river, a great deal of which is built on reclaimed land. A quick search of the Museum's Picture Archives will show you just how industrial the town was even in recent times. If the tide is out you'll see remnants of many wooden piles in the river mud. What were these for? That's another good reason to consult the archives.

As you reach Kingswear you come to a level crossing in the midst of the marina complex. Follow the footway signs (painted on the ground) with care. They are there for your safety. The path leads you up an iron bridge over the railway. Time it right and you can be enveloped in steam from an engine passing underneath! Those who cannot manage steps should ask marina staff about a safe route through the boatyard.

The bridge leads you to 'the banjo', a turning circle for buses. Beneath you was once coal storage, arriving by rail, ready for bunkering ships. That picture archive's needed again here, or a great imagination. How large was the railway siding complex here?

Head downhill to the choice of ferries. There are good public toilets at the foot of the hill. A personal preference is to be a foot passenger on the Lower Ferry, not because we have anything at all against the Passenger Ferry, especially in wet weather, but because there's something romantic about standing on the car float and watching the tug do its work. Please do obey the signs for safe use of the ferry. The Royal Dart Hotel between the ferries played a vital role in the Second World War. It was called HMS Cicala then. Pop inside to look. You'll also find useful booklets in the museum shop.

As you cross the river, take a look out to sea. Even a landlubber can start to understand why Dartmouth is such a good harbour. Think of the boldness of those who built houses clinging onto the steep cliffs on each side of the river, and marvel that there is almost nowhere left to build, assuming more building would ever be allowed!

Wend your way back, now, to your starting point. Some choose to walk through the town, others head for the embankment. Those who do the latter will see, if they stand by the captured Russian cannon, a blue plaque to Mr Davies. Following that route the Harbour Office has another blue plaque dedicated to Mr Lake of the concrete cottages fame. That plaque's not quite right, is it. Did you spot the error? Will we tell the Dartmouth and Kingswear Society, or will you?

For this walk you need normal footwear, though in wet weather the path by the railway can be slightly muddy. That path is passable by pushchairs. You will need money for each ferry Those using mobility scooters or similar wheeled transport should make their own enquiries about this path and make an informed choice because the Museum is unable to provide advice.

The walk is mostly level with steps up to a bridge over the railway. With permission from the marina staff the bridge can be avoided.

Bayards Cove

The Bayards Cove Fort, described in the history section, is not the only reason for taking the short stroll to Bayards Cove. The quayside there is beautiful in its own right. It used to be the seaward limit of the town itself, hence, if you like, the fort at the southernmost edge of the town.

Pretty as a picture, and probably best seen from the water, Bayards Cove was used in the BBC period drama The Onedin Line, to represent the wharves and buildings of Liverpool Docks. Remember, though, that this pretty scene was a hive of industry, with ships loading and unloading and the minutiae of daily hard working life unfolding. Men were injured and died here, just doing their work. Dartmouth was a busy, hectic, port. Perhaps that's why one of the buildings used to be The Cottage Hospital? Come back to the Museum and check the Picture Archive and other records to find out.

Start at the museum door, and head straight ahead leaving The Boat Float to your left and the historic Royal Castle Hotel, said to be haunted by a ghostly coach and horses, to your right, and walk straight ahead along Fairfax Place. The road narrows ahead, in 2011, where the site of the awful fire that all but totally destroyed what many people think of as the heart of Dartmouth in May 2010. A short diversion to the right up Smith Street leaving the hoardings surrounding the fire site on your left takes you up a short hill.

You've come up this hill to see both the site of the town stocks, now on display in the Holdsworth Room, where they were situated pretty much outside the quaint, crooked building where The Singing Kettle is today. Turn left, here, and look up and to your left at the fire gutted Merchant's House that was a busy Thai restaurant until an electrical fire destroyed the entire block. It destroyed 16 or so homes and half a dozen businesses, racing through the tinder dry timber framed structures. As this section is written planning consents are well in hand to restore what can be restored.

As you go past the fire site to can either return to sea level, where you need to be, by the steps just before the Cherub, another ancient Merchants house and today a busy and atmospheric pub and restaurant, and with a spiral stairway built around an old ship's mast in the same way the Dartmouth Museum stairs are built, or, leave the Cherub to your left, staying at this height for 50 metres or so when you will takes a 180 degree turn left, to return to sea level by The Harbour Bookshop, founded by Christopher Robin Milne. The problem is it closed at the end of 2011 and we don; tknow what it's going to be in 2012. You'll work it out.You will now meet the rest of your party, who went down the steps. You are turning right, another 180 degree turn.

Those of you who went down the steps should turn right at the foot to meet the rest of their party by the Harbour Bookshop. You're going to walk straight ahead, staying at sea level. What trade did those art galleries, shops and antique dealers ply in old Dartmouth? Which buildings were there, which were not? Again you need the Picture Archive in the Museum.

As the street widens and narrows and then widens again you pass the slipway to the Lower Ferry on your left. Do take care with the sporadic traffic here, and pass through the narrow street to Bayards Cove itself. As the vista opens up, don't miss the plaque on the sea wall that tells of The Pilgrim Fathers and The Mayflower. They put in to Dartmouth for repairs.

Watch your step on the cobbles. These stones are true cobblestones, not the rectangular setts so often referred to as cobbles. The surface is even but can trip the unwary.

Walk on down the quayside, picturing ships being loaded and unloaded, the men working at high speed to make the most of the tides. Time was money then, too, and missing a tide was costly. You pass the old Custom House which looks, somehow, just as one expects a Custom House to look. Look out for the barometer, wall mounted, on your right, about half way along the quay. Was it always there? A picture hanging in Coleton Fishacre says not. It shows a subtly different location.

High spring tides lap over the top of the quay. The historic houses here are in danger of flooding if a storm surge coincides with the top of the highest spring tide. Can you see their built in flood defences?

Stroll onward to Bayards Cove Fort, where musical and theatrical events happen from time to time, and most certainly during the Dartmouth Music Festival.

To return, either retrace your steps, or walk right through the fort and up the steep steps on the other side, and then down the hill into the town. Or walk further and head for Dartmouth Castle. Whatever you choose the Museum has the resources to answer the questions you find along the way, so make sure you visit, and ask one of the volunteer stewards how to find out the answers.

Dartmouth Castle

The route to Dartmouth Castle is described in the history section. Visiting the castle itself is free to members of English Heritage.

The Henley Trail

The Henley Trail is a self guided walking tour of ten places of interest in Dartmouth based around the life and work of William Cumming Henley, Dartmouth's ironmonger who was also a self taught scientist, artist, poet, and writer. Full details are here, on The Henley Trail page. William Henley was born on 6 January 1860 in what was then called Croters Hill in Dartmouth and died on 6 November 1919. Much of Dartmouth is very similar today to the way it was when Henley was alive, and the walking tour is a fascinating insight into the old town.

By Car

Brixham Battery

Even if you are not interested in pure military history, Brixham Battery is a worthwhile destination. Yes, there were guns, yes, it's to do with war, but the personal stories that come alive when you visit the museum put everythng into perspective. We never knew about the Corbyn Head Tragedy until we visited them.

We know they won't mind our extracting a snippet from their site.

Battery Gardens is one of Brixham's environmental and historic assests, rich in panoramic views, scenic beauty and a traditional observation point for Brixham trawler races, both past and present.

The 14 acre site of Battery Gardens was first used as a battery in 1586 during the war between England and Spain. The Battery was not permanently armed but was certainly 'active' throughout the American War of Independence during the 1780's and the Napoleonic War against France during the 1800's. The Battery was also used by the Coast Guard for gunnery training during the 1870's.

All the can be seen today was built from June - September 1940 immediately following the defeat and evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk after the fall of France.

Of the 116 Emergency Batteries built in 1940 from John O'Groats to Kent, to Lands End, and to South Wales only 7 remain. Of these Brixham battery is the most complete. English Heritage had surveyed the whole site and it is now a scheduled monument.

Check opening times before you head there.

Brixham Heritage Museum

Obviously you need to get to Brixham to visit the museum. Now, parking there is marginally better than in Dartmouth, so you need transport to get there. The local bus leaves from The Banjo across the river in Kingswear or you can adjourn to Brixham by car. The museum's described just up there under 'History'.

Coleton Fishacre

After checking the opening times for Coleton Fishacre, and even after realising that it's a great walk along the coast path from Dartmouth, most folk choose to go by car. This is a great chance to check the picture of a barometer in Bayards Cove, if you can find it in the house!

The National Trust extols the virtues of Coleton Fishacre well. Whatever the time of year the garden presents an ever changing and wonderful picture, and the house is a delight, built by the D'Oyly Carte family as their retreat in Devon. BuT take the time, in the nesting season, to walk to the bottom of the garden and out of the gate onto the coast path. Bear right and, using binoculars, see if you can spot the nesting Peregrine Falcons on the cliff top to the west. It's the extra things that make a visit like this special, and this is one of them.

There's often a keen bird watcher there. Engage him in conversation and he'll help you to find the birds.

Back in the house, join the discussions over the size of the trees and shrubs in the garden. That something is magnificent is one thing. Is it right that it should be the size it is? Different folk have different opinions, so let the National Trust know yours. Should there be a sea view or a tree view? What do you think the D'Oyly Cartes would have done?

Did they walk down to the sea to bathe, or was there a servant with a pony and trap to ferry them up through the gardens back to the house? And would you have liked to be the servant to bring them tea on the beach? They were pretty fit in those not too far distant days

From the garden you can see the Mew Stone. With good binoculars and at low tide you can sometimes see Atlantic Grey Seals hauled out to relax. This is the most northerly haul out point for this species. It's fun that their Latin name of Halichoerus Grypus, means 'hooked-nosed sea pig'. You can also see these creatures from Brownstone Battery. There the NCI will let you use their telescopes for an even better view unless they are involved in a coastal incident at the time.

Slapton Sands - Exercise Tiger

Slapton Sands is the site of the D Day Landing Rehearsals, and the site of the ill fated Exercise Tiger, also known as Operation Tiger. With car parking at a premium in Dartmouth it seems almost a shame to unpark your car. Even so, gird up your loins and get installed in your vehicle and head along the coast road through Stoke Fleming and Strete, and down the hill to Slapton Sands.

About half way is the official US Memorial to those who died. Stop and walk the short distance to the memorial and consider, as you look around you, that the entire area was cleared of civilians during the second world war in order to form the practice ground for the D Day invasion. At the end of the hostilities the people were allowed home again. Civilians received compensation for any damage, but businesses received nothing at all.

Slapton Ley, behind the beach, is a large fresh water lake and wildlife reserve. Is it above sea level, or is that an optical illusion. Surveyors know, of course, but what do you think when you look at it?

Further along, at the Torcross end of the beach, there is a Sherman Tank set up as a memorial after being salvaged from the sea bed by Ken Small, a local man. It took part in the rehearsals, but was lost at sea.

The Museum holds archive pictures from Exercise Tiger and from the evacuation of the area. A new video is in preparation (August 2011) for the Holdsworth Room showing actual footage from the rehearsals.

Totnes Elizabethan House Museum

We have really good friends in the Totnes Elizabethan House Museum. It's a lovely museum, but you're going to need to leave Dartmouth to get there. And then you need to park the car again. We think a great way to visit it is to use a riverboat.

Trips and excursions

Brixham Battery

A historical site dating back to 1586. Full details here. There's a lot to see on the 14 acre site.

Castle Ferry

A small 12 passenger open boat ferry service, the Castle Ferry, runs in the Summer between the South Embankment and Dartmouth Castle. Ask the ferryman nicely and he'll tell you about the buildings you pass on the way. If it's safe for him to do so he'll sometimes alter course to get a little closer to the places that interest you, but do remember that you're probably not the only passenger, so don't hog it!

Private skippered boat charter

We can recommend a local boat which charters out to small private parties, both for the Dart and to go to sea. The skipper promises that you will see a mermaid at the very least, and may see much more, though obviousy not more mermaids. A view of Slapton Sands from the sea while Exercise Tiger, the world war 2 disaster which concuded there, is described by a knowledgeable local chap is wholly congruent with the museum's objectives.

Dartmouth Riverboats & the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway

Far too much to describe here, the railway is a museum all by itself. It's a heritage railway operated to professional standards by a team of happy enthusiasts.

The river boat side and the railway are served by a comprehensive web site. Recently the boat services have started to run a winter service on selected weekdays.

Why not use the river to visit the Totnes Elizabethan House Museum? It makes a great excursion from Dartmouth, it's the excuse you need, if you needed one, to take a river trip which is a delight in itself, and its a wonderful focus for a visit to Totnes.

Greenway

Greenway is Agatha Christie's Summer home opposite Dittisham, on the banks of the Dart. Its a small museum in its own right, and it makes a great excursion from Dartmouth. Even better than that you have to book parking in advance so most folk prefer to take the Greenway Ferry from Dartmouth and combine a river trip with a visit to an excellent National Trust property and garden. In the Bluebell season the walk from Dartmouth or Kingswear is lovely, too, but it's a stiffish 4 mile stamp.

Greenway Ferry

As well as running trips to the eponymous Greenway (Agatha Christie and all that), Greenway Ferry runs the historic Fairmile launch named, today, The Fairmile. It runs trips on a regular basis to run along Slapton Sands to let you see where Exercise Tiger was practicing invading France.

There are other trips and excursions available as well. Lots of them. They say they are the largest pleasure boat operator in Torbay on their website. Well, they don't operate the boats on their website, obviously, that'd be silly.

 

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