Walk - Little Dartmouth and Dartmouth Castle
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the National Trust Redlap Car Park at Little Dartmouth, pick up the South West Coast Path and head downhill with it towards the coast at Warren Point. Turn east here with the Coast Path and follow it around the point and on to Willow Cove.
- Ignoring the path leading inland from your left, carry on around the coast, past Compass Cove and Blackstone Point, Ladies Cove and Deadmans Cove, until you come to Castle Road.
- Turn right onto the Coast Path here and follow it to Dartmouth Castle.
The River Dart has been of great strategic importance since the 12th century, and there are a number of fascinating fortifications on both sides of the river. The 15th-century Dartmouth Castle is just one of four defences built on the site to defend the river, a significant port since the 12th century, when the Normans realised its maritime value and used it as the assembly point for the European fleets leaving for the second and third crusades. Later noteworthy sailings from here included twelve ships joining the fight against the Spanish Armada in 1588, and the Pilgrim Fathers, departing in the Mayflower & Speedwell in August 1620, bound for New England.
Above the car park area at the castle you can see the curtain wall and tower, all that remains of the 14th-century fort built by John Hawley (fourteen times Mayor of Dartmouth, and the man who inspired Chaucer's 'Shipman' in the Canterbury Tales). Immediately below the car park, to the south, is the World War II gun shelter. To the east is the site of the 19th-century coastal defence battery, while above it is St Lawrence's Tower, a Napoleonic lookout.
Also built into the complex is St Petrox Church, established as a monk's cell in 894; while across the river is Gommerock, also built during Edward IV's reign to accommodate the chain which was strung across the water from Dartmouth to Kingswear in times of crisis.
- From the castle carry on along the river, past One Gun Point, to Warfleet Cove.
Warfleet was once a separate parish from Dartmouth, and was an important place for both industry and shipping. Its name comes from the original Saxon 'Welflut', meaning 'Well by the Stream'.
There are several lime kilns around the cove. Until the 19th century limestone and coal were brought here in sailing barges and burnt in layers in the lime kilns to produce lime, which was used as a fertiliser for the soil.
At one time there was a paper mill here, built in 1819, with the largest waterwheel west of Bristol. It made high-quality paper, on which Dartmouth bank notes were printed. After this it was used as a flour mill and a brewery, until after World War II, when it produced detergent and then pottery. In the 1950s and 60s Dartmouth Pottery employed more than 200 people, and its wares included the famous 'gurgling fish jugs'.
From the 13th century Dartmouth was involved in the French wine trade, dealing in Bordeaux wines in particular (in fact John Hawley made his fortune this way, importing wine). All this came to an end when the English were thrown out of France in 1453.
In the 16th century, the merchants turned their attention to Newfoundland instead, where cod fishing had taken off in a big way. With their holds loaded with cod, the traders came home via Europe, stopping off in the Catholic countries of Spain, Portugal and Italy – where their religion required them to eat fish on Fridays – to exchange it for wine, oranges and dried fruit, which they then brought home to Dartmouth.
- From here take the path to Gallants Bower.
Gallant's Bower was constructed by the Royalists between 1643 and 1645 to defend Dartmouth and its castle from attack by the Parliamentarians. A second Civil War fort was built across the river at the same time, at Mount Ridley. Gallant's Bower was besieged in January 1646, and the Royalists capitulated.
- From Gallants Bower follow the footpath through the woods until it drops you back on Castle Road.
- Turn right and follow the lane past Little Dartmouth and back to the car park at the start of the walk.
Numerous cafes and pubs in Dartmouth. Café at Dartmouth Castle.