Walk - 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 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Start this walk from Coronation Park which can be found near the Dartmouth Higher Ferry on North Embankment. Facing the river, turn right.
Coronation Park was created from land filled in to build the North Embankment in 1937. Until then there were shipyards here on the edge of an area known as Coombe Mud, and a warehouse with hooks for unloading cargoes can still be seen on Mayor's Avenue, reclaimed at the same time.
- At the end of Coronation Park follow the North Embankment past the Boat Float.
In 1885 the North and South Embankments were created in response to the need for a harbour capable of taking ships at low water. There was a strong protest from shipbuilders with businesses along Mayor's Avenue, which was cut off from the river as a result. New Quay, also cut off, was given access to the water via a passage under the embankment, creating the Boat Float.
- Keep going as the path becomes the South Embankment and continue to the end, turning right here through Cole's Court.
The earliest rowboat ferry across the river was replaced in 1834 by the horse ferry, which had a capacity of two horses and carts. This operated from the same part of Dartmouth as the Lower Ferry does today. To the left as you turn right onto Lower Street is Agincourt House, built in the fourteenth century.
- Turn left down Lower Street and carry on beside the river to Bayard's Cove Fort.
The castle and quay at Bayard's Cove date from the sixteenth century and have featured as the location for many films as well as the 'Onedin Line' TV series. The Pilgrim Fathers paused here in 1620 on their way from Southampton to the New World. Five centuries before, the English fleet had left from here for the crusades. There was also a lot of military transport between Dartmouth and France until the loss of Aquitaine in 1453, and in the fourteenth century, it was the fourth richest port in Devon. In 1347 it supplied 760 men and 30 ships to the siege of Calais, making it the third largest contributing port in the country.
At this time there were a number of raids on French ships and ports, led by John Hawley (fourteen times Mayor of Dartmouth, and the man who inspired Chaucer's 'Shipman' in the Canterbury Tales). This resulted in the town becoming an object of French retaliation. As Hawley’s raids were often with royal consent, Edward III became concerned about this and in 1374 ordered Hawley to build a castle at the mouth of the river. After a French attack in 1377, Hawley complied, building a 'fortalice' between 1388 and 1400, later stringing a chain between here and Godmerock, across the river.
Later noteworthy sailings from here included twelve ships joining the fight against the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Pilgrim Fathers, departed in the Mayflower & Speedwell in August 1620, bound for New England.
- From the old castle climb the steps and turn left onto Southtown. Follow the path which has now since the Lower Ferry become the South West Coast Path. At Warfleet Road 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 on Castle Road. Turn left and follow the road 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.
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 the aforementioned John Hawley. 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'.
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 and cod fishing. With their holds loaded with cod, the traders came home via Europe. They stopped off in the Catholic countries of Spain, Portugal and Italy whose religion required them to eat fish on Fridays. Here they exchanged the cod for wine, oranges and dried fruit, which they then brought home to Dartmouth.
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 banknotes 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'.
- At Warfleet Cove you will meet up with the road leading back into Dartmouth. Retrace your steps from here back to Coronation Park.
Dartmouth and Dartmouth Castle