Walk - Little Dartmouth & St Petrox
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 bottom of the National Trust Redlap Car Park at Little Dartmouth, follow the fingerpost to pick up the South West Coast Path. Head downhill with it along the edge of several fields to the coast at Warren Point. The path heads left and left again as it rounds the point.
In the nineteenth century rabbits were bred for meat and fur in large burrows on Warren Point, giving it its name (see the Salcombe & Soar Mill Cove Walk).
- Above Willow Cove a path to your left heads up to the road. Ignore this, forking right instead to continue to Compass Cove. At the back of the cove the path descends steeply towards the shoreline and then rounds Blackstone Point. Carry on around Ladies Cove and Deadmans Cove beyond to arrive at Castle Road above Sugary Cove, at the very mouth of the River Dart.
The cliffs in this area are managed by the National Trust. Their coastal grasslands provide a valuable habitat for small birds such as linnets, whitethroats, yellowhammers, stonechats and the nationally rare cirl bunting. Look out for seals on the rocks below.
In Compass Cove are the remains of an old cable house, part of an early communication system that transmitting electric signals through wires to send messages. In 1860 an undersea cable was laid from here to Guernsey and in 1877 another was run from the hut to Jersey. During the Second World War the hut was converted to a pill box. Later Trans-Atlantic communications were established here, with the cable running underground to a repeater station in an old coach house.
- Turn right to keep following the Coast Path waymarkers, through the trees above Sugary Cove and on to Dartmouth Castle. From the castle continue along the Coast Path around Castle Point and One Gun Point, to Warfleet Cove.
The 15th-century Dartmouth Castle is just one of four defences built on the site to defend the river. Dartmouth has been 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 (see the Dartmouth Castle & Gallants Bower Walk). Twelve ships sailed from here to join the fight against the Spanish Armada in 1588, and the Pilgrim Fathers paused en route from Southampton to New England in 1620.
A deed drawn up in 1192 (when Richard the Lionheart was on crusade) referred to 'all the land of Dertmeta which is above the Wyke and between the monastery of St Peter and the land of Stoke.' The area referred to has been identified as Little Dartmouth, and historians assume that the 'monastery of St Peter' was the religious settlement with St Petrox at its heart.
Thanks to southwest England's maritime links with the Mediterranean and northwest France, Christianity arrived here much earlier than the rest of the country. When the paganism of Anglo-Saxon invaders threatened to overwhelm the peninsula's religion after the Romans left, there was a rush of Celtic missionaries landing around the coastline, who established hermitages above the sea. These very early primitive chapels usually kept a light burning to warn sailors of rocks below, as did St Petrox chapel at the mouth of the Dart in AD 894.
The chapel was thought to have fallen into disuse by the beginning of the fourteenth century, but in 1438 a 40-day 'indulgence' was granted by Bishop Lacy for 'building, maintaining and repairing the parochial chapel with cure of St Petrox.' (see Dartmouth Parish for more detail).
Warfleet was once a separate parish from Dartmouth. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was an important centre for trade and the scene of several industries. The lime kilns still visible around the cove produced fertiliser, while the 1819 paper mill became a flour mill and then a brewery (see the Dartmouth Castle & Gallants Bower Walk).
- From Warfleet Cove take the path to Gallants Bower.
Gallant's Bower was constructed during the English Civil War to defend Dartmouth and its castle from attack by the Parliamentarians. In January 1646 Cromwell's men took it after a long siege.
- 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.