Walk - Kingswear and Brownstone Battery

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. Turning right out of the car park, bear right again a moment later to go under the arch by the slipway, carrying on up Alma Steps. On Beacon Road turn right
  2. Turn right onto the next road and take the wooden steps on the right, signed to Froward Point.

Dartmouth Castle, across the water, was built in 1388 by Dartmouth Mayor John Hawley, who was the inspiration for the 'Shipman' in Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales'. England and France had been locked in conflict in the Hundred Years' War over English claims to the French throne. At this time English kings had no navy to fight their cause, instead granting licences to privateers, giving them the authority to 'go to sea at their own expense to attack and destroy the king's enemies'. With an orderly and well-armed fleet at his disposal, John Hawley had led a number of lucrative raids on French ships and ports. However, in 1374 Edward III became concerned about the possibility of French reprisals on the Dart and ordered Hawley to build a castle at the mouth of the river. The mayor finally complied in 1388, building a 'fortalice' below the present site of Dartmouth's 'new castle', built a century later. The fortalice was completed in 1400 and later a chain was stretched across the water to Godmerock (Gommerock), below you through the trees on this part of the walk.

Henry VIII added open-air gun platforms in the sixteenth century, fearing attack from the French and Spanish, and it was further improved in the seventeenth century. During the English Civil War in the 1660s, it was besieged for a month during the before the Royalists captured it. They built an earthwork fort at Gallant's Bower, above it, and held it for another three years before the Roundheads recaptured it. It continued as a working fort through the nineteenth century, and the Gun Battery from that time remained in use throughout the First and Second World Wars.

Kingswear Castle, below you, was built after its partner fort and was not completed until 1502. Within fifty years it had been decommissioned and it fell into disrepair. In 1855 it was bought by Charles Seale Hayne, Liberal MP for Ashburton and the first Chairman of the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway, who refurbished it as a summer residence.

This stretch of the Coast Path is dedicated to the memory of Lt Col Herbert Jones, who lived locally. He was the commanding officer of 2 Battalion, Parachute Regiment, and was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his actions during the Battle of Goose Green in the Falklands War in 1982.

The building resembling a castle on Mill Bay Cove, a lime kiln, was built early in the nineteenth century to burn limestone for making fertiliser. The parapet and turret were added later, with battlements and the Gothic pointed-arch doorway, and the kiln converted to a boathouse and watermill.

  1. Just after Mill Bay Cove, turn right onto a private drive and climb the steps to the left into woodland. Follow the South West Coast Path above Newfoundland Cove to Brownstone Battery.

Tudor explorers John Davis and Humphrey Gilbert operated from the River Dart between 1578 and 1605. John Davis discovered the Falkland Islands, while Humphrey Gilbert colonised Newfoundland, leading to strong links between Dartmouth and the Canadian province. A fleet of up to 150 vessels sailed to the fishing grounds there at the start of each season, salting and drying the catch before bringing it back to Europe where it was exchanged for wine and other luxury goods.

To explore the battery, take the steep path downhill to the right, by the Coastwatch Lookout. At the first searchlight, post turn left, turn left again to follow the Coast Path acorn waymarkers. Leave the Coast Path shortly afterwards, taking the footpath to the left to climb back up to the Lookout.

Brownstone Battery was built in 1940 as a Close Defence Site, designed to stop enemy forces landing on nearby beaches at Slapton Sands or Blackpool Sands, and to destroy any beachhead the Germans might try and establish there. It was known that Hitler had formulated a plan, Operation Sealion, to invade Britain, and Brownstone Battery was an integral part of the defence against this land invasion. Dartmouth was seen as being particularly vulnerable to attack: as well as being an important port in its own right, it was frequently used by the navy and had a motor torpedo boat installation. It also had anti-submarine nets at the mouth of the estuary and a military boat repairing facility at Philips Shipyard at nearby Noss Creek.

The battery was manned by up to 300 soldiers and was one of several gun batteries placed strategically along the south coast. It was decommissioned in the late 1950s, and when the National Trust acquired the site in 1981, substantial work was undertaken to preserve its buildings, as one of the few batteries remaining intact from the Second World War.

The buildings on the site include an observation post, which was the main radio communication centre for the site, with range-finders to calculate the bearings of enemy ships before relaying the information by tannoy to the gunners in the two batteries. Each of these batteries was manned by a team of 13 and housed a six-inch ex-naval gun with a range of fourteen miles. Ammunition was transported to the lower gun position by means of a miniature railway, whose rails can still be seen on the hillside.

There were also two searchlights, each of which was manned by five men illuminating the sea in search of enemy ships. They were powered by generators housed in four generator stores, and there were general stores and workshops, and ammunition stores. There was also a Soldier's Mess, where the relief gun crew stayed while off-duty, and an Officers Mess, including a cookhouse, used for dining and administration. The remainder of the soldiers' accommodation was in Nissen huts, which have been removed.

Coleton Camp, above Higher Brownstone, was operated by the Royal Air Force as part of its RDF (or radar) chain, and it was also built in 1940, providing cover for Lyme Bay as well as Start Bay and the English Channel as a whole. Its exposed hilltop position gave it excellent 360-degree visibility.

  1. From the Coastwatch Lookout bear left on the track signed to Higher Brownstone, forking left after the Daymark Tower to take the green lane signed to Kingswear.

Although the Mewstone Rock, lying below you off Froward Point, is easily seen by ships approaching from the west, from the south it is less visible, and in 1864 the Dartmouth Harbour Commissioners built the Daymark tower to mark the harbour entrance. The hollow stone tower is 80 feet tall (25 metres) and is a Grade 2 listed building.

  1. At Brownstone turn left and follow the footpath through the farm and on past Crocker's Cottage. Bear left when the footpath joins a private road, bearing left again beyond. This brings you back to the outward route at 3, from where you follow the Coast Path waymarkers back to Kingswear, turning right to go down Alma Steps and past the bus shelter to return to the car park.

Nearby refreshments

Kingswear and Dartmouth.

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