Dartmouth – the Jewel of the South Hams
A mile upriver from Kingswear is the Greenway. First recorded in 1493, ‘Greynway’ is the crossing point of the River Dart to Dittisham. The estate has been owned by explorers, merchants and Agatha Christie. The house, gardens, woodland and river frontage were given to the National Trust. In 2002 the Gardens overlooking the Dart were opened to the public for the first time. Species include rhododendron, camelias, magnolias, and azaleas as well as a profusion of wildflowers, in spring particularly bluebells. Some consider Greenway the "most beautiful garden in Britain". It is open from March to Sept. In the meantime also the house has been opened to the public. It is a treasure for all lovers of Agatha Christie. Coleton Fishacre a few miles along the coast from Brixham is this real gem of a gentlemen's residence with a real sun trap of a garden sloping down to a small private cove.
Driving along the coast from Hope Cove to Dartmouth takes you along one of the most scenic routes of the South West. Pass through chocolate-box villages like Slapton, or Stokeham with its many thatched cottages and village green. Other highlights en route are the extraordinary freshwater lagoon at Slapton, separated from the sea by a seemingly endless curving shingle beach, or Blackpool Sands, a golden sun-trap with a woodland back-drop.
The ancient town and deepwater port of Dartmouth is set in a picture book location on the River Dart, with steep wooded hillsides on either side. Dartmouth's main Embankment runs along the length of the town, from the New Quay - built on reclaimed land towards the historic Bayard's Cove which featured regularly in the Television series The Onedine Line. The main road never reaches down into Dartmouth, protecting the character of the town and helping to retain the historic atmosphere of Dartmouth's narrow streets and buildings.
From the early 20th century the town began to benefit from the growth in the tourist industry. People came by railway, the higher ferry was introduced into service, and visitors enjoyed trips on steamers along the Dart. During the Second World War American troops took over the Naval College and made it their base for planning the D-Day rehearsals. The countryside inland from Slapton was evacuated to enable practice attacks on the nearby beaches and the river filled with landing ships. On 4th June 1944 a fleet of 480 landing ships, carrying nearly half a million men, left for Utah beach.
Since the war some of the town's oldest industries have vanished. Shipbuilding lasted until the 1970's, but has now stopped. Crab fishing still flourishes, but there are few commercial ships. Today, most of the local economy relies on the thriving tourism industry, with a heavy emphasis on yachting and the sea. The town also offers the visitor a stunning array of bistros, restaurants, boutiques and specialist shops. Don’t miss Simon Drew’s!
The Embankment provides visitors with a pleasant and relaxing promenade to stroll down - admiring the sights of the busy estuary or to select from the many boat trips that depart from the waters edge.
Dartmouth's oldest building, The Cherub Pub (c1380), in Higher Street, and Agincourt House at Lower Ferry, are both examples of 14th century buildings that have survived in the town. The Butterwalk, with its timber framed arcade was built in 1635-40. This impressive façade was damaged by bombs during 1943, but it has now been fully restored. Well worth a visit is also the parish church of St. Saviour boasting numerous art treasures. High above the town is the imposing Britannia Royal Naval College, training officers since 1905.
Two impressive castles have maintained a guard at the mouth of the River Dart for centuries. Dartmouth Castle, built in 1481 and managed by English Heritage, features many state-of-the-art defences. It was the first castle in the country to be constructed specifically for artillery. Dartmouth Castle along with Kingswear Castle, on the opposite bank of the river, afforded this deep water anchorage even greater protection by having a heavy chain strung between them in times of war - protecting the ships at anchor and the homes and warehouses of Dartmouth's merchant community.
From Kingswear on the opposite side of the River Dart you may take the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway with superb views of the Coast or take a pleasure boat cruise up and down the tranquil River Dart to Totnes, trips run all year.