Dartmouth in Devon is a little slice of heaven. It may have moved me to poetry but the place compels others to sell up their urban existences and decamp here, buying a boat and an expensive piece of real estate in the process. The town may be safe haven for yachties and well-off retirees, but it still has plenty of salt and sand to make it a wonderful place to visit. There’s a Naval College here looming over the town and the Dartmouth Regatta is one of Britain’s best-known. Here are five suggestions for how to spend a few days in and around Dartmouth.
1. Arrive in style
You don’t need a car to get here but most people have one. In fact, taking a train to Totnes and then a bus or even a boat is straightforward. If you do have your own wheels though there’s a better route than simply driving in a straight(ish) line from Totnes. Instead follow signs to Paignton, then Brixham, then Kingswear. This collection of grand houses and cottages hanging to the north bank of the Dart Estuary is connected to Dartmouth by two passenger boats: the Higher and Lower ferries. Both will take your car, but the lower ferry is cheaper and more frequent, plus has wonderful views of the town. Look for the ancient sign at the dock on the Kingswear side measuring distance in M, F and P. That Miles, Furlongs and Poles to you and me.
2. Tour the town
It won’t take long to explore Dartmouth itself. Apart from being an atmospheric place to stroll there’s only a few real sights. The remains of the quayside castle, the brooding St Saviour’s Church and a handful of old pubs are chief among them. If it’s a fine day and school out you should see some urchins lying face down by the harbour walls. In other towns they’d be drunken teenagers, but here they’re doing nothing more innocent than trying to catch a crab or two. Dartmouth is famed for it’s edible crustaceans: this is one town to forego the pasty and instead scoff some crab sandwiches.
3. Walk the coast path
The epic South-West Coast Path runs right through Dartmouth, and a superb day out is to start with a hearty breakfast at Al Fresco’s Cafe in town, then strike out for Dartmouth Castle, located at the entrance to the harbour. From here you can hug the coast or higher cliffs to Little Dartmouth, with fantastic views and all the fresh air you could possibly want. If you’re keen the paths goes on for hundreds of miles, but more logical places to pause are the village of Stoke Fleming, where the Green Dragon pub will serve you a pint and a bar meal, or Blackpool Sands (see below). You can bus back or return on foot, earning yourself a cream tea in the process which, unsurprisingly, Dartmouth does very well.
4. Take the train
Spend any time in Dartmouth between Easter and October and the splendid sight and noise of a 4-6-0 steam locomotive thundering along the opposite bank of the Dart will doubtless grab your attention. The Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway is a great way to see a bit more of the coast, and coming from Dartmouth trains tend to be emptier as most visitors come from Paignton. Once you get here you’ll probably realise why. bring a picnic, a bucket and spade and some change for the reassuringly retro seaside attractions here.
5. Blackpool, illuminating
The loveliest beach near Dartmouth is Blackpool Sands. Reached by the walk detailed above – though the last section is along the road and not as pleasant as the Little Dartmouth walk – or by car, it’s the perfect destination for a summers day. There’s a fee to park your car here. Several great things about Blackpool Sands: the cafe is good and just the place for a Sunday morning fry-up and newspaper session and the beach is wide with golden sands, though it isn’t sandcastle material. As well as swimming there are kayaks for hire and you can try other watersports here too. any remaining cobwebs will admit defeat as soon as you arrive.