Dartmouth is the most charming little port town in south Devon – and inspiration to the wonderful Agatha Christie, no less. It sits rather primly on the end of the River Dart looking out to the English Channel in the direction of Guernsey. It’s charming, colourful and quaint – the ideal spot the for a few days spent at a snails pace – walking, eating fish and chips, boating and simply indulging in a little bit of exploration. Incidentally – the first Jack Russell Terrier‘s were bred by a local of Dartmouth – aww.
We arrived to Dartmouth via the excellent steam railway which links a few smaller towns to both Dartmouth and Paignton. The train is adorable. I believe we were aboard Monsieur Hercules – who just so happens to have been built in 1920 in Swindon. For those interested there’s a photograph of the engine here.
The town can easily be explored in a day if all you’re interested in is the castle and the atmosphere down by the water – which is what most, especially those staying nearby generally commit to, though we decided to rent a flat for a few days to properly get to grips with the town. It seems that arriving in style is what Dartmouth is all about – arrive first by steam train and relive a little pre-war elegance and then, when you’re settled, take a boat to the old jetty below the castle and ascend the ancient stone stairway to the castle’s insides…
We visited Dartmouth on what turned out to be some of the murkiest days ever spent in Devon – and so the boat rocked to and fro, the capped old man, complete with a west country accent, assured us it’ll all be fine as water splashed the sides and the dark clouds began to descend upon us – perhaps the Gods were angry – for our intentions were not all they seemed.
The castle is quite beautiful, its medieval facade facing off the entrance to the Dart Estuary, has provided protection to the town for some 600 years. However, much of what’s inside is rather sadly off limits, and to be honest much of the exhibits are simply film and other medias tracing the history of the castle – though there’s nothing stopping you from squeezing through the occasional window or door and doing a little bit of real exploration – which is what we chose to do as the castle was all but empty when we visited.
An Evening Rendezvous at The Castle
Having seen the castle and loved the views from the top of the battlement we discovered that the area around the castle was simply roads and trees – nothing much to see. Though within the castle grounds, one can access the very edge of the cliffs and peer out to the English Channel in all its glory. We decided that to truly appreciate it we should return at night (our anniversary nonetheless) and so we did just that.
Having made our way down narrow roads, and past near silent neighbourhoods, we came face to face with the castle – just as the sun was about to set, the castle looked intimidating and grand, and as our eyes met with shadows and these relics of the past – I couldn’t help but feel a hint of joy – a brief moment where one can enjoy the confines of such places without the noise of the crowds and enforced restrictions is few and far between. We scaled the rather meagre wall and made our way through the small castle grounds to the cliffs – and sat on the edge, a small bottle of wine on hand to help us soak up the atmosphere. It was simply stunning. We sat for an hour or two, watching the sunset and the last few boats follow the Dart back into town, before finally retracing our steps in literal darkness back to town.
The next few days in Dartmouth were spent exploring the surrounding countryside, taking boat trips to see the former home of the legendary Agathe Christie (as well as a few seals that popped their heads up from the depths of the river) and sampling the various offerings of locally caught fish and chips – try Rockfish down by the harbour or for something a little more traditional head up Victoria Road and acquaint yourself with the excellent Victoria Fish Bar for a little takeaway decadence. A true English adventure.