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The Busy Port of Dartmouth and a Spectacular Castle

An easy round along the cliffs to Blackstone Point and Dartmouth Castle - and a ferry ride to the pub.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 115ft (35m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Easy coastal footpath and green lanes

Landscape Farmland, cliff tops and river estuary

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 20 South Devon

Start/finish SX 874491

Dog friendliness Possibility of livestock in some fields

Parking National Trust car parks at Little Dartmouth

Public toilets Dartmouth Castle

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1 The car parks at Little Dartmouth are signposted off the B3205 (from the A379 Dartmouth-to-Stoke Fleming road). Go through the right-hand car park, following the signs 'Coast Path Dartmouth'. Continue through a kissing gate, keeping the hedge to your right. Walk through the next field, then through a kissing gate to join the coast path.

2 Turn left; there are lovely views here west to Start Point and east towards the Day Beacon above Kingswear. The coast path runs a little inland from the cliff edge, but you can always go straight ahead to walk above Warren Point (a plaque reveals that the Devon Federation of Women's Institutes gave this land to the National Trust in 1970).

3 Continue left to pass above Western Combe Cove (with steps down to the sea) and then Combe Point (take care - it's a long drop to the sea from here).

4 Rejoin the coast path through an open gateway in a wall and follow it above Shinglehill Cove. The path turns inland, passes through a gate, becomes narrow and a little overgrown, and twists along the back of Willow Cove. It passes through a wooded section (with a field on the left) and then climbs around the back of Compass Cove. Keep going to pass through a gate. Keep left to reach a wooden footpath post, then turn sharp right, down the valley to the cliff edge. Follow the path on, through a gate near Blackstone Point.

5 Leave the path right to clamber down onto the rocks here - you get a superb view over the mouth of the estuary. Retrace your steps and continue on the coast path as it turns inland along the side of the estuary and runs through deciduous woodland.

6 The path meets a surfaced lane opposite Compass Cottage; go right onto the lane and immediately right again steeply downhill, keeping the wall to your left. At the turning space go right down steps to reach the castle and café.

7 Retrace your route up the steps to the tarmac lane at Point 6, then left to pass Compass Cottage, and straight on up the steep lane (signposted 'Little Dartmouth') and through a kissing gate onto National Trust land.

8 The path runs along the top of a field and through a five-bar gate onto a green lane. Go through a gate and the farmyard at Little Dartmouth and ahead on a tarmac lane to the car park.

Dartmouth seems to have everything. The town has a rich and illustrious history and, with its smaller sister Kingswear on the opposite shore, occupies a commanding position on the banks of the Dart. With its sheltered, deep-water harbour it developed as a thriving port and shipbuilding town from the 12th century. By the 14th century it enjoyed a flourishing wine trade, and benefited from the profits of piracy for generations. Thomas Newcomen, who produced the first industrial steam engine, was born here in 1663. Today pleasure craft and the tourist industry have taken over in a big way - the annual Royal Regatta has been a major event for over 150 years - but Dartmouth has lost none of its charm. One of its attractions is that there are all sorts of ways of getting there: by bus, using the town's park-and-ride scheme, by river, on a steamer from Totnes, by sea, on a coastal trip from Torbay, by steam train, from Paignton or, of course, on foot along the coast path.

Now cared for by English Heritage, 15th-century Dartmouth Castle enjoys an exceptionally beautiful position at the mouth of the Dart. Replacing the 1388 fortalice of John Hawley, it was one of the most advanced fortresses of the day and, with Kingswear Castle opposite (of which only the tower remains) was built to protect the homes and warehouses of the town's wealthy merchants. A chain was slung across the river mouth between the two fortifications, and guns fired from ports in the castle walls. Visitors can experience a representation of life in the later Victorian gun battery that was established. A record of 1192 infers that there was a monastic foundation on the site, leading to the establishment of St Petrock's Church, rebuilt in Gothic style within the castle precincts in 1641-2.

The cobbled quayside at Bayard's Cove, with its attractive and prosperous 17th- and 18th-century buildings (including the Customs House from 1739) was used during filming of the BBC TV series The Onedin Line in the 1970s. The wooded estuary a little upriver was also used for a scene supposedly set in 18th-century China, but filming was unwittingly thwarted by the sound of a steam train chuffing through the trees! The single-storey artillery fort at Bayard's Cove was built before 1534 to protect the harbour. You can still see the gunports at ground level and the remains of a stairway leading to a walled walk above. A plaque commemorates the sailing of the Mayflower and Speedwell from the quay in 1620.

What to look for

Dartmouth, both on shore and on the water, is always buzzing with activity - it never stops. There's masses to watch including pleasure steamers, private cruisers, brightly-coloured dinghies, rowing boats, ferries, expensive ocean-going yachts, canoeists and even huge cruise ships, calling in for a night en route for sunnier climes. You'll also notice naval craft, ranging from old-fashioned whalers to modern frigates, and connected with the Britannia Royal Naval College, which overlooks the town. Princes Charles and Andrew both studied here. You may also hear the whistle of a steam train on the Paignton-to-Kingswear railway, which runs along the eastern side of the river to terminate at Kingswear Station.

While you're there

Catch the ferry from Stumpy Steps (just upriver from the castle), which within a few minutes will deposit you right in the centre of Dartmouth. You get a fabulous view of all those superb waterside residences that are tantalisingly difficult - if not impossible - to see from the lane above, and the ferry saves you a further mile (1.6km) walk. There's a continuous shuttle service from the castle from 10:15am until 5pm.

Where to eat and drink

There's the Castle Tearooms at Dartmouth Castle and, if you hop on the ferry, masses of very good eating places in Dartmouth - including the best takeaway prawn sandwiches ever, available from a shop on the right just past the lower ferry slipway. The Royal Castle Hotel overlooking the Boat Float in the middle of the town is a freehouse, with good food, as is the Dartmouth Arms at historic Bayard's Cove.

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