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Dartmouth Castle

dartmouth castle

Step Back in Time at Dartmouth Castle

Guarding the narrow entrance to Dartmouth harbour sits the impressive artillery fortification of Dartmouth Castle. Perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea, these ancient fortified walls provide a fascinating glimpse into England’s rich coastal defence heritage and the frontline role that Dartmouth played over the centuries.

Climbing the stone spiral staircases to reach the upper artillery deck reveals stunning panoramic views over the harbour and town below. Continue reading for an in-depth guide to making the most of a visit to this English Heritage site – easily one of the best in Devon.

dartmouth castle

Getting There

Dartmouth Castle clings to a headland just a few minutes walk from Dartmouth town centre along Castle Road. Walk, drive, or take the heritage ferry across the river for scenic arrival options.

By Car

A small pay and display car park is located directly beneath Dartmouth Castle for those driving. The narrow lane up to the castle is not suited for large vehicles.

On Foot

Stroll along the level riverside path from Dartmouth town centre, which takes just 10 minutes. Stop at the ancient fortified boom chain which stretched across the harbour.

By Ferry

For beautiful views, catch the Higher Ferry or Passenger Ferry from the town quay to arrive across the river.

Opening Times and Prices

Dartmouth Castle is open daily from:

  • April – June: 10am – 5pm
  • July – Sept: 10am – 6pm
  • Oct: 10am – 5pm
  • Nov to March: Weekends only 10am – 4pm

Admission is:

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The Fortress History

Dartmouth Castle was constructed in the late 1400s to protect the town and harbour from seaward attack. However, this wasn’t the first castle on the site.

Remains of an earlier castle built in the 1300s can still be viewed within the grounds today, allowing you to appreciate the different eras side-by-side. Interpretive displays tell the story of assaults, sieges and battles fought from this strategic location.

Foundation and Early History

Construction of the castle commenced in 1388 under the orders of John Hawley, a wealthy local merchant and mayor of Dartmouth. The castle was designed to protect the Dart estuary and the bustling port of Dartmouth, which was of immense strategic importance.

dartmouth castle

The Tudor Period

During the 16th century, Dartmouth Castle underwent significant transformations. It was expanded and reinforced to meet the growing threat of foreign invasions. The addition of gun towers and artillery fortifications made it a formidable coastal defense structure. It played a pivotal role in repelling a Spanish attack in 1588 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The memory of the Spanish Armada’s defeat is etched into the stone walls of the castle.

Civil War and Restoration

The English Civil War in the 17th century witnessed the castle’s involvement once again. Dartmouth Castle supported the Royalist cause and suffered damage during the conflict. However, in the years following the war, it was restored and adapted to meet the changing needs of coastal defense.

Changing Roles and Preservation

As the threat of invasion diminished, Dartmouth Castle transitioned from a military stronghold to a symbol of the area’s rich history. In the 19th century, it was partially converted into a residence, and its picturesque setting attracted artists and tourists.

In the 20th century, Dartmouth Castle was handed over to English Heritage, ensuring its preservation and accessibility to the public. Today, visitors can explore the castle’s well-preserved historic buildings, artillery fortifications, and picturesque gardens.

Climbing the Impressive Walls

One of the highlights is exploring the many levels and chambers inside the substantial outer walls:

  • Deep rock-cut tunnels lead to the lower gun deck where cannon would fire out artillery.
  • A stone spiral staircase winds up to the lookout turret for sweeping coastal views.
  • Climb narrow steps right to the roof’s lookout post for a 360° panorama over the harbour.
  • Peer into restored storage chambers and see working portcullis gates.
  • Admire the clever tactical architecture including angled bastions to zone firepower.

The views from the ramparts are some of the most spectacular along the coastline.

dartmouth castle ferry

The Grounds and Surrounds

In the expansive grounds, you’ll also find fascinating medieval remains:

  • The earlier castle ruins dating to the 1300s which preceded the current fortress. Look inside the crumbling keep.
  • Base of an ancient lighthouse built in the 1600s, and stored artillery.
  • Pretty ornamental gardens provide picnic spots with harbour views.
  • The Pilgrim Fathers’ steps where they embarked to America.

A path leads down to the pretty Kingswear village, or take a ferry back across to Dartmouth.

Family Activities

Younger visitors will enjoy:

  • Dressing up in medieval costumes and armour.
  • Handling real historic weapons and artefacts.
  • Challenge your family to the self-guided castle quest activity.
  • Exploring the rock pools and tidal causeway at low tide.
  • Scale the towering fortress walls for thrilling views.

Kids will love letting their imagination run wild, picturing epic battles as medieval knights and princesses.

Facilities

A small tea room provides light refreshments inside the ticket office. Toilets and accessible options are available on site. Contact staff regarding any access requirements.

The atmospheric Dartmouth Castle lets you vividly imagine occupying this stronghold throughout the centuries of its strategic service guarding the coast at one of England’s great harbours.

dartmouth castle

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Dartmouth Castle wheelchair accessible and good for pushchairs? – Yes, there is a wheelchair accessible car park, but some parts of the castle are difficult to access in a wheelchair.

Does Dartmouth Castle have a car park? – Parking at the castle is not managed by English Heritage. There is a pay and display car park very close to the castle and parking on the access road is free. Disabled visitors may be set down at gate.

Are dogs allowed at Dartmouth Castle? – Yes, dogs are welcome as long as they stay on a lead. There are some steep steps, which not all dogs will be happy with. Occasionally, the displays include shooting cannons and some dogs don’t like the noise!

Nearby Attractions to visit

  • Totnes Castle – Scenic medieval castle ruins overlooking the River Dart. Interesting to explore for history enthusiasts.
  • Greenway – Captivating summer home of Agatha Christie with gardens, grounds and boathouse to explore. Guided tours of the rooms.
  • Paignton Zoo – Engaging zoo surrounded by lush botanical gardens. See exotic wildlife including giraffes, cheetahs and lemurs.
  • Buckfast Abbey – Working Benedictine monastery with medieval church, monk’s herb garden and grounds. Shop sells homemade produce.
  • South Devon Railway – Heritage steam train rides through beautiful Dartmoor scenery between Totnes and Buckfastleigh.
  • Stover Country Park – Scenic nature reserve with woodlands, lakes and trails to explore. Spot local wildlife and enjoy the cafe.
  • Occombe Farm – Traditional farm where visitors can feed and interact with chickens, goats, pigs and more. Nature trails through woods.
  • Goodrington Sands – Family friendly blue flag beach with soft sands, rockpools to explore, and nearby cafes. Perfect for relaxing or watersports.
  • Canonteign Falls – England’s highest waterfall within a lush wooded gorge. Viewing platforms provide scenic vantage points.

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