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 since 1822 – 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 on foot along the coast path.
An historic town
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 1641–42.
The cobbled quayside at Bayard’s Cove has many attractive 17th- and 18th-century buildings, including the Customs House dating from 1739. The single-storey artillery fort 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 in 1620.
Dartmouth is crammed with good places to eat: you’ll find posh fish and chips at Rockfish Seafood and Chips on the South Embankment and, at The Seahorse, you can have seafood and meat cooked over charcoal. The latter also offers a personal pick-up service... by launch.
Follow signs for Dartmouth Castle off the B3205, and then for Little Dartmouth, to find the car parks. From the southern one (donation box) follow the signs 'Coast Path Dartmouth'. Continue through a kissing gate and along a fenced path with a hedge to the right, eventually passing through another kissing gate to reach the coast.
Turn left; there are lovely views 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 walk out towards gorse-covered Warren Point (given to the National Trust in 1970).
From Warren Point follow the coast 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).
Rejoin the coast path through an open gateway in a wall and follow it above Shinglehill Cove. The path follows a combe inland to pass a pond, then bears right along the back of Willow Cove. Keep along the field-edge, then through light woodland, climbing steeply to a gate. Follow the yellow arrow ahead to reach a footpath post, then turn sharp right down the valley, bearing right at the bottom to a stile (Compass Cove right).
Turn left, soon crossing a high footbridge over an inlet, and continue towards Blackstone Point. The path runs along the side of the estuary through deciduous woodland.
The path meets a surfaced lane opposite Compass Cottage; turn right steeply downhill. Follow coast path signs right to zig-zag steeply down to Sugary Cove, then climb steps and pass picnic tables to reach a turning area. Turn right down steps to reach the castle and cafe.
Retrace your route up the steps and then turn left up the lane. Keep ahead past Compass Cottage, and continue straight on up the steep lane (signposted 'Little Dartmouth') and through a kissing gate on to National Trust land.
The path runs along the top of a field and through a five-bar gate on to a green lane. Go through a gate and the farmyard at Little Dartmouth and ahead on a tarmac lane to the car park.
Uneven coastal footpath and green lanes
Farmland, cliff tops and river estuary
Livestock in some fields; keep on lead at NT Little Dartmouth
AA Leisure Map 2 Torbay & South Dartmoor
National Trust car parks at Little Dartmouth (donations)
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
With magnificent coastlines, two historic cities and the world-famous Dartmoor National Park, Devon sums up all that is best about the British landscape. For centuries it has been a fashionable and much loved holiday destination – especially south Devon’s glorious English Riviera.
Close to the English Riviera lies Dartmoor, one of the south-west’s most spectacular landscapes. The National Park, which contains Dartmoor, covers 365 square miles and includes many fascinating geological features – isolated granite tors and two summits exceeding 2,000 feet among them.
Not surprisingly, in Dartmoor the walking opportunities are enormous. Cycling in the two National Parks is also extremely popular and there is a good choice of off-road routes taking you to the heart of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Devon’s towns and cities offer stimulating alternatives to the rigours of the countryside.