I recently wrote about visiting Dartmouth Castle during my staycation Road Trip in Devon & Cornwall. I fell in love with this charming port town and its gorgeous views and impressive castle. It’s a unique place to visit and I really wanted to highlight the history and details of the town, castle and how to visit it.
Located in Devon, in the south-west of the United Kingdom, Dartmouth Castle sits overlooking the mouth of the River Dart as it feeds into the English Channel. Historically this was an important defensible position for the British against a variety of naval-based enemies, from the French, to Spanish, and even the Dutch.
Various historical figures have had a hand in shaping the castle into the structure that stands today. Dartmouth, the town that it was built to protect, was historically an important trading and fishing port and served as home to privateers as well during its lengthy history.
The initial defences at the castle date back to 1388 and were created by the town of Dartmouth to protect the town against the French during the Hundred Years War. Henry VII ordered a gun tower built within the fortress and this was completed by 1493. The old gun tower stands at the castle today and can be visited, and the roof offers incredible views of the river mouth. A second gun tower was built at the Castle in 1861, with incredibly powerful guns that were mounted to swivel.
Today Dartmouth Castle is managed and maintained by English Heritage and provides excellent exhibits featuring the two unique gun towers from very different points in history.
How to Get to Dartmouth Castle
Dartmouth Castle is at the end of a long winding country road with extremely limited paid parking. As such I would not recommend driving the car directly there unless you are intending to drop off passengers. Parking in town is also extremely limited with minimal on-street parking and a small cramped lot that does not hold many spaces.
I would recommend using the park and ride just on the outskirts of town. The bus drops you off right outside the little harbour in the centre of town along the waterfront. This is the best way to get into Dartmouth itself, and then there are a few ways to get up to the castle.
The Dartmouth Castle website itself has some great resources for finding the castle and options for getting there.
Getting to the Castle from Dartmouth
The walk from the centre of town to the castle takes roughly 30 minutes with a few small hills along the way.
The views more than make up for the extra effort and it’s an absolutely lovely walk on a nice day. It’s a relatively straight forward path following Southtown road.
One of the best ways to get to the Castle is by taking one of the local ferries which are small boats operated by locals that make a route between Dartmouth, Kingswear, and the Castle.
To call the ferry you need to turn around the green board (see at the top of the stairs in the photo). There are signs just outside the castle to get to the ferry, and this is the stop.
It also gives you a fantastic view of the castle from the water, which is honestly the best view of the castle.
The Ferry will cost £2.50 per person, and is worth the price, but you will to pay onboard with cash.
Logistics, Tickets & Opening Times for Dartmouth Castle
During the pandemic – English Heritage requires guests to have a pre-booked ticket to access the castle. This can be done on their website at no cost to members or per the standard rates they charge.
These can vary seasonally and the best resource to check for the castle’s opening times would be the English Heritage website.
Typically the castle is open 7 days a week, and hours can also change seasonally.
Entry Price & Tickets
Dartmouth Castle is an English Heritage property, so members get in for free. Membership with English Heritage costs £49 annually and grants you access to hundreds of amazing properties across all of England (and something I highly recommend).
For those who are not members, the prices (as of Nov 2020) are:
- Adult – £8.70
- Child (5-17) – £5.70
- Child (under 5) – Free
- Concession – £7.90
Length of Visit
How long should you plan on spending at the castle?
On average I would suggest planning 2 hours for a visit to Dartmouth Castle, plus the time it takes to get there.
You could power through the castle in 30 minutes or less, but I feel you would miss out on seeing some of the great exhibits.
What not to miss at Dartmouth Castle
Dartmouth Castle has a lot of lovely spaces to visit and details to enjoy.
The Castle is fundamentally broken up into 3 key areas:
- Old Gun Tower
- Victorian Gun Tower
- St Petrox Church
When we visited there was a one-way system put into place and we entered the castle from the North Gun Tower. The view leading into the entrance was incredible and showcased the Gun Tower in the shadow of the beautiful church.
Old Gun Tower
The Old Gun Tower is flanked by the North Gun Platform and South Gun Platform. Both Gun Platforms feature period style cannons that would have stood there in the 1500s when the castle served as a defense for the mouth of the River Dart.
There is a really great historical exhibit within the two levels of the gun Tower. There is a sound and light show in the lower level that should be seen, and the exhibit on the top-level includes some fantastic explanation of the types of shot that used to be fired from the cannon.
Victorian Gun Tower
The display of canons in the Victorian Gun Tower is absolutely unique and showcases the impressive feats of Victorian engineering. I’m used to seeing the types of canons that are exhibited within the Old Gun Tower through my various travels and visits to castles.
The Victorias mounted the powerful cannons on rotating platforms that allowed them to change the trajectory of the cannon fire. It’s a really fantastic showcase of their engineering prowess and ingenuity in establishing defense at this castle. There are 3 mounted canons and many plaques describing the history and engineering.
Don’t Miss the Views
The views of the estuary from Dartmouth Castle are absolutely exquisite. You can see straight to the English Channel from Grand Battery, or catch a glimpse of the other gun tower across the river from the South Gun Platform.
And from the North Gun Platform, you can get a fantastic view of Kingswear and Dartmouth.
The view of the entire castle, graveyard and church is spectacular as well.
And one of the very best views of the castle can be found on the river. I recommend taking the ferry from the castle back to Dartmouth and appreciating the Old Gun Tower from some gorgeous angles and at all it’s might.
While in the neighbourhood of Dartmouth
Dartmouth is a gorgeous seaside fishing village that is well worth visiting. Aside from the Castle, it has a number of other things worth seeing:
- Walking along South Embankment
- Taking the Kingswear Ferry and getting another view of Dartmouth from across the river
- Take a ride on the Dartmouth Steam Railway
- Check out English Heritage’s Bayard Fort Cove
- Visit the Dartmouth Museum in the beautiful ancient timber frame building
- See Kingswear Castle, the other Gun Tower in the estuary
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