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Dartmouth Castle

Visited  August 2011

Location Dartmouth, Devon
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby   No
Parking Yes
Facilities Shop, Toilets, Cafe


Dartmouth Castle differs to most of the others on this website, as it was not built by a King or a  rich & influential family. It was commissioned in 1388 by the Mayor of Dartmouth, John Hawley, to protect the lucrative trade routes for ships sailing out of Dartmouth. The Dartmouth merchants of the day were an aggressive bunch, not adverse to a spot of plundering at sea, so the town lived in fear of foreign vessels seeking to retaliate. With the outbreak  of the Hundred Years War with France in 1374 this threat had intensified, so Dartmouth began to look to its defences. The first castle consisted of a simple tower and stone wall- this is now part of the modern day car park.






Perched on the edge of a hill above the Dart Estuary, the castle has guarded the town of Dartmouth since the middle ages. On the opposite side of the water is Kingswear Castle,  there was once a chain across  the water which could be wound in tightly in times of attack, and would be used catch any vessels entering the harbour. The idea was that the  ships , once caught, could then be bombarded- in earlier times with large stones, and then later by gunfire.


Later a gun tower was added, on which cannons were sited. These would have been capable of sinking enemy ships attempting to enter the estuary. The castle saw action in the civil war, and was added to in the Victorian times when a gun battery was built. The castle was used for defensive purposes right up until the second world war.







The collection of buildings to be visited today are made up of the remains of the original medieval fortifications, the later gun towers and cannon batteries, and the  church of St. Petrox . The church dates back to the 17th century, although there was almost certainly an older structure there prior to that. It is certainly worth a look while you are there, even if only to admire the age of the building and the fact that that very spot has been used for worship from about the sixth century onwards.


In the castle buildings themselves there are lots of cannons, sited as they would have been, facing out to defend the mouth of the river.  The day we visited there were some living history displays which involved firing Victorian guns out of the castle windows. It was very loud for small children, lots of the children in the audience started crying and had to be taken out when the guns started up. The large cannons themselves are still in usable condition, however they are not fired these days as this understandably tends to draw complaints from the neighbouring properties.





There is quite a lot to see at the castle , and even on a rainy day we had fantastic views across the water. Dartmouth Castle is a good place to view Kingswear Castle, on the other side if the estuary. Kingswear is used as holiday lets so a view from a distance is all that is possible.


The final word is advice about getting to the castle. You can of course drive there,  I would advise getting there at opening time, the car park is quite small and gets full really quickly. If you want to avoid all the hassle of car parking then the best tip I can give you is to get the ferry from Dartmouth. Not only is it exciting for the children, but it gives you fantastic views of the castle from the river. There is a short walk from the 'stumpy steps' landing stage to the castle. It  was for us the most unusual journey to a castle- we had never arrived  by boat before. The same advice as for  parking stands though- get there early, there are queues for the ferries later in the day as they only take about ten passengers at a time.





More info:  English Heritage Dartmouth Castle

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