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The heart of the town

16 November 2012

By Susan Hibbins

Dartmouth is in the South Hams area of Devon, where the River Dart ends its journey from Dartmoor, widens into the estuary, and finally meets the sea. Opposite, the smaller village of Kingswear dips its toes into the river, and Dartmouth Castle still guards the seaward approach to the town. If you arrive by car, you can use the Park and Ride on the outskirts of the town.

The river at Dartmouth is the heart of the town, and is constantly thronged with crafts of all kinds, while the riverfront leads on to a busy town of shops, art galleries, bakeries, and restaurants. The Devon hills form the backdrop to the jumbled buildings, with their long history of seafarers and pirates, and all are presided over by the Britannia Royal Naval College, on its hill above.

What to see
The Butterwalk is a timber-framed arcade of shops that dates from 1635-40, lovingly restored after it was bombed in 1943. Follow this down to the riverfront via the Boatfloat, crowded with small craft, and on to the Dart itself, from where you can walk along to cobbled Bayard's Cove. The Pilgrim Fathers sailed from here in the Mayflower in 1620, and it was used in the TV series The Onedin Line. Take a boat trip up the Dart from Dartmouth to Totnes if the tides are favourable, or a harbour cruise if not; or hop on a ferry over to Kingswear, and you can enjoy stunning scenery on a steam-train ride to Paignton and back.

Worth a look
A walk out of town takes you, via Warfleet with its lime kilns and former Dartmouth Pottery building, to Dartmouth Castle. It was begun in 1388 by the colourful Mayor of Dartmouth John Hawley, who is said to be the inspiration for Chaucer's "Shipman" in The Canterbury Tales. On the same site is St Petrox's, first mentioned in written records in 1192.

In the opposite direction on the Dart is Greenway, the former home of Agatha Christie. It is now run by the National Trust, and can be visited by boat or steam train from Kingswear (visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/greenway for opening times and visitor information).

Where to eat
For good coffee, and mouth-watering patisserie, try Saveurs (www.saveurs.co.uk), or Alf Resco (serving from 7 a.m to 2 p.m, www.cafealfresco.co.uk). For lunch or dinner, try the Galleon Bar in the Royal Castle Hotel (www.royalcastle.co.uk), or, slightly more expensive but helping unemployed young people, the Dartmouth Apprentice (this is not open every day; so check for details at www.dartmouthapprentice.com).

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