Muddy must-sees: 14 things to do in Dartmouth
Craving a nifty nautical adventure? Hotfoot it to the South Hams harbour town for shopping, scoffing, quaffing and messing about on the water.
Muddy is just back from a bank holiday jaunt to Dartmouth, a corker of a nautical town in the South Hams, right next to the River Dart. It’s an ideal day trip for anyone who fancies a few mood-boosting hours by the water, with a bit of boating, shopping, scoffing and quaffing, and a good old gawp at some super yachts. So, something for everyone.
1/Arrive by boat
In high season especially, parking can be a ‘mare but one way to beat the car-crowds is to leave the motor in Kingswear and hop on the Lower Ferry (aka Hauley) as a foot passenger.
It costs £3 return and takes just five minutes and is the best way to arrive by a nautical mile, and kids love it too.
2/ Get takeaway fish and chips
As lady luck would have it it, where the lower ferry docks in Dartmouth brings you out almost opposite Rockfish Takeaway on Lower Street. One of seven seafood restaurants across the county, Rockfish is owned by local celeb seafood chef Mitch Tonks, who likes his fish to be uber-fresh and local. The original and first Rockfish is over on the town’s embankment, where you can enjoy the full fabulous seafood menu (and gluten-free options) sitting either under parasols or indoors from 17 May.
Here’s the best spot to scoff those chips – Bayard’s Cove – perching on that bench, maybe with a pint from The Dartmouth Arms on the corner. (Incidentally, a passing seagull pooped on me on that very bench – a well-known precursor to good luck (and a trip to the dry cleaners). Just saying.)
3/ Eat at (another) Dartmouth institution
Alf’s, short for Cafe Alf Resco is renowned foodie spot in town that feels as though it’s been a part of Dartmouth’s furniture forever. You’ll easily spot the townhouse, complete with retro bicycle with a basketful of oranges, and find that its outdoor patio is always full; it’s a firm favourite among the locals and super family-friendly.
4/Sightsee on the River Dart
Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the more traditional methods of sightseeing but if you love an open-top bus tour of a new city, the equivalent is to jump aboard a Dartmouth River Cruise. (Currently running Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday).
You’ll get to see the best of this part of the River Dart, sailing past historic Bayards Cove and Dartmouth Castle, out to the channel and back down (or is it up?!) river, past the marina towards the waterside village of Dittisham.
You’ll clock Agatha Christie’s Greenway House peeping out from the trees, a scattering of envy-inducing homes, lived in by affluent types and local celebs, including the Dimbleby’s, and possibly seals lounging. The commentary is fantastic, you can get a rum hot chocolate on board – it’s a great way to pass an hour and see Dartmouth from the water, even in sub-zero temperatures.
5/ Check out the indie shops
In amongst the predictable, nautically-minded fashion brands, you’ll find loads of variety on the streets of Dartmouth, making it easy to potter in and out of the shops. A few in particular stand out for being super-friendly and welcoming.
The Dartmouth Wine Company on Duke Street’s medieval Butterwalk (above) is a fabulous, friendly shop, with a seriously impressive range of wines, including from the vines at local Sharpham Vineyard further up the River Dart, spirits, liquors and malt whiskies.
Muddy is all eyes for Bert & Buoy on Fairfax Place, filled with nautically-nice art and homeware created by artist Bert Fowler, including his original monochrome and turquoise collection called ‘Dartmouth’, which inspired him to open the shop back in 2018. If you were after a quality souvenir of the place, you can’t go wrong here.
Distinctly Living, next door to Cafe Alf Resco is a smart interiors shop, with a small curation of gifts and artwork; it’s the kind of place that makes you want to buy into the second home idea and kit it all out with homewares from here.
Make your way to Foss Street and you’ll discover lots of little boutiques and art galleries including Baxter’s Gallery, a colourful and unpretentious shop, selling much more than paintings, including ceramics, jewellery and cards. Opposite is the Simon Drew Gallery, known for his quirky pun-filled illustrations, cards and homeware.
6/ Get your culture fix
Dartmouth is rammed with pretty, narrow streets with cheek-by-jowl houses and shops. Peel your eyes off the shop windows and look up and you’ll be rewarded with views of stunning historic frontages dating back to Tudor times and beyond.
If you’re interested in Dartmouth’s history, you can download a self-guided tour of the Mayflower Heritage Trail which gives you a sense of the town as it was when the Pilgrims sailed into the harbour in 1620 on their way to the New World.
7/Sink an outdoor cocktail
Fancy a snifter? Take a seat under a parasol at one of the al fresco eateries which have popped up on the south embankment recently, including The Seahorse’s Joe’s Bar. Here you can knock back an aperol spritz or negroni while eyeing up the pastel-coloured property porn on the other side of the Dart at Kingswear. Currently open Tuesday to Saturday from midday.
8/ Two words: Ice Cream
Actually five more words: Salcombe Dairy Ice Cream Parlour. Good. God. Just looking at the sundae menu alone is enough to put 3lbs on you – but they’ll be the most justified 3lbs you ever gain. This is an absolute must-visit if you’re travelling with the ankle-biters for takeaway ice-creams, sorbet, coffee and bean-to-bar chocolate.
9/ Putter down to the Pink Pub
Take the little ferry, or walk the Dart River Trail to Dittisham (pronounced ‘Ditsum’ if you really want to fit in), for a visit to the iconic Ferry Boat Inn. Known as the FBI among the locals, it remains one of the true originals, a traditional pub with a great atmosphere, welcoming everyone, right on the river.
10/ Go crabbing off the wall
It’s a traditional sight in Dartmouth to see families with kids perilously perched on the embankment with a line, trying to catch a crab. All you need is a bucket of river water, a line and bait – go into any newsagent in the town and they sell the tackle. Just remember to put the little pincered fellas gently back in the river when you’ve finished.
A few suggestions amongst a plethora of options if you’re up for getting out further afield. Take the ferry or a steam train and spend some time at Greenway House, the beautifully preserved holiday home of Agatha Christie, full of fascinating collections and overlooking the Dart estuary; it’s the National Trust at its best. (Currently only the garden, cafe and shop are open.)
12/Hit the coast path
From here, it’s possible to get to one of South Devon’s award-winning natural beauties, Blackpool Sands, just 3 miles west of Dartmouth. Its clear waters and sheltering evergreen cliffs make it one of the most popular beaches within Start Bay. Perfect for a sunny day.
13/Walk to the castle
History and architecture buffs might fancy the half-hour walk to Dartmouth Castle, a 600 year-old stone fortress built to defend the harbour town from invaders. Plenty for kids too with heavy cannon, a fun tower and creepy passageways where kids can try on costumes and generally run riot. Back open from 17 May.
14/Finish up with a sundowner
Round off your trip like a local and head to The Floating Bridge Inn for a sundowner on the rooftop terrace – the best views in town over the river and swanky yachts. Time for something chilled and a scroll on Rightmove, methinks.
Have we missed anywhere fab? Don’t be shy! Share your favourite Dartmouth places in the comments below.