A 24 Hour Totter in…Dartmouth.
As I Muddy my way around Devon, I’m bringing you a new little series of guides, giving you the lowdown on how to see and explore our cracking towns, villages and cities. You’ll find under-the-radar spots, those towns perhaps hidden in the shadows of the more visited destinations, plus our take on the hotspots that are catnip for tourists (think quirky, cool and new).
I hope they inspire you to get out and explore. x
Dartmouth: Best for?
Families, couples, groups – Dartmouth suits anyone who’s coastal-loving, snap-happy and feels uplifted by azure blues and nautical life; it’s one of Devon’s most picturesque pockets. It’s a town that kind of portrays the ideal lifestyle for city-dwellers, who crave fresh air and space, the chance to putter along the water and enjoy sundowners on the waterfront. Whether you’re Roman Abramavich rolling in on your mega-super-yacht, or Mary Berry twerking after a night on the Salcombe Gin* (*only one of these is true. Probably), basically, if you’re looking to spend some time in a place that has all the appeal of a European coastal gem, but without the faff of flights, then Dartmouth’s a corker.
Relaxed, sophisticated, affluent; that’s Dartmouth in a nutshell. If anyone outside Devon asks you where you live, you could say ‘do you know Dartmouth?’ (even if you live fifty miles from it) and the chances are they’ll say ‘oh yes’, with a little glint of nostalgic longing in their eyes. Most people know this part of south Devon, have been and have rated it, because it’s such an easy town to enjoy and fall in love with.
It’s partly the geography, situated on the River Dart, sheltered by hills, with the pastel-coloured cottages of Kingswear doing their bit for the overall aesthetics just on the other side of the water. It definitely has something to do with the nautical influences, since Dartmouth has a rich seafaring history as a naval port with deep waters for sailing, which continues today. It’s difficult to spend time here and avoid the water, whether taking the ferry, chugging on a scenic boat tour, or getting a water taxi along to nearby Dittisham.
And then there’s the vibrant hustle and bustle amidst the narrow streets, created by a community that’s keen to feed tourists the Dartmouth Dream. Yes, you’ll find all the usual suspects like Crew Clothing, Jack Wills and Joules lining the streets, but don’t underestimate the indie vibe. Every season, the town gets just that little bit sleeker, shinier and cosmopolitan and the visitors love it.
Where to stay:
Dartmouth is such a comfortable location, covering all bases that I’d argue it’s best enjoyed by self-catering (and I don’t say that lightly, since I do love a bed with at least breakfast when I’m away). There’s a huge number of properties up for grabs, so it can feel overwhelming, but one of the most prominent companies in these parts is Coast & Country Cottages. Award-winning and voted best in the country for what it does time and again, honestly? You couldn’t be in safer hands. The selection of properties takes you from smart, contemporary waterside apartments, through to huge, characterful country piles; it just depends on what you fancy. And the team all know their patch inside out; their personal recommendations on things to see and do is spot on .
Our base for the weekend was 15 Dart Marina, a beaut of an apartment, right on the waterfront, located within the Dart Marina development – a hotel, spa and apartments about 10 mins stroll from the centre of town. Travelling with the mudlet (4), it couldn’t have been more convenient for us, really. You pitch up in your private parking space (pah! to street parking and carpark hopping), unload into a smart building, open door and voila – hello bobbing boats and waterfront!
We had an impeccably presented, super-cosy pad consisting of 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen with a view (never has washing up felt so therapeutic) and an open plan living room/diner all looking out to the water.
Even if the weather isn’t behaving, this can lead to hours lost, glass of wine in hand, watching the ferry chugging back and forth to Kingswear, gig rowers going by on their training sessions (mad, in -1 temps when we stayed!), sea life and admiring the range of humungous houses across the river, from Grand Designs-type properties, to beautiful old detached houses, with gardens tumbling down to the river (make use of the binoculars if you’re feeling particularly nosy like, err, me).
An added bonus is that you also get free access to the Dart Marina spa, with pool, jacuzzi and steam room, and certain times of the day allocated to children. A life saver for rainier days (and means you can sneak off for a treatment, if you fancy it!)
Top tip: If you want to make things as easy as possible, while earning mega brownie points with your brood, seek out Pretty Local – who deliver pretty awesome food boxes to get you started when you arrive at base.
The idea behind this fab indie is to help you buy your weekly shop with minimum food miles from trusty producers – what’s not to love about that? We had a welcome box, to get us started with some essentials – fruit, milk, butter, juice, fudge. Because fudge is a total essential when you’re on hols. It’s a brilliant way to support the local producers, as well as get to sample a few food heroes from the locality.
7 ways to spend 24 hours:
1/Do the River Dart
Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the more traditional methods of sightseeing but I love an open-top bus tour of a new city and here, the equivalent is to jump aboard a Dartmouth River Cruise. (Adults £8.50, kids 3+ £5, families £25).
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.
In this direction, we spotted seals lounging, 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. 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.
2/ Eat at an institution
Chat to the locals about your itinerary and all you’ll hear is ‘have you been to Alf’s’? ‘Make sure you breakfast at Alf’s’. So we did. Alf’s, short for Cafe Alf Resco is the most cosy and 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 for good reason, as we discovered.
This place majors on being relaxed and stress-free, serving breakfast through to evening, making it a great paper-reading spot, or place to catch up with friends (you can stay in the apartment upstairs, too, if you really want to be in amongst it). Part of the appeal (for us, at least) is that it’s super family-friendly, with a whole load of books and colouring paraphernalia on hand to keep small ones
quiet happy. We did a Sunday morning breakfast on everyone’s recommendations and loved the selection of freshly prepared fare on offer. If you’ve not had breakfast here, you’ve not really experienced Dartmouth – for quirky and quality, there really is nothing else quite like it.
3/ 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 stood out to me for being super-friendly and welcoming.
Make your way to pretty Foss Street and you’ll discover Baxter’s Gallery, a colourful and unpretentious shop, selling much more than paintings. 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. And the Dartmouth Wine Company, in the beautiful medieval Butterwalk is a fabulous, friendly shop, with a seriously impressive range of wines, spirits, liquor’s and malt whiskies.
Then you discover the studio and shop of Paul Barclay, just along from, yep, you guessed it, Alf’s. What a character and a jolly nice bloke while he’s at it – you may spot him sat at his drawing board as you wander past. Once the Dart Marina Dock Master and now an illustrator to the super yacht and international navies, Paul’s iconic illustrations and signs pop up everywhere and once you see it, you’ll spot his signature style on anything that stands still for two seconds (mind you, I bet he’d consider tattoo’s if you asked him nicely).
4/ Stock up on Devon’s newest gin
And one of Paul’s latest commissions only happens to be the newest artisan gin to come out of Devon. The gorgeously illustrated blue bottle of Distinctly Dartmouth gin is, I predict, going to be a rip-roaring success over the coming summer season. Just launching in town when we visited, I’ve not had the opportunity to try it yet (hint, hint team DD!), but from those who have, I hear the apple and elderflower flavours hit the spot. Rather a nice-looking souvenir to take home with you, too, I reckon.
5/ 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.
It has that retro feel of a classic ice cream parlour and kids will love the little beach hut booths. Our Mudlet was right at home at ‘Smalls Cove’ – a little colouring in station, after she inhaled a banana boat sundae. This ice cream has won a gazillion awards for its flavours, it’s well worth the treat.
6/ 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, if you time your visit on the first Sunday of the month between April and September you’ll get to experience the kind of stuff that makes this pub so famous. Rock on the Beach is a family-friendly event with local live music, a BBQ and a ginormous paella. It’s the legendary event that gets talked about all around Devon and beyond.
7/ Experience the seafood
A bit like Alf’s, you’ve not really done Dartmouth justice if you haven’t visited Rockfish – another institution in town, on the waterfront, rolled out by local seafood chef Mitch Tonks. As the original – and first – restaurant for the local brand, it showcases how the celeb chef really knows his fish and his wine, it turns out.
The restaurant is cosy, relaxed, with a superb selection of freshly caught seafood, although it’s hard to resist the trad fish and chips (with unlimited chips!). The motto – if it’s not on the menu, then it’s still in the sea – just about says it all. My tip? I can’t get enough of the homemade curry sauce.
Staying for longer?
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.
If wine and cheese get you all excited (me too, wanna hang out?), then head to Sharpham Vineyard on the banks of the River Dart for a self-guided ‘trek and taste’, or a full-blown ‘vine to wine’ tour.
For a slice of poignant history, Slapton beach is a lovely stretch of sand but was also the site used by allied forces in 1943 to rehearse the D-Day Landings. The ill-fated exercise resulted in the death of 749 American servicemen and you’ll see a stone monument to commemorate the event, as well as a Sherman Tank at Torcross. Nearby, you’ll also discover Slapton Ley, a nature reserve based around a freshwater lake, which is great for taking the kids to spot wildlife amidst the flora and fauna.
Pack up a picnic and hit the coastal 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.
Have I forgotten anything? I’d love to hear about your top tips for visiting Dartmouth – just comment in the box below and share the love!