We’re spoilt for walking trails in the south west and when we have a free weekend we often try and get out on a hike. Coastal walks are our favourite and the rugged coastlines of Devon and Cornwall never fail to impress. But sometimes it’s nice to throw a bit of history and culture into the mix too. That’s why we were keen to try out a circular walk from Little Dartmouth along the South West Coast Path and Dart Estuary. We also decided to add a pit stop in the historic and scenic South Hams town of Dartmouth.
Little Dartmouth is located a couple of miles south of Dartmouth and has a National Trust donation car park which is a great starting point for walks. The route we followed is shown on boards at the car park and also available online from the National Trust. We added an extra leg to the route part way round to detour into Dartmouth itself. Otherwise, all the directions for the walk are as per the National Trust guide.
South West Coast Path
After a steady walk down the hill from the car park, the path joins the South West Coast Path. It’s a beautiful stretch of coastline, with far-reaching views back to Slapton Ley and the lighthouse at Start Point. In the opposite direction, the imposing figure of the Daymark Tower perched high above Kingswear is visible for much of the walk. The unusually shaped tower was built in 1864 and is 80ft high with striking arched legs.
The path meanders past fields and coves, with frequent sightings of seabirds perching on craggy outcrops. There were some steep sections, but also plenty of beautiful views to encourage you to stop a while and enjoy the scenery.
We followed the National Trust route on a phone and enjoyed the additional history and geographical information accompanying the directions. This was also how we were alerted to the great names of the coves we were passing, including Compass Cove, Shinglehill Cove, and most dramatically of all: Deadman’s Cove.
Dartmouth Castle and Kingswear
As we neared Dartmouth Castle we were rewarded with fantastic views of the Dart Estuary, Kingswear and Dartmouth. The cliffs in this section of the route were dotted with grand houses and the estuary streaked with boats heading in and out of busy Dartmouth.
It’s at Dartmouth Castle that the walk veers inland, heading up the hill towards the ruined Gallants Bower fort. However, we decided to continue along the estuary into Dartmouth. It’s an easy detour along pavements and there are plenty of points of interest on route. The most enduring appeal, however, is the Dart Estuary itself, which offers stunning views in both directions. Looking one way you can see the estuary opening up to the sea, flanked by historic Dartmouth and Kingswear castles. Facing inland, the colourful towns of Kingswear and Dartmouth perch on the hills, linked only by a string of ferries.
Dartmouth is easily worth a day trip (and blog post!) on its own. It’s one of our favourite spots in the South Hams and we visit regularly throughout the year. The town has an abundance of stunning wooden buildings, some such as the Butterwalk dating back to the 1600s.
There’s a pretty harbour, and historic Bayard’s Cove Fort is also well worth a visit. The fort sits at the end of a beautiful cobbled street and offers views out to the Dart Estuary.
Dartmouth also boasts an impressive array of shops, galleries, eateries and pubs. One of the galleries in the town centre was formerly The Harbour Bookshop, owned by Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne’s son Christopher Robin.
For visitors to Devon, Dartmouth is a great base to explore the South Hams. There are a number of trips that run from the harbour and waterfront, including to nearby Greenway House, the former holiday home of Agatha Christie.
But our walk was waiting for us, and once we’d eaten our fill in Dartmouth we headed back to Dartmouth Castle to resume our hike.
The final stretch of the walk takes you to Gallants Bower. A ruined fort that according to the National Trust offers 360-degree views across the Dart Estuary and sea.
The day of our walk the weather, unfortunately, started to take a turn for the worse as we made our way out of Dartmouth. So we decided to take a (rather steep!) shortcut along a road and then bridleway back to the car park. We shall have to save the trip to the fort for next time!
It was a really enjoyable walk and following the National Trust route is only 4 miles. Adding the detour to Dartmouth probably adds about a mile and a half to two miles, but in our view is well worth it!
For details of the Little Dartmouth walk see the National Trust guide.
Dartmouth Castle is an English Heritage property with an admission charge and set opening hours.
Bayard’s Cove Fort is an English Heritage property which is free to visit and open to the public.
Gallants Bower is a National Trust site which is free to visit and open to the public.
Our friend Julia Banks, who is responsible for some of the rather lovely photos on this blog post, accompanied us on the walk.