In the Dark Ages there was no Dartmouth, only the hilltop village of Dunstal, now Townstal, set far enough inland for its inhabitants to be safe from Viking raiders. But the Norman Conquest in 1066 ushered in a period of security that enabled the hamlets of Clifton and Hardness on the banks of the Dart to develop, relying on fishing and the trade that came from Norman vessels which found the river a useful haven. Land communications, however, remained no more than donkey tracks.
Nonetheless, the Dart’s importance as a harbour was such that it was chosen as the assembly point for a fleet of 146 ships setting out on the Second Crusade in 1147, and again in 1190, when more than 100 vessels sailed from the port on the Third Crusade. A memento of these events is found in the name Warfleet Creek, which lies just inside the river mouth. In the 13th century the Norman rulers linked the two hamlets with a causeway, or Fosse, across the creek that separated them, effectively establishing Dartmouth.
Today the shipyards are gone, along with the coal lumpers who took fuel to the steamships. Instead Dartmouth has found prosperity as a mecca for yachtsmen and holidaymakers. Britannia Royal Naval College, since 1905 housed in a building that dominated the town, continues to train officers and ensures frequent visits by naval vessels, while the Dart is regularly graced by passenger liners which are increasingly making Dartmouth’s deep-water harbour a port of call.
Royal Avenue Gardens
Dartmouth is surrounded by picturesque old towns and villages; Kingswear lies opposite Dartmouth on the east bank of the river, Dittisham is a beautiful village lying inland on the east bank and Blackawton, Stoke Fleming and Strete are villages set high on surrounding hills and cliffs.
A rich variety of speciality shops, restaurants and inns are here to serve and delight the weary traveller, continuing a tradition which has survived for centuries
Such was the town’s fame that the poet Chaucer visited it in 1373 and later made one of his Canterbury Tales pilgrims a “Shipman from Dartmouth”, based it is thought on the town’s 14-times mayor John Hawley (d 1408) who was a privateer in the Hundred Years war. Despite his colourful adventures, Hawley was well in with the king, whose coffers were swelled by his piracy. Mindful of the threat of reprisals and damage they could do to his revenues, the king ordered Hawley to build a castle to defend Dartmouth, and to sling a chain across the river mouth.
Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth
The beauty of Dartmouth is recognised throughout the world. You can enjoy a leisurely cruise on a river pleasure craft, hire your own boat or experience the thrill of sailing or fishing on the open sea. There are many historic houses and castles to be enjoyed, the wild expanses of Dartmoor National Park are only a few miles away and you can take the steam train to Torbay. The coastal scenery nearby is breath-taking and there are beaches to suit every taste