Things to See and Do
The Harbour Chain
A feat of medieval engineering, a great iron chain once spanned the 250m opening of the Dart estuary to defend Dartmouth from enemy warships. The chain, which was probably first installed around the 1480s, could be raised or lowered with the tide to stop ships mid-river - making them an easy target for gunfire from the castle. Explore the Gun Tower to see where the chain was and watch a specially commissioned animation showing how it may have worked.
Wartime at Dartmouth
The castle has defended the town and coastline over six centuries including the Civil War. During the First World War, the castle was used to protect Britannia Naval College and prevent fast gunboats and torpedo boats from entering the harbour. During the Second World War, the castle housed military troops and played a strategic role in the war effort and this history is available to discover around the castle.
The Gun Tower
Developed over the centuries, the Gun Tower was one of the first purpose built coastal artillery forts in Britain. Designed for guns to fire guns across the narrowest part of the river, it worked with the a heavy iron chain to prevent enemy ships from entering. Don’t miss the new displays of weaponry and armour used to defend the castle – try on helmets for size and get hands on with the cannon balls and shot fired from the castle’s guns. Climb the four storeys to the open roof platform to enjoy far reaching views out to sea.
Power and Politics
The first castle was built in 1388, when John Hawley was Mayor of Dartmouth. John Hawley was a successful and wealthy merchant who also served twice as MP for the town. He was also a famous privateer during periods of war with France, and was even imprisoned briefly in the Tower of London for not being too choosy in which ships he captured at sea. He remained a respected townsman and adventurous merchant throughout his life.
Another MP for the town, Sir Peter Carew, took the castle by force in 1552 and claimed ownership, causing a dispute which went on for many years. Find out more.
Explore the Passageways
Grab a torch and explore a dimly-lit passage in Dartmouth Point Battery, following in the footsteps of the Victorian volunteer soldiers who worked in rooms packed with gunpowder and explosive shells, destined for the big guns defending the estuary of the Dart.
Guns and Cannons
Explore the castle further to find the two open-air gun platforms for heavy guns on each side of the Gun Tower, and another beside the shop, which was itself originally a WW2 gun house. Explore the Victorian gun battery and get a sense of the work carried out by the soldiers as they prepare to fire one of the big guns – thanks to a dramatic new sound and light installation.
A Grand Day Out
The unique location of the castle on the entrance to the Dart Estuary means that you can approach it by water. Take the passenger ferrry from Dartmouth Harbour and enjoy a spot of seal spotting as you sail along the coast - the best views of the castle are from the water! After your visit, enjoy a cream tea in the cafe next door while you watch the world go by.
The castle lies on one of the most beautiful coastline walks in South Devon which forms part of the South West Coast Path. Combine your castle visit with a trip on one of two local steam railways, bus or ferry and make it a special day out for the whole family. With a range of wildlife, birds, flora and fauna along the way, this is a perfect excuse for a photograph.