A guest post written by Beth Knight
This is the second of a two-part feature all about the castles we visited when on Holiday back in May. If you haven’t had a chance to yet, you can read about all the Cornish castles here.
Having spent a lovely few days camping just outside of Marazion in Cornwall, we headed back up to Devon for the rest of our holiday. We went to the same campsite I used to go to each year during my teens, so it was really nice to be back in an area I feel like I know quite well. During our time here, we managed visit another 3 castles. All of these were English Heritage properties (I promise they didn’t ask us to write this!) and ones I had been to before but love to explore for various reasons.
The first of the castles we visited was Totnes castle. Set on top of a hill at the far end of the high street, this round keep is a typical motte and bailey castle. Totnes was and still is one of the most important inland crossings of the river Dart. Even now, it’s often a bottleneck as people try and cross the river.
The steep high street runs almost from the motte of the castle down to the bridge and it’s clear to see why the location of the castle was chosen. Although the castle itself is mainly just a circular stone structure on the top of the motte, climb to the castle walls and you’re treated with commanding views over the Dart Valley. The views are the main highlight of the castle and although there are a few information panels around the bailey, the castle itself doesn’t take huge amounts of time to explore. It’s well worth it though for the views alone and we were lucky with a pretty clear day that was fairly sunny, although rather windy!
After heading back down from the castle, purchasing fudge from Edwards Fudge Kitchen (best fudge in Devon, I’ve done the taste tests) and exploring a few more of the shops, we got in the car and headed down the river to find castle number 2.
We were heading for the town of Dartmouth. Famous for its Naval College, this town is an important location on the South Devon Coast. The town of Dartmouth is actually set just over a mile in land from the headland point where the castle is situated. The walk from the town is a largely pleasant mile long walk with a few steep bits! As you are walking out to the castle, there is a secondary naval defence built just on the edge of the town itself. This is Baynard’s Cove Fort and acted as a second line of defence, should enemy ships ever get past the main Dartmouth Castle. It has a few information panels about its history and is a great 15 to 20-minute pitstop en route to the main affair. We walked up to the castle and stopped at the lovely little café situated just outside the entrance (we highly recommend, the cakes were excellent).
Dartmouth castle was originally built in Tudor times as part of a string of naval defences aimed at keeping out the French and Spanish which were commissioned by Henry VIII. The castle has plenty to explore, with a great interactive display in one of the gun ports and an opportunity to go into the old munitions stores. The information is presented well, and you get a really good idea of the castle’s naval heritage from Tudor through to World War II.
Again, the views are wonderful with a good vantage point to look both out to see and back upriver to the town of Dartmouth and the village of Kingswear on the opposite bank. There’s plenty of places for children to run around and get involved and even some helmets for kids and big kids alike to try on! As re-enactors ourselves, this photo shows we were pretty much on a busman’s holiday at this point!
It takes about 1.5 hours to explore if you’re keen to read all the information etc. and visit all the areas of it. As we wandered back to the exit, we admired the pretty St. Peter’s church, nestled into the side of the headland next to the castle. When I had delusions of grandeur as a teenager, I dreamed of getting married there and having wedding photos at Dartmouth Castle, as it would have been the most incredible backdrop for this history nerd! Wedding reception on a boat, anyone?! All in all, a good day out and 2 castles visited, 3 if you count Baynard’s Cove!
Our final castle visit of the holiday was on the day we travelled home. We refused to completely believe our holiday was coming to a close, so we headed to Berry Pomeroy Castle before hitting the road.
This stunning ruin is situated in a valley deep in the Devon countryside. It’s my favourite of all the castles I’ve visited in Devon (not just on this holiday) because of how majestic it seems sitting in the valley. It’s rumoured to be one of the most haunted castles (if you believe in that sort of thing) and the audio guide tells you about the various ghosts that haunt different towers as well as the history of the castle and its previous inhabitants. I love looking out from the back of the castle down across the broadleaf woodland that fills the valley sides down to the river below.
The audio guide takes an hour or so and goes all around the ruins, which are fairly extensive. Although we didn’t have time this visit, there are some beautiful walks you can take from the castle into the valley. Overall, I really love Berry Pomeroy as it’s a typically beautiful ruin, especially in such a rural backdrop and you can see hints of the beautiful gem this castle must have been in its heyday. We finished off with a visit to the lovely little café where we befriended a very friendly Robin before setting off for home.
Devon has some beautiful and interesting castles to explore and these are just 3 out of the multitude of choices, all 3 of which I would highly recommend making time to visit.