The Britannia Royal Naval College
If you’ve come to Dartmouth and wondered what the imposing red-brick building overlooking the river is – then wonder no more. The Britannia Royal Naval College is the training establishment for officers of the Royal Navy, and if you’re as inquisitive as me as to know what goes on inside, you’ll be pleased to learn that there are guided tours available for the general public.
Before this building was constructed, officers were trained in a number of different locations. Traditionally, sea-based apprenticeships meant that officers were thrown straight in at the deep end as it were, but in 1733 a Royal Naval Academy was established at Portsmouth. In 1806 its name was changed to the Royal Naval College, but not everyone thought that studying in a classroom was the best way to train sailors, and in 1837 it was closed down.
It must have been recognised that academic knowledge also had a part to play in the training of officers because in 1859 it was decided to convert the ailing hospital ship HMS Britannia into one for training cadets. In 1862 she was moved from her home at Portsmouth to Portland, but a year later was transferred to calmer waters at Dartmouth.
By 1869 the former hospital ship was in intensive care herself and ended up in the breakers yard. She was replaced by HMS Prince of Wales, which changed its name to HMS Britannia, and even though HMS Hindostan had been added in 1865 to help out, overcrowding on the two hulks meant that a shore-based building was becoming a necessity, and in 1898 work started on building the Britannia Royal Naval College.
The National Trust owns several properties in South Devon and they all have something to commend them, but I think my favourite has to be Coleton Fishacre.
It’s a bit out of the way, but that’s one of the attractions of this estate that includes a magnificent garden that sweeps down to the sea and a house that evokes the bygone jazz age of the 1920s.
The man behind the creation of Coleton Fishacre was Rupert D’Oyly Carte, whose father, Richard, was the producer of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas. Rupert, who incidentally was also the inspiration for P.G Wodehouse’s Rupert Psmith, inherited the family business including the Savoy Hotel and Claridge’s in London.
It was on a sailing trip between Brixham and Dartmouth with his wife Dorothy, that he saw the potential of the valley above Pudcombe Cove for building a home on the coast. It’s not difficult to see why they chose this spot, and in 1923 he set about building Coleton Fishacre which took three years to finish.
Greenway - Home to a Famous Seafarer and an even more Famous Novelist
There are several ways to reach this delightful National Trust (NT) property on the banks of the River Dart. If you have your own transport, you can drive through the village of Galmpton (which lies between Paignton and Brixham) and down the lane to the property’s car park: Another option is to take the Greenway vintage bus which starts at Torquay, or you can take the Dartmouth Steam Railway
to Greenway Halt, but whichever way you do it, come here you must.
Of all Devon’s rivers, the Dart has to be my favourite: From source to sea, it’s the most beguiling of rivers, and for this post I’m going to describe its charms between the lowest bridging point at Totnes to the mouth of the river at Dartmouth.
At Totnes the river is still tidal, and until the area around Totnes Bridge was drained, it was wet, marshy ground; and I suppose it must have been around here where Brutus, the first king of Britain landed – that’s if you believe the story of course – but I’ll be covering more about the history of Totnes in a separate post.
Totnes Bridge was built between 1826-28 and is the latest in a long line of bridges that has spanned the river here over many centuries. Today a modern road bridge just upstream, called Brutus Bridge, has taken the brunt of the traffic, not just away from this bridge, but from the town centre as well.
Totnes - Twinned with Narnia
On the ‘Welcome to Totnes’ sign that greets people to the town somebody added ‘Twinned with Narnia’ below it. It’s been removed since by those who don’t have a sense of humour, but to me it’s a perfect description of Totnes.
The town has been described as ‘New Age’, ‘Alternative’ and even ‘eccentric’ but however you like to describe it, Totnes is different to any other town in the South Hams, or even Devon for that matter.
The alternative lifestyle that many people in and around Totnes have adopted originally stems from the Dartington Hall Estate, and in particular the ideas of Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst who came here in 1925. Dartington is just a couple of miles outside of Totnes and I’ve given it a separate page, but for now I’ll just say that it’s somewhere that specializes in the ‘arts, social justice and sustainability’.
Paignton to Kingswear Steam Railway and the Round Robin
There are any number of things that will make a great day out in South Devon, but in my opinion, one of the best has to be the ‘Round Robin’
. It comprises different modes of transport linking Paignton, Dartmouth
, and Totnes.
The Round Robin includes a steam train from Paignton to Kingswear, a ferry across the River Dart to Dartmouth, a boat trip up the river to Totnes, and an open-top bus back to Paignton. It can be done the other way round and you can start from Paignton, Dartmouth or Totnes.
Part of the attraction is to be able to explore the towns of Dartmouth and Totnes and so you would need to factor in the tide times of the Dart if you intend to do the whole journey in one day.
For expediency, in this post, I’m just going to describe the train journey between Paignton and Kingswear.