Zeal Monachorum Online

south devon

Brixham is for me the most attractive of the three Torbay towns, with its historic harbour, narrow winding lanes and stunning seascapes. Fishing and boat-building have been important here since mediaeval times.

William of Orange landed at this port in 1688 to claim the English Crown; the head of his statue in the harbour is very popular with resting seagulls. Excellent fish and chips are available around the harbour. The town was home to Sir Francis Drake, who voyaged the globe between 1577 and 1580. A replica of the ship he captained, The Golden Hind, can be visited in Brixham's harbour.

More about Brixham and its history can be seen on this page.

A lively market town, hugely expanded since WW2, Totnes was a Saxon settlement. It has architecture from Norman, Mediaeval and Tudor times. Dwellings of the peasantry were once demolished for the building of its famous Norman Castle. Work began in the C11th, additions and reconstructions being undertaken in subsequent centuries.

At the top of town, above The Narrows, Leechwell Springs was the source of water for Elizabethan lepers. A sign just before and to the left-hand side of an Inn, the Kingsbridge Arms, shows the way. It is down narrow stone lanes, now with some attractive and desirable properties. How very different must the atmosphere have been in those mediaeval times.

An early morning walk along the Ramparts, where the ancient Guildhall and St. Mary's Church are situated, can be beautiful at sunrise. I happened to pick a rainy dawn.

By the entrance to the Ramparts, where Fore Street meets the High Street, is the famous East Gate. Periodically it catches fire, the last time being in 1990. Shortly before it, on the right-hand side, Totnes Rectory is one of many fine buildings.

The covered area called the Butterwalk dates from Tudor times, built to protect the dairy produce on sale from the vagaries of the weather. Continuing up the hill, the road becomes the Narrows.

From the Quayside, near The Plains and giving access to Vire Island, are boat trips to Dartmouth. The generally colourful scene at the River Dart looks different on a misty morning. Among Totnes' many attractions, historic and contemporary, are its range of inns.

Shaldon is a pretty and thriving village on the River Teign estuary, just across from the town of Teignmouth. A ferry links the two places and has done so since the C13th. Happily, the village still has its village green, where bowls is played regularly.

The sea has always been important for Shaldon people. The tradition of fishing continues to some extent. Added to this are boat trips for visitors, plus water-sports. Smuggling, via the Ness, appears to be discontinued.

The Ness tunnel leads to a pretty beach and the smallest, indoor zoo in the country. Tiny animals, such as various insects and some small mammals and primates, are kept here.

Shaldon has attractive old cottages and houses, set in delightful narrow lanes with idiosyncratic names.

Devon - and indeed England - has many pretty villages, but among them the hamlet in Buckland-in-the-Moor is outstandingly picturesque. It is especially so on a Summer's day when both the sun and the cottage flowers are out.

This hamlet, named Bridge, lies only 3 miles from Ashburton, on South Dartmoor. It is on the right-hand side. As for the rest of the village, it's composed of scattered cottages and farms. The area is pleasantly wooded.

A short distance uphill from Bridge is a narrow left turn through stone walls, descending to Spitchwick. This is a lovely and popular spot for woodland walks, Summer picnics and swimming in the river Dart.

The parish church of St. Peter is just after the turn to Spitchwick and also on the left. The earliest part dates from the C12th, with much re-building and expansion during the C15th. It remains a working church, open for Sunday services.

Ashprington is a pleasant and prosperous village, beautifully situated near the river Dart. It's just a few miles from Totnes, via a left-hand turn off the Kingsbridge road. It was mentioned in the Domesday book as Aisbertone, with a population of 19. Now the numbers are between 400-500.

The church of St. David is mostly C15th, with periodic restoration during the C19th. Its font, though, is Norman.

Among many pretty places to explore around Ashprington, is the walk to Sharpham Manor. This takes you along the river Dart with views of delighful South Hams countryside. The start is to the right of the church.

This small hillside town, set near the mouth of the river Dart, has a long history. From its harbour Christians embarked on the 2nd and 3rd Crusades of the C12th. By then Dartmouth was a major Devon town, a conduit for Totnes' wool trade and for the importation of French and Spanish wines.

Among many merchants John Hawley was prominent. It is widely agreed that the great English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, met Hawley on his visit to Dartmouth in 1373. Hawley most probably was the model for Chaucer's Schipman in his Canterbury Tales. He was also mayor of Dartmouth 14 times. On his deat in 1408 he was buried in St. Saviour's church.

Warfleet Creek, referred to as Welflut in the C12th, is a tidal inlet at the Dart estuary. The word flut, flute, or flete, means a stream. It has no connection with fleets of ships. This is a lovely spot and a short stroll to St. Petrox church and Dartmouth castle.

The ancient port of Dartmouth, historically under frequent threats of invasions, ever needed to be defended. Hawley, in 1388 while mayor, began to build a defensive fortalice, the first castle here. War with France broke out again in 1403, by which time work on it was complete. A chain from the castle to the fort at Godmerock could be raised to block enemy ships. The only records of the chain being used were in 1599 against Spain and in 1643 during the English Civil War.

When the use of heavy cannons made Hawley's castle redundant, new fortifications were odered by King Edward IV in 1481. Work was renewed in 1486 under King Henry VII. He also ordered the building of the castle at Kingswear, on the opposite side.

King Henry VIII was responsible for increasing many of England's coastal defences during his reign, including those at Dartmouth. Bearscove Fort (Bayard's Cove Fort) provided a second line of defence after the two castles. Its construction, probably around 1539, is attributed to him. The Pilgrim Fathers stopped here after leaving Southampton, on their journey to the New World.

The most outstanding local navigator was John Davis, a contemporary of Sir Walter Raleigh. Davis was born in 1550 and died on an expedition in 1605, when killed by Japanese pirates. He'd captured their boat, but piracy then was a way of life and its definition a matter of politics. Privateers were ships licenced by a monarch to capture enemy ships and their contents, sometimes holding captives to ransom. The monarch would take a share of the spoils. Piracy occurred when this activity took place against the royal wishes. Since enemy status could change quickly with changes of plans for royal alliances, confusion was always possible in times of slow communications.

St. Petrox is one of three Anglican churches in Dartmouth, the others being St. Saviour's, C14th, and St. Clement's. St. Petroc arrived here in the C6th. The latter two are in the town, while St. Petrox is next to Dartmouth castle.

The current Britannia Royal Naval College is sited high on a hill above the harbour. It was built in 1902-1905 by Sir Aston Webb. It suffered destruction of its steamships in WW1 and from air-raid damage in WW2. Its naval cadets include King George VI, the present Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.

In Royal Avenue Gardens is a memorial to Thomas Newcomen, inventor of the atmospheric engine. His industrial steam engine was used to pump water out of mines. 50 years later, James Watt further developed it and claimed credit for its invention.

There is a car ferry to and from Dartmouth marina. Boat trips from along the front visit various places, including Totnes. In the past the nearest leper colony was there, at the House of Mary Magdalene; Dartmouth's lepers are on record as being sent there until 1617.

After John Hawley's death in 1408, both port and town fell upon hard times. Through the ages Dartmouth's prosperity has fluctuated with the rise and fall of trades such as fishing and cloth, being good from around the late C16th to the middle of the C17th. It declined in the C19th due to the use of Southampton and Plymouth for shipping; also because of the lack of railway access. Today the town is bustling with small shops in attractive narrow lanes and is a great draw for tourists.


the Golden Hind in Brixham harbour
Brixham harbour
Brixham marina
Brixham mural
boats in Brixham harbour


Totnes church of St. Mary
Totnes Ramparts
leading to Leechwell Spring
East Gate
Totnes presbytery
Totnes Butterwalk
Totnes' Vire Island
Totnes side street
Totnes Plains
Totnes riverside
Totnes riverside inn


Shaldon beach
Shaldon estuary


Buckland-in-the-Moor church


Ashprington church
River Dart near Ashprington


Dartmouth harbour
King Henry the Eighth's fort at Dartmouth
small lane in Dartmouth
St. Petrox church in Dartmouth
Dartmouth castle
Kingswear castle
View across the Dart from Warfleet creek
Main square and inner harbour
Memorial to Thomas Newcomen in Royal Avenue Gardens
Dartmouth marina
Cherub Inn, once Dartmouth's oldest house
site navigation
walks for wimps
various stuff