Dartmouth – the perfect place to relocate
PUBLISHED: 13:38 24 April 2008 | UPDATED: 15:07 20 February 2013
Dartmouth is one of the most beautiful towns in the country, but good looks aren't all - the town has a strong sense of community and it's not surprising that more and more people want to live there.
Nigel Way, who has owned the Royal Castle Hotel for 25 years with his wife Anne, has been described by local businessman Paul Barclay as the "backbone of Dartmouth" and it is easy to see why. Even with a busy life running two hotels, Nigel still finds time to help organise the Dartmouth Music Festival and sit on the board of the town's Tourist Information Centre.
"It's a magic place to live," he said, "and I think it is a more balanced community than many places in Devon. It is very much a town for all seasons. People in Dartmouth worry that we are going the way of Salcombe (ie with a high proportion of second homes) but I do not think we are going to turn up our toes soon and say we are dead. Second-home owners do bring in the money by employing local builders and tradespeople, and they do eventually become residents.
"There are fishermen, farmers and small food producers who are adding value. Kingswear and Dartmouth land more shellfish than anywhere else in the UK. Dartmouth definitely punches above its weight; the Regatta now gets better reviews than Cowes."
Nigel is a familiar figure behind the hotel's bar, when he is not carving spit-roasted gammon for lunch baps. "I know what people drink," he said. "People expect to see me behind the bar." It is this dedication that earned Nigel his MBE last year for his services to tourism and hospitality.
And as the icing on the cake, Nigel has a beautiful commute into work. "Every day I try to walk along the riverbank to remind myself why I came to live in Dartmouth," he said. "The reason for Dartmouth being Dartmouth is the river."
Dartmouth owes much of its charm to its relative isolation; the river cuts it off from Torbay, and although there are two car ferries and a passenger ferry, queues can build up, particularly in summer. There are regular bus services to Plymouth and Torquay. The 112 runs to Harbertonford and Dittisham, and the local West Dart bus route serves Blackawton. Riverlink runs passenger cruises to Totnes from March to November and also offers a round-robin trip incorporating the bus and the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway.
Dartmouth Primary School and Nursery takes children from three, and there is a Catholic Primary, St John the Baptist. Dartmouth Community College, which has specialist status as an Arts College, has a sound reputation and prizes itself on its small teaching and tutor groups. Pre-school playgroups include Top of the Town Parent and Toddler Group (formerly Stepping Stones) ((01803 8332160). Humpty Dumpty Childcare is a private nursery for babies to school-age children ((01803 832579).
Britannia Royal Naval College dominates the town and is an officer-training establishment for the Royal Navy.
Nigel Way has a point when he says Dartmouth has a "foodie reputation". All eateries try to source as much as possible from local suppliers. Besides the fine dining at the Royal Castle, Jan and Freddie's Brasserie offers top cuisine from a Michael Caines-trained chef. The Anzac Street Bistro grows as much of its own fruit, vegetables and herbs as possible. The Dart Marina has three restaurants: the River Restaurant, Wildfire Bistro and the Floating Bridge pub, and Taylors offers fine dining overlooking the Boatfloat.
Go Californian at Kendricks, oriental at the Khrua Thai Restaurant, Chinese at Tsangs; or Italian at La Casa Di Tudo. Dine overlooking the Dart in Sails restaurant in the Yacht Club, whose extensive menu turns the best Westcountry produce into exquisite upmarket modern English cuisine, with a specials board that features an extensive catch of the day list and extremely naughty puds. Venture onto the river at the Resnova Floating Inn, a 19th-century steel Dutch Barge. If you don't have your own water transport you can phone for the water taxi.
Celebrity chef Mitch Tonks has just opened The Seahorse on South Embankment , which will specialise in seafood, grilled meat dishes and house specialities, and will provide a river taxi to ferry customers home. John Burton Race's New Angel has also recently reopened.
Step back in time for a pint and pub meal in the 14th-century Cherub, which took its name from a locally built boat used for carrying wool. The Spinning Wheel Café in Hauley Road was also built at the same time and stakes its claim as the oldest tea rooms in England. Café Alf Resco was named by The Independent as one of the 50 best cafés in England, serving its gourmet breakfasts every day from 7am.
Shop to your heart's delight for designer clothes and accessories. You may take a fancy to a 'macaroni' knitted top from Cornish company Weird Fish or designer swimwear from Juste Moi. Fatface, Joules and Crew Clothing Co have outlets in town. Ruby George stocks ladies' labels such as Fever, Lipsy and Mint, and Ted Baker, with Timberland and Bench for children. True Blue sells Blue Willi's tops, and Waterfront sells Seasalt and Lysgaard. Sarah Hanafee, who owns Danielli in Lower Street, collected names of French, Spanish and Italian designer brands during her travels, which she could not find over here, and opened her shop to sell them. House of Hawkins offers Hodgsons, Lyle and Scott, Smedley and Green Coast for men. Kit out the kids at The Ark and pick up a wooden toy while you're there.
Buy boating and sports goods at Seahaven and also at Shipmates, which sells navigational equipment as well. Watch canvas bags being made at The Canvas Factory or buy cookware at The Kitchen Shop. Candles & Soaps of Dartmouth is an olfactory sensation whose wares smell good enough to eat, and Gifts for Gentlemen offers all sorts of gadgetry for the man in your life.
Dartmouth is awash with artists and art galleries. Simon Drew and James Stewart exhibit their own works in their galleries and if you drop into Nautical Voyages you can see artist Paul Barclay at work on his maritime pen and ink drawings. His own-brand sailwear carries his distinctive yacht logo and he will also design bespoke logos.
Out & About
A tour of Britannia Royal Naval College takes around two hours and can be followed by a wander down the Butterwalk and along the Dart to Bayard's Cove. Carry on along Southtown until you reach Warfleet Creek, with its 17th-century quay wall and limekiln. Further still, at the river's mouth, is Dartmouth Castle, the first in the country to be constructed specifically for artillery. You can stop for a snack in the tearoom before climbing the hill through the woods to Gallants Bower, an old Civil War redoubt, azure with bluebells in early May.
Four gorgeous gardens are within easy reach: the National Trust's Greenway and Coleton Fishacre on the Kingswear side of the river ; Fast Rabbit at Ash Cross and the newly restored Blackpool Gardens overlooking Blackpool Sands.
Woodlands Leisure Park is a must for children. Besides outdoor activities such as the cyclone watercoasters, the park boasts the largest indoor play area in the UK, with some death-defying perpendicular slides which will have parents more scared than the kids.
A river cruise from Dartmouth Castle to Dittisham, accompanied by a sumptuous locally sourced picnic, is offered by The Picnic Boat. Children's pirate picnics are also available. (01803 752625)
Sport and the Arts
In Dartmouth you can take part in almost any sport, from the expected angling and boating to the French game of petanque (similar to our bowls). A variety of activities are catered for at the town's sports centre at the top of the hill. The arts are particularly strong, with The Flavel, Dartmouth's newest arts centre, offering a varied programme including film, drama, music (with special children's shows and workshops), lectures and exhibitions. Dartmouth Music Festival , which this year runs from 16-18 May, attracts musicians from all around the world (more on page 164). Shop to the strains of jazz at the farmers' market during the festival.
Dartmouth Regatta takes place from 28-30 August this year and is far more than a boating spectacular. There is usually a shopping marquee, barrel rolling, children's fancy dress, a golf tournament, tug-of-war, music, the famous Red Arrows and the equally famous fireworks on the first and last days.
What can I get for my money
"There is a property for every pocket," said Martin Blacoe, manager of Stags-Michael Bennett in Duke Street. The lowest priced one-bed flat starts at around £105,000, with a greater selection priced at around £140,000. Two-bed flats start at £165,000, with the lowest priced three-bed semi at £177,500. Location, of course, is all-important. A three-bed end-of-terrace town house with views and parking costs around £376,000, whereas standard three- and four-bed family homes without views can start at £250,000, rising to £500,000 in different areas, with the top-notch waterside properties topping £1m. As Martin says: "It is a very diverse town. All styles of property from luxury waterside to family home can be found here."CAROLINE JAMES