South Hams is an area of low rolling hills in southern Devon bounded by Plymouth in the east, Dartmoor National Park to the north, and the beautiful coastline winding between Plymouth, Start Bay and Dartmouth, and ending just before Torbay. Within this area are the attractive towns of Totnes, Dartmouth, Kingsbridge, Salcombe and Ivybridge (the largest). The rolling moorland is intersected by two estuaries leading to the river valleys of the Dart and Avon.
Popular activities enjoyed by visitors include walking, sailing and canoeing. During the year there are local festivals, arts events and sailing regattas, with plenty for holiday makers to do close at hand.
Stallholders dressed in Tudor costumes bring a dash of romance to Totnes every Tuesday from May to September at the craft market between 9am and 3pm. They complement the atmosphere of the town, which has Saxon origins, the remains of a Norman castle and many buildings dating from the Middle Ages. Totnes was a flourishing port in those times, exporting tin and wool. Ships still sail up the River Dart at high tide to unload at St Peter’s Quay and they share the waterway with private craft and boats from Dartmouth packed with sightseers. The main markets are on Fridays and Saturdays on the Civic Hall Square throughout the year. There is also a collectibles market on Fridays in the Civic Hall.
Dart Harbour is the focal point for Dartmouth town with its long maritime heritage. A colourful collection of yachts, cabin cruisers and bigger seagoing ships fills the harbour in summer, while swans mingle with gulls in the Boatfloat, a small inner harbour between the quay and the river.
On the hill, looming over the town is the Britannia Royal Naval College. George V, George VI and Prince Charles have all served as cadets here. The College was built in 1905 to replace the Britannia training ship which had been moored in the river since 1863.
The town has some fine historic buildings including the 17th century Butterwalk, part of which houses Dartmouth Museum. It was originally a row of merchants’ houses with the first floors supported on columns to form a covered trading area below.
The cobbled quay at Bayard’s Cove, where the Pilgrim Fathers’ visit is commemorated, featured in the Onedin Line TV series, and ends by Bearscove Castle, a small fort built in 1537 as part of Henry VIII’s coastal defences.
Sometimes called the ‘capital’ of South Hams, Kingsbridge is an interesting town whose roots go back to a 13th century charter. It is an inland port, and has a surf school, and surfboards, kayaks and canoes can be hired.
This town with its final natural harbour is the gateway to nearly 2000 acres of tidal creeks and a favourite destination of yachtsmen, who can explore as far inland as Kingsbridge. Its quaint old streets are packed with visitors during the summer, while the estuary plays host to a forest of sailing masts. Salcombe town regatta is in August every year with plenty of waterborne activities and family entertainment.
This town takes its name from the ‘Ivy Bridge’ which spans the River Erme, and is featured in the work of several prominent artists including JMW Turner. Other landmarks include the much-photographed railway viaduct, and the 19th century paper mill, which is still in operation.
- South Devon Railway. This heritage railway runs between Buckfastleigh and Totnes.
- Buckfast Abbey. This Benedictine Abbey, between Newton Abbot and Totnes is open to visitors and has a restaurant, and shops selling gifts, books and the produce from monasteries and convents across the world. Buckfast Abbey itself makes tonic wine, fudge and beeswax products.
- Dining Out – locally caught seafood can be sampled at restaurants, particularly in Salcombe and Dartmouth.
- Dartmouth Music Festival – the annual May festival presents an amazing variety of music in venues around the town.
- Dartmouth Regatta – a plethora of events each August including sailing competitions, an illuminated river procession, air displays, rowing, music, sports, fireworks and more.
- Totnes Castle – This well-preserved Norman motte and bailey castle is open to the public for a modest entry fee. Opening times vary according to the time of year – see website for details.
- Start Point – This rocky headland with its lighthouse has been the scene of many shipwrecks. The clifftop car park nearby provides a great view of the headland.