top of page
  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Dartmouth Circular Vertical Walk Part 1

I know I've posted so many sets of photos from Dartmouth, but this is an area of Dartmouth I have heretofore avoided, due to the need for mountain climbing gear to get up there. For some reason the word heretofore just popped into my head which was weird as it is a word I don't believe I have heretofore used.

Heretofore - Until now; before this time. From Middle English heretoforn, equivalent to here (“here”) + toforn (“before”), from Old English toforan (“before”)

In case you are not familiar with it the pronunciation is like Hear Two Four thrown into one. It is a lovely old fashioned word quite suited to the aged streets of Dartmouth.

This is the jumble of properties below, near the market square looking up to where we are going. As you can tell, this is going to involve steps not wheels.

We're already half way up the first set of steps so I think there must be a climate change proponent living here because it will be a very long time before the tide reaches here. If the tide had reached here most of the world's capitol cities would be fifty feet under.

Talking about aged Dartmouth, try guessing how many pairs of footsteps it takes to wear away granite in this way. You see steps like this in Italy or Portugal but theirs are made of marble which is comparatively very soft. Daniel Defoe visited Dartmouth in the 1720's so he may have helped by walking down these very steps.

We're at the first level now and cheats would come in the back way using wheels, but only in smaller vehicles. These streets have width limits as you will soon see.

A gap in between the buildings every so often reveals the rooftops below. This is Foss Street an area long ago drained and filled in to add land for building. This area was a creek, and the Foss was a tidal dam across that creek where the tidal waters were trapped and then released to operate water mills. Further to the right is the market square which will be the end of the walk. The market itself was built on what was once the flooded creek.

Foss Street began in the 13th century. The French rulers also brought new technology: they built a dam - the modern Foss Street - across the tidal creek to power two tidal grain mills and incidentally joined together the two villages of Hardness and Clifton which form the modern town.

I have added this interloper of a photo to give an impression of what this creek could have looked like. A short way up river, the next creek is still a creek and has a working boat repair yard.

In medieval times, land access from the Totnes direction up river, passed the manor at Norton and the parish church at Townstal before falling steeply along what are now Church Road, Mount Boone and Ridge Hill to the river at Hardness. There were steeper routes via Townstal Hill and Clarence Street and also via Brown's Hill. These were all too steep for vehicles, so the only land access was by packhorse.

This walk follows both Clarence Street and Mount Boone. In this photo note the faint outline of the castle at the base of Gallants Bower the name of the distant hill. On that hill is the remains of a Civil War fort. (Mentioned here)

Before 1066 no town existed on the site of modern Dartmouth, only the small village of Townstal at the top of the hill with the church of St. Clement's. After the Normans arrived they soon realised the value of this safe harbour for cross-Channel voyages, and by the l2th century it had become a port well enough known for supplying ships to become the assembly point for the European fleet setting off for both the 2nd and 3rd Crusades. (

I should add at this point that many of Englands south coast towns are post 1066 precisely because the constant French threat over the centuries meant that settlements were built further inland and usually higher up too, to offer some protection against attack, or at least advance warning for escape. Totnes for example is a much older settlement and a mile or two further up river.

Kingswear is opposite on the other bank of the Dart a smaller cousin with similar history and development.

Dartmouth abounds with Blue Plaques. A blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person, event, or former building on the site, serving as a historical marker.

The blue plaque on this very modest town house carries a lot of information.

Arthur Howe Holdsworth lived here from 1802 until 1840. Politician, artist and inventor. 1780-1861. Mayor, Governor of Dartmouth Castle, MP for Dartmouth 1802-20 and 1829-32.

He promoted the First Carriage Road out of Dartmouth, The Market, the Mail Packet Station and Railway.

What is enlightening is that list of communications innovations all of which came relatively late to this town. This is the result of communication being by sea for most of the town's history. Travel along the coast was far more efficient than travel by land along routes with poor quality roads and minimal river crossings.

He patented a Ship's Rudder, the Watertight Bulkhead, the Fireproof Magazine, Rebuilt the Warfleet Paper Mill and generally had a hand in greatly improving the prosperity of the town.

I am not sure how many visitors to Dartmouth today have ever heard of him or appreciate what he did for the place they have come to enjoy.

Here is the same view over the town but from a higher level. You can now see the harbour entrance next to the castle in the distance.

This is an unusual sight below, being the only property I found that was built within the last fifty years in this part of town, possibly a lot longer. Probably the most significant design feature that differentiates it from all of it's older neighbours is it's use of glass in large areas which command views across the town and even out to sea. It also has a very valuable modern convenience, a garage, which virtually none of it's neighbours feature.

This is an indicator of the main problem of modern life, convenient accessibility, most people not travelling by horse anymore. A road with a maximum width of 5 feet was designed for horses not carts, and certainly not Range Rovers.

Even commercial drivers know they need smaller vehicles, like this scaffolding truck.

Birds of course have no problems.

This is a more normal sight in architectural terms, a run of Georgian Terraced houses.

At several points flights of steps plummet to the market square below.

High walls and sharp curves call for desperate measures.

.....and what happens when you meet someone coming up as you are going down? This is a 2 way street after all.

This was the highest point of my walk and I now carry across on this level before coming down by a different route to the market square.

Related Posts

See All


David Nurse
David Nurse
Apr 18, 2022

Another interesting post.

The worn steps, were amazing. Not something I would normally give a second thought to but my word they would take some wearing down!.

I thought the modern house was interesting. The longer roof overhang was like you would see on oriental buildings or pagodas. Something I have wondered why we don't see more of this given the amount of rain we see in the UK.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Apr 18, 2022
Replying to

You're right that house has a pagodaesque feel to it. What surprised me was they got planning permission in that area.


Unknown member
Apr 18, 2022

Talk about narrow, narrow streets. You did a great job of giving us the feel of the tighteness around. I am surprise though, you did not take a close up photo of the door in #13 ( left side)....looks like a very unique door.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Apr 18, 2022
Replying to

I will accept that as a request/challenge, next time I am there.🙂

bottom of page