Southwestern England Part 5: Pendennis and Dartmouth Castles

Homes along the River Dart, Dartmouth England

On the southern coast of England, there are two sights close to the historical town of Plymouth that are worth visiting for their natural scenery and the historical interest, Pendennis Castle (west of Plymouth in Cornwall) and Dartmouth Castle (east of Plymouth in Devon).

Pendennis Castle

Pendennis Castle, located near the town of Falmouth, sits at the entrance to Falmouth Harbor (the Fal River Estuary), a strategic location and a great natural harbor. It is a large fort, with circular walls which made it harder to hit and damage during an attack by cannon.  During the time of King Henry the 8th(mid 1500’s) there were constant worries about the southern coast of England being invaded by France and Spain, since England was now Protestant and France and Spain were still loyal to the Pope.  Henry built a number of fortifications along the coast. While they are called castles, they really were forts rather than residences, built to defend likely invasion landing sites.

Pendennis Castle

View of the town of Falmouth from Pendennis Castle

The view of Falmouth Harbor from Pendennis Castle

The setting at the point where the castle is located is lovely, and we had great weather during our visit, making us just want to lie on the green grass, soak up the sun and enjoy the views of the boats passing by. It also saw action in WW I and WWII.  There is a guardhouse at the entrance to the castle grounds with some interesting exhibits.  Across the estuary is St. Mawes Castle, a sister castle to Pendennis, and is more original, since it was not altered or used in later years.  There is a ferry service between Falmouth and St. Mawes, saving a long drive around the estuary. Unfortunately our schedule did not allow us time to go to St. Mawes. Both Pendennis and St. Mawes are part of the English Heritage System, and your fee is covered with a membership card, a worthwhile purchase if you are visiting several English Heritage sites.

Dartmouth Castle

Dartmouth Castle is located in Dartmouth, at the mouth of the River Dart, in Devon. This is one of my favorite locations in Devon.  The setting of the castle along the steep banks of the narrow river entrance, with the beautiful homes of Dartmouth just in the distance is serene. Dartmouth Castle was built in the 15thcentury by Edward IV, and was used in later times as a southern coast defensive position.  There were great chains which were strung across the river entrance to stop enemy ships, which were raised and lowered with windlasses in the castle. This castle is not part of English Heritage, and requires a separate entrance fee. The town of Dartmouth is also charming, with half-timbered homes and a quaint inner harbor area.

My favorite image of the River Dart and Dartmouth Castle

Dartmouth Castle on the right, and the fortification across the Dart River used to hoist a chain across the river entrance

Dartmouth Castle along the River Dart

The tide is out in the inner harbor of Dartmouth

Locations of Pendennis and Dartmouth Castles from Plymouth, England. The most practical way to visit these locations is by car.