Driving Tour: Dartmouth to Kingsbridge

  • Start Dartmouth South Embankment
  • End Kingsbridge Quay
  • Length 22 miles; one day

From Dartmouth’s pretty South Embankment turn right to head along a steep route revealing the gorgeous River Dart. You're headed to Dartmouth Castle, a sturdy 14th-century fortification with displays revealing the port's connections to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in the same century, and a high-tech evocation of an 18th-century gun drill. There's also a cafe with grandstand views and, tucked into the cliffs just below, the diminutive Castle Cove, accessed by 100 steps.

Double-back on your drive slightly to Warfleet Pottery, where you'll fork left, on to the B3205 and then the A379 towards Torcross. Dog-leg through quaint Stoke Fleming, emerging for buzzard’s-eye views of Start Bay’s scalloped coves. At Blackpool Sands, perhaps pause for a swim; the cafe here is excellent and packed with local produce; it rents out SUPs and kayaks too.

Next drive up 16% gradients, around switchbacks, and along view-framed bends. After Strete’s pastel-painted cottages, the 3-mile pebble ridge of Slapton Sands suddenly fills the windscreen; watery Slapton Ley is just behind. U-bends and a brake-burning descent lead to a glorious, flat, straight strip of land between sea and ley called the Slapton Line; persistent erosion could see it washed away within decades. Pull into the Memorial Car Park, then clatter down the pebbles to drink in long views at Slapton Sands Beach

Next, stroll inland around reed-filled Slapton Ley. Even just a short stroll from the entrance reveals a broad expanse of water, snaking trails and the first signs of birdlife. A better option is to take the circular 1¾-mile trail that edges the ley, heading past reed beds and twisted trees, where more wildlife is revealed as the road recedes behind; great crested grebes and otters are the highlights here. The trail leads to quaint Slapton village; walk along the lane into the village to emerge back at the car park.

Carry on along the A379 before pausing at the poignant WWII Sherman Tank Memorial. This commemorates the 639 American servicemen who died on Slapton Sands in 1944, during training exercises for the D-Day invasions. Their boats were torpedoed by a German vessel; the tank was one of those on the landing crafts and was recovered from the seabed and placed here as a memorial.

Curl around the head of the ley, passing cottages and fields, before turning off towards Beesands. An ever-narrowing route through steep, twisting lanes spills you out at this ancient fishing village, which is strung out on a lobster and crab-pot-lined shore. For lunch, Britannia at the Beach offers excellent net-fresh seafood, while the Cricket Inn has more restaurant-style surroundings.

Once sated, it’s back in the car and out of Beesands, heading to South Hallsands. Park up, then stroll to the viewing platform to discover more startling evidence of this deeply eroded shore. To your right sits the huddled remains of an entire village, much of which was swept out to sea en masse one night in 1917 during a fierce storm. The waves claimed more than 23 properties but – miraculously – no lives. Although you can't walk among the ruins, the sepia images displayed tell the story well.

Then it's time to drive south to Start Point’s windswept lighthouse. Here you can join a tour that leads up hundreds of steps to the top – the final section is a clamber up a ladder to the optic chamber, a circular, glass-fronted bubble that houses the 815,000 candela bulbs. Looking north brings views down over the wide sweep of Start Bay, and across your route so far. You'll also look down on a sand and shell reef known as the Skerries – your guide may regale you with tales of Victorian boat trips on to these sometimes-tidal banks, where games of cricket are said to have been played.

Leaving Start Point behind, navigate narrow lanes through a string of villages: Frogmore, East Charleton and West Charleton included, and past chequerboard fields and stretches of creek to Kingsbridge, an appealing market town that's a delight to explore. Heading up Fore St leads to independent bookshops, galleries and clothes shops, plus the Cookworthy Museum, which is strong on agricultural artefacts and has an extensive photographic archive. Nearby you'll find the locals' favourite, the Mangetout cafe-deli, its counters piled high with salads, meats and more than 50 cheeses. Otherwise, head back towards the quayside for cheerful, quality eats at the Old Bakery or riverside pub food at the Crabshell.