For over 600 years Dartmouth Castle has stood guard over the entrance to the River Dart protecting the town. It has been in the care of English Heritage since 1984. Unlike many of the English Heritage sites Dartmouth Castle is of a stable and sturdy construction but even so the site is checked dailt to ensure everything is as it should be before visitors are admitted. The Visitor Operations Manager for Devon, Jon Ducker looks after the overall running of the castle. As the site forms two separate areas it is necessary for two members of staff to be on duty at any time. One will meet and greet people as they arrive at the entrance to the Castle where the admission fee will be taken. There is a gift shop which must surely enjoy one of the most beautiful views of any shop in the country. The second staff member on duty acts as a point of reference for visitors, pointing out where and what things are, and giving information on the history of the site. They are also responsible for the health and safety of the visitors. Dartmouth Castle is open everyday from 1st April through to 31st October and thereafter at weekends. It requires a staff of 5 working on a full or part time basis.
As the Castle does not house any fine art or tapestries the maintenance requirements are somewhat less than many other castles. Housekeeping really only involves dusting and removing any leaves or debris that might get blown in. A technical team will visit on occasion to ensure the building’s stability and to repair any cracks or holes that might have developed.
Events are held on site during the course of the year and are organised by the site staff and the English Heritage events team who are based in Bristol. These take into account the dilemma that the internal areas are quite large whilst the external areas are relatively small. Re-enactment and living history groups are regular features and they also look at celebrating specific dates which relate to the Castle such as World War Two or Henry VIII’s accession to the throne. With its long and colourful history starting from 1388 when these defences were begun by John Hawley to protect the town and warehouses from waterborne attack, through action during the English Civil War, updating with the Victorian Battery and then service in World War Two, it does mean they are able to display wide ranging exhibitions.
As well as offering fascinating history through the ages the Castle also serves as a wonderful viewing point for visiting ships and the Red Arrows display during Regatta. Over the years it has been used as a tearoom, hosted wedding receptions, families come in remembrance of fathers or grandfathers that sailed out of the Dart on the way to the D-Day landings and, we are told, is a favourite place for marriage proposals!.
Whatever your reason for visiting, the staff look forward to welcoming you and would suggest travelling out from the town by the Castle ferry which is not only a very pleasant way to do so but offers the imposing external view that is only possible from the water.
First Published August 2010 By The Dart