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Home | Things to do | 5 atmospheric castles in South Devon

5 atmospheric castles in South Devon

Dartmouth Castle in South Devon
Dartmouth Castle

With its commanding coastal location, it’s no wonder there are plenty of castles in South Devon. You never can be too careful when there’s risk of invasion from across the English Channel. 

A couple of Devon’s historic fortifications are still owned by families who have been linked to them for hundreds of years. Of course, most are now very much in retirement. Indeed, some are in ruin. But there are a handful that are a must-visit when you have booked a stay in South Devon

In 2021, please be aware that opening times may vary and you may be required to book your visit in advance. Check each castle’s website in advance.

Follow in the footsteps of nobles and defenders of the West Country by visiting these South Devon castles:

Compton Castle near Paignton

Compton Castle near Paignton in South Devon
Compton Castle

This castle in the English Riviera has been home to the Gilbert family for nearly 600 years, including Sir Humphrey Gilbert – half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh. It is now looked after by the National Trust.

Compton was fortified against French raids in the 15th Century, with high curtain walls, towers and a portcullis that you can still see today. It never had to be used in anger but looks like it would have put up a good fight.

The Gilbert family still use the castle as a residence, so you can’t see all the living areas. You can however wander round the medieval kitchen, great hall, solar and sub solar.

Talks are sometimes scheduled in the chapel. There’s a collection of dressing up clothes in the kitchen and a squirrel trail for children to follow around the castle.

Outside there are Tudor games in the courtyard and formal gardens.

Be aware that if you are hoping for a refreshing National Trust coffee and cake there isn’t a cafe at the castle. You can however find the Castle Barton restaurant across the road.

Check Compton Castle’s opening times on the National Trust website.

Find more National Trust places to visit in South Devon.

Powderham Castle near Exeter

Powderham Castle and gardens in Devon
Gardens at Powderham Castle

Powderham is another castle in South Devon that’s still occupied. It’s the 600-year-old family home of the Earls of Devon, the latest of which is Charlies Courtenay.

The castle commands stunning views of the Exe Estuary – you can spot it from the railway line from Exeter to Plymouth – and has a rich history stretching back to the 1300s. 

Today you can tour the castle with is lived in by the Earl and his family.

There’s also a small animal farm, a play fort, a deer safari and plenty of seasonal entertainment making this a full family day out. Visit during the school holidays for interactive shows and themed events. Powderham also hosts music festivals and events throughout the year.

Check the Powderham Castle website for opening times.

Find more family days out in South Devon.

Totnes Castle in Totnes

Totnes Castle and town from above
Totnes Castle

The Castle dates back to the 11th Century and was originally built following the invasion of William the Conquerer. It started off as a timber construction but this was replaced with stone at the turn of the 14th Century.

It’s now one of the best preserved Norman motte and bailey castles in England. 

Visiting this English Heritage site doesn’t take long, but is a great additional to wandering around the independent shops and other things to do in Totnes. You can climb the motte, admire the views down the River Dart and picnic in the castle walls. It’s also dog-friendly.

There’s a small shop at the castle but no tea room. You’ll find plenty of cafes a short walk away in Totnes.

Check out Totnes Castle’s opening times on the English Heritage website.

Find more dog-friendly places to visit in South Devon.

Berry Pomeroy Castle near Totnes 

Ruins of Berry Pomperoy Castle near Totnes
Berry Pomperoy Castle

Visit Berry Pomeroy on a misty morning and you’d be forgiven for being spooked. This 15th Century ruin is said to be one of Devon’s most haunted places. There’s an audio tour that tells you all the ghostly tales. 

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector to Henry VIII’s only legitimate son, started building an Elizabethan mansion within the castle walls in 1560. The plan was for it to be the grandest in Devon. But it was never completed and was ultimately abandoned by the 18th Century.

Despite now being a ruin, you can still walk through the Great Hall and explore there first floor of the medieval gatehouse. You can also wander the woodlands and have a Devon cream tea in the cafe.

Check the Berry Pomeroy’s opening times on the English Heritage website.

Dartmouth Castle in Dartmouth

View of Dartmouth Castle from the River Dart in Devon
Dartmouth Castle

The salty remains of Dartmouth Castle cling to the cliffs above the entrance to the River Dart in South Devon. Unlike many English castles, it has never been home to kings or courtiers. But since the 14th Century it has played an important role in protecting the nearby port of Dartmouth.

French raids were common in the area, so over the centuries towers and batteries were added to the fortifications, giving the guns longer range into the English Channel. A chain could also be drawn across the river mouth between Dartmouth Castle and Kingswear to stop unwelcome vessels entering.

Today you can visit the castle’s battery, casemates and gun tower where troops were stationed periodically right up until the Second World War. It’s also fascinating to wander around the gravestones of St Petrox Church, which has stood in the same location for nearly 200 years longer than the castle.

If you’re feeling peckish Dartmouth Castle Tea Rooms is juts outside. You can walk to Dartmouth Castle from the town or catch a ferry from the quayside. Don’t miss out on some of the unique places to eat in Dartmouth.

Check Dartmouth Castle’s opening times on the English Heritage website.

Here’s some more things to do in Dartmouth.

Stay in South Devon

If you’d like to explore the castles in South Devon why not make it the base for you next holiday. We have a collection of cottages in and around Dartmouth in Devon.

Get in touch with us to chat through the options, from dog-friendly holiday homes to cottages for larger families, to Dartmouth accommodation with parking. Or search our Devon self-catering accommodation for yourself.

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