Jutting out at the entrance to the Dart estuary, this well-positioned castle was one of the earliest in England specifically designed to carry guns. Construction began in the late 15th century when the local merchants felt vulnerable to possible invasion, and wanted a way to protect their warehouses and cargoes.
Basically, Dartmouth Castle consists of a round tower, built mainly of limestone rubble, and a square tower constructed of slate. The round tower was built first but, prior to its completion, work commenced on the square tower which explains possibly why slate was used for the upper parts of the round tower when the two were joined together. Gun platforms stretch out from either side of the towers.
With seven gunports in the sea facing walls of the square tower, and four slits for muskets and three lower gunports housed in the round tower, the rather cramped basement area was dedicated to the use of defence weapons. There is an entrance to Dartmouth Castle in the square tower at ground level and, inside, the openings for handguns can still be seen. In the round tower, a timber-framed opening is located in the wall towards the river.
Originally separated into three rooms, the first floor of Dartmouth Castle served as the main accommodation quarters. The round tower contained one room, whilst the square tower held two barrack rooms, which were divided by a passage leading to the roof. Many of the openings that remain in the walls were windows, although some were likely to have been used for musketry.
Further defence mechanisms were located on the roof of Dartmouth Castle, including pivots for light guns, and the turret provided a good vantage point for sighting a possible invasion from either sea or land. On the opposite bank of the estuary, immediately facing Dartmouth Castle, sits Kingswear Castle and this also came into play when the area was under threat by extending a chain across the river. Should potential attackers progress as far as Dartmouth castle, they would have to contend with the machiolations over the entrance gate. Despite an invasion in 1646, Dartmouth Castle has survived in a remarkable state of preservation. Some major alterations and additions took place during the 16th and 17th centuries to improve the castle.
Today Dartmouth Castle seems almost overshadowed by the Church, the spreading greenery, and the general hubbub along this busy stretch of the river, and it's difficult to imagine that this was once an imposing military fort. However, there are some spectacular views to be had both from the castle, and of the castle from the river.