Ferries, boats that tinkle in the harbour, a proper train that choo-choos and billows steam along the banks of the estuary, one of the best play parks I have ever been to and delicious seafood – or so I’m told as I’m one of the fussiest eaters around.
This was the second time I’d been to Dartmouth (or third if you count in my mama’s tummy). Now I’m a babbling, toddling ball of energy fascinated with everything life has to offer, this place was perfectly suited to me and my family. In fact we’ve done so much stuff, I’ve napped my longest nap since my newborn days!
The English Riviera is one of the prettiest spots in the UK, especially in Spring when all the flowers are out.
I’ll going to share my first guest post with my mummy to tell you about a few of the things we got up to whilst we were there, which I’d highly recommend to my toddler mates.
1. Steam train to Paignton.
This short steam train ride takes you back in time to quintessential 1950’s England – from the vintage platform setting to the train conductors. Classic booths inside the carriages and good old engineering delights little ones and Grandpas alike. The train leaves regularly from Kingswear and choos its way along the scenic route to Paignton, although you can get out at stops along the way. Shell out an extra £2 to sit in the ‘Devon Belle‘ – an observation carriage with wall to wall glass to make the most of the views.
Recommended: Take the train all the way to Paignton then get out at Greenway on the return journey and visit Agatha Christie’s former holiday home – a short walk from the platform.
This is a train that looks like the ones in my toy box, but much bigger. It makes the same sound that everybody tells me a trains says and I’m terribly pleased with my new sounds. – Choo choo choo choo….wooooooo! The best bit about this one though, is that you can go inside, where there’s tons of room in the carriages to run up and down, windows to look out of and the front of the engine to spot as you go round a bend.
2. Living Coasts Sealife Centre, Torquay
Described as a ‘coastal zoo’ and aquarium this is a great day out for families rain or shine. Penguins waddle at your feet in Penguin Beach – a habitat designed to replicate the birds’ South African colonies (and with the view of the English channel just behind it does a sterling job!). Other highlights include the Fur Seal Cove with its underwater viewing windows, Mysterious Mangroves – a dark, neon-lit underworld and fantastic interactive displays. Crawl under a tank of starfish, boulder along a wall, brave a sunken ship and its lurking inhabitant and tons more. There’s also a restaurant (who’ll happily heat up your baby food) with lovely views and a great gift shop underneath.
It’s safe to say the seal in particular well and truly Blew. My. Mind. Its like it knew I was little and was doing a show just for me – spinning and whirling right in front of my face. I got right up close to penguins and a ginormous polar bear. Then there were otters cuddling, a terrifying squawky monkey hiding in the mangroves and fun stuff to crawl under. I loved it SO much I even ate all my lunch (this rarely happens). I lucked out in the gift shop afterwards as I with the G-Pizzles (grandparents).
3. Pennywell Farm
If it rains during your visit you can return for FREE within 7 days. You almost want it to as there is so much to see and do. The farm is a total delight, you can cuddle practically everything there – guinea pigs, miniature pigs, rabbits, big pigs and the keepers…well maybe not the last one…i guess you could ask their permission first should you feel the urge though. Feed is sold at reception to offer to the bigger animals. A miniature train toddles around a small track, a lookout tower ponders stunning views, a toddler play area complete with a classic Devonian house (in perfect miniature), tons of tractors, a soft play area with merry-go-round, bouncy castle, horse-rides (which you need to book), tractor-rides, ferret racing, shire horses, Go Karts and more…fun fun family fun.
I woke up from a very short nap to furry things being thrust in front of me and some verrrry strange sounding animals that people keep telling me are pigs. But they look absolutely nothing like Peppa so there’s no way I’m touching one. Mama and Pops both cuddled one though. Once I saw the slides and the miniature train I settled in and started to warm up from my overtired grump. From then on in it was awesome, I went as fast around the farm as my little legs could carry me and even saw some weird ratty thing (ferret) racing up and down a drain pipe.
4. Catch a Ferry
Passenger and car ferries cross regularly from Kingswear to Dartmouth, if these are the ones you use the most buy a book of tickets, it’s much cheaper. In addition to those, boats leave for Totnes, Dittisham and Greenway to name a few. A highly exciting venture for a little’un and a useful way of getting from A to B especially if you’ve walked one way and want to get back a bit quicker.
Well this is a turn up for the books. Now we travel on water! On the small boats all I wanted to do was dangle overboard and splash my hand in the water, but I was held down and couldn’t quite reach. Feeling the wind rush through my hair, bird spotting and playing peekaboo with other passengers on board was plenty to keep me entertained for the journey though.
5. Head to the park
There are a number of play areas dotted around – at the top of the hill in Kingswear, another lies a short walk along the beach (when the tide’s out) in Dittisham. But my favourite is located just a stone’s throw from the pretty seafront in Dartmouth. Plonked next to a big green square – Coronation Park, picnic tables and refreshment hut, it’s a great place to wear the kids out and snaffle an ice cream afterwards.
So many slides! Including one which feels like you’re in a tunnel! A giant sandpit, complete with digger, your standard swings and great view of the boats. From here you can also see the train when it goes by on the other side of the river – exciting!
6. Hit the beach
If the weather is fine, there are some beautiful beaches around. Award-winning Blackpool sands is a sheltered sand shingle beach, lifeguards and plenty of water activities. Good if you’re planning on spending the day as there’s a cafe right on the beach. Sugary Cove is another fave, a bit more hidden away along from Dartmouth Castle and down quite a few steps – pack a picnic, rockpool and enjoy this little nook of joy. Choose from a whole list of lovely beaches here.
Even though I’d packed my trusty bucket and spade, we didn’t do much beachy stuff this time around as it was more welly-weather.
If you can still fit your little one in a sling or backpack of some sort, there are some fantastic coastal walks around. You might need to do a little training beforehand however, as I wouldn’t say they were particularly FLAT. We’ve actually nicknamed one hill on the walk back from Dittisham, “Cardiac Hill” thanks to its sheer steepness and I had to drag my husband from the lower Kingswear ferry up to the top of the hill after he carried a stone and a half of toddler (and her milk, books, water and food) for two hours. Not for the faint hearted.
I quite like being up high with the adults, I can chat to them and make silly faces and command them to do stuff for me. It’s great seeing stuff from a different angle and with a few snacks, a toy or two and a few songs I can last a while before the motion of the plodding and my comfy little seat get all too much and I drift off into a dribbly sleep. zzzzzzzz
If you’re National Trust members I highly recommend a visit here. And if you’re not, maybe fork out for the entrance fee as the setting is quite incredible. Oh to be the current owner of this house! The house is interesting, fairly austere in its decoration with strong art deco influences. It is the gardens that are truly special though, all 24 acres of them. From the house they drop down all the way to Pudcombe Cove where a tidal sea water pool awaits, vivid flowers brighten walkways, trees loom, plants boom, a stream is guided artfully to the ocean through ponds and pools, bamboo thickets tower. Beautiful.
I didn’t quite understand why I wasn’t allowed to play with everything in the house. It was confusing as one room was dedicated to dressing up and I could get totally involved then the next minute an antique pot was being grabbed out of my hands. Outside was great so much space to run around in and the best bit – a duck asleep by the stream.
9. Brixham Pirate Festival
If you’re headed to South Devon over the May Day Bank holiday then don your most swashbuckler-ish outfit, summon your inner sea dog and head for Brixham’s annual pirate festival. Sea shanties, pirate rock, street performers, pirate ships fill the town over the course of the three day event as well as historical re-enactments and lots of other events. Savvy?