Dartmouth has a warm welcome for visitors
Su Carroll discovers the caring community in the popular waterside town of Dartmouth...
What exactly do you know about Dartmouth?
Pretty town in the South Hams, overlooked by the Royal Naval College Britannia; home to a popular regatta; gourmet destination for foodies and alongside a beautiful river.
All of these things are true, but the town of Dartmouth has all the demeanour of a small, friendly village, where people say "hello" with a smile and all look out for each other.
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It is no coincidence that there is a thriving and caring community in Dartmouth. It's the place where the bookshop, due to close when the owner retired, was saved by the community's cash and a core of volunteers to work there.
It also has The Flavel Arts Centre, paid for by grants and donations and again heavily supported by volunteers.
And to further prove the point, there's the charity Dartmouth Caring which is committed to helping the elderly and vulnerable of Dartmouth and the surrounding villages such as Dittisham, Stoke Fleming, Blackawton and Strete.
No wonder everyone looks happy and friendly as you walk around Dartmouth, popping into the shops or stopping for a coffee in one of the lovely cafes.
So it comes as no surprise that the town was devastated when fire destroyed historic buildings in Fairfax Place, in the heart of Dartmouth, in 2010.
The businesses, takeaway, restaurant and residential flats above in the Grade I-listed building – regarded as being of national importance – were almost reduced to rubble.
But this is Dartmouth, remember, and before long more than £10,000 had been raised to help the people who had lost their homes.
Now this former 17th-century merchant's house has been painstakingly restored to its former glory, following over £1 million of works.
It hasn't just been a question of putting back walls and a roof. A complex operation involving teams of archaeologists, master builders and craftsmen has lovingly recreated the building inside and out.
Today the building welcomes guests with its richly carved and moulded frieze, where cherubs' heads peek out from twisting foliage, populated by musicians, soldiers and monsters' heads.
Inside the historic interior is authentically reproduced but the building now houses two chic and contemporary apartments with the very latest in comfort and entertainment.
On the first floor, Merchants Rest shows off the many significant original features, including one of the finest examples of a Charles I plaster ceilings in the country, festooned with cherubs and intricate mouldings.
On the two upper floors, Merchants Rise has an historic fireplace, plank and muntin screening, and mullion windows that still bear the charred scars from the flames that nearly destroyed the building.
We visited during Dartmouth's Royal Regatta week, during which the apartments had been opened to allow local people have a look at the restoration work.
On Saturday morning I overheard a conversation in the street below between two residents, bursting with pride at the way the building had been restored and the quality of the work.
Regatta week is one of the highlights of the Dartmouth calendar (and, wouldn't you know it, a great charity fundraising opportunity). Fantastic air displays included the ever-popular Red Arrows and appearances by a Lancaster and a Tornado. There were fireworks and music and lots to see and do.
Away from the Regatta, we headed for the water and a wonderful river cruise which takes in Bayards Cove, Kingswear and Dartmouth Castles, offers great views of Britannia Royal Naval College, Dittisham, Sir Walter Raleigh's Boathouse, Greenway Quay and the estate of the late Dame Agatha Christie.
Full marks for the fun and informative commentary onboard (even if some of the jokes sounded as if they may have come from Sir Walter Raleigh himself).
It's a lovely way to see the area and a relaxing hour or so on the river. At £8.50 for adults (£7.50 concessions) they are great value. There are other cruises which offer stop-off points or combine with rail services.
When you are in Dartmouth, you are spoilt for choice with lovely lifestyle shops, galleries, art shops and, of course, the Community Bookshop.
You must try and get a table for brunch at the renowned Alf Resco and visit The Grill Room at The Royal Castle Hotel, which overlooks the river and combines delicious food with... well, the familiar Dartmouth friendly welcome.