Tin Box Bay on River Boat - the Round Robin South Devon
Devon, Family days out, Family travel, UK

The Round Robin: South Devon by boat, bus and steam train

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Last weekend we were invited to experience the award-winning Round Robin tour of South Devon. This river boat, open top bus and steam train experience run by Dartmouth Steam Railway is family and dog-friendly. It takes you on a 20 mile round trip past some of the county’s most historic towns and villages.

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A tour of South Devon

We started our Round Robin tour in our home town of Dartmouth – a port with naval and sailing heritage stretching back to the Crusades. You can buy tickets for the Round Robin online or at a kiosk next to the Station Restaurant on the harbour side. The pontoon to the river boat and passenger ferry to Kingswear Station are directly opposite.

The boat times are determined by the tide so you have to plan your day carefully to make all of your connections.

Handily our trip organisers at Visit Totnes and the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company had given us an itinerary for the day, so we knew we were going on the river boat first.

It is always possible to do the whole route, you just might have do it a different way round to us dependant on the tide.

Stage one: river boat

The weather was dull but the rain was holding off so we climbed up to the top deck of the Cardiff Castle for panoramic views of the River Dart.

Cardiff Castle river boat - the Round Robin South Devon
Mr Tin Box and Baby on river boat - the Round Robin South Devon

Along the way the boat team provide engaging commentary about the pretty villages and wildlife that you pass along the river. The boat slowed to give us good views of Atlantic seals lounging on pontoons and bobbing around in the water beside us. We also spotted spoonbills, a kingfisher, geese, and mandarine ducks.

Other points of interest include: the ancient village of Stoke Gabriel which is a hot spot for crabbing; Greenway House, the holiday home of Agatha Christie; and the Sharpham Estate, which produces award-winning cheeses and wines. More on that later!

Mr Tin Box got extremely snap happy capturing the majority of the 500-odd pictures we took on the Round Robin on this first leg! It really was a wildlife lover’s dream.

Atlantic seals on pontoon - the Round Robin South Devon
Wild birds on the River Dart - the Round Robin South Devon
Stoke Gabriel from the River Dart - the Round Robin South Devon

An hour and a half later we reached our first destination – the historic and vibrant town of Totnes. This is a place full of surprises, from the Norman Castle to the array of quirky places to eat and the bijou museums of fashion and time, we could wander around for ages soaking up the atmosphere of this happy South Devon gem.

However, we were on a schedule. After a quick explore of the pirate ship playground on Steamer Quay we set off to find lunch.

Totnes - the Round Robin South Devon

Where to eat in Totnes

We had been booked into the Royal Seven Stars Hotel for lunch (not included in the Round Robin but only a short walk from the boat and highly recommend).

This award-winning hotel can accommodate diners in its TQ9 restaurant or Saloon Bar. Dogs were welcome in the bar so we found a cosy spot here and were treated to a very swish bar menu.

I’ve written a full blog post about our meal but as a teaser the Bream Risotto was delicious and we were impressed with the children’s menu. Oh, and don’t forget to pair your meal with a local beverage like Jail Ale or the Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve.

The Hotel takes great care to source ingredients and beverages locally, as well as catering for varied dietary requirements.

Royal Seven Stars Hotel Totnes South Devon
Bar meals at Royal Seven Stars - the Round Robin South Devon

Stage two: open top bus

Once we’d had our fill at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel we popped across the road to catch the bus for the next stage of our Round Robin tour.

The bus winds its way through the country lanes between Totnes and Paignton, giving you an excellent view of the Devon scenery. This was probably the best part of the tour for the girls who loved being on the open top bus and spotting the farm animals in the fields.

Open top bus - the Round Robin South Devon
Mr Tin Box and Tot on open top bus - the Round Robin South Devon

After half an hour we were on Paignton sea front where you’ll find golden sandy beaches and the pleasure pier with its amusement arcades. We spent the best part of an hour playing on the epic free geoplay park with equipment for kids of all ages.

This is set back from the seafront on a space often used for events and fun fairs in the summer months.

Stage three: steam train

Luckily we gave ourselves plenty of time to walk up to the railway line in Paignton town for the final part of our Round Robin tour of South Devon. I say luckily because I managed to lose our tickets somewhere between the bus and the train station.

The lovely ladies at the ticket office quickly sorted us out with replacements and we boarded the last train of the day from Paignton to Kingswear.

Lydham Manor steam train at Paignton station - the Round Robin South Devon
Carriage on the Dartmouth Steam Railway - the Round Robin South Devon

Dartmouth Steam Railway travels seven miles along the South Devon coast and into the Dart Valley where it meets the River Dart.

It makes for some absolutely stunning views which passengers have been enjoying since 1876.

Goodrington sea front - the Round Robin South Devon
Tin Box Baby looking at sea - the Round Robin South Devon
Sea front in South Devon
Tin Box Traveller and Tot looking out of train window - the Round Robin South Devon
Tin Box Baby at train window - the Round Robin South Devon
Train carriages - the Round Robin South Devon
Dartmouth harbour from train - the Round Robin South Devon
Lydham Manor steam train at Kingswear - the Round Robin South Devon

Our locomotive for the trip was Lynham Manor which was built in 1950. In the 60s it was taken to run services in Barry, Wales, before returning to Devon in the 70s. Train enthusiasts can read more about its vital statistics on the Dartmouth Steam Railway’s website.

And aside from a quick five minute ferry ride back to Darmouth from Kingswear our Round Robin tour was complete.

It really was a wonderful and varied way to see the amazing landscape, beautiful wildlife and picturesque settlements of South Devon.

Tips for taking the Round Robin with kids

  • It’s a must to plan your trip as the river boats times are dependant on the tide.
  • If you are starting your adventure in Dartmouth use the Park and Ride to make sure you have adequate time to complete the full Round Robin. Spaces in town are limited to four hours.
  • If you’ve got a toddler in potty training, like us, you’ll be glad to know there are toilets on the river boat and steam train. Just make sure they go before you get on the bus.
  • Refreshments are available on the boat and at cafes at both ends of the steam railway line. Be aware that if you get the last train the cafe may be closed when you reach your destination. If your last stop is Kingswear hop on the passenger ferry and grab a bag of Rock Fish chips and a pint from the Dartmouth Arms while you reflect on a day well spent exploring South Devon!

More things to do in South Devon

Check out my other blog, Devon with Kids, for more outdoor days out and free things to do with kids.

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Disclosure: we were guests of Visit Totnes. We were given free tickets for the Round Robin and lunch at the Royal Seven Stars in exchange for a review. All opinions and images are my own and those of my family.

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A day out on the award-winning Round Robin river boat, open top bus and steam train tour of South Devon. A family and dog-friendly Devon attraction

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