Sightseeing in Plymouth
Despite being known to have had a settlement on the site of the city for over 3000 years, Plymouth has no buildings of great antiquity. This is mainly on account of the Romans deciding that Exeter was as far south west as they wanted to go. The oldest building in Plymouth dates back only a little over 500 years and is now a restaurant. However, that’s not to say that Plymouth isn’t without any historical or interesting sites worth seeing.
Smeaton Tower, which is now located on Plymouth Hoe, was originally built in 1759 as a lighthouse on the Eddystone reef in the English Channel. In the 1880s it had to be removed and a large section of it (22m) was reconstructed on Plymouth Hoe. It is now an outstanding landmark and gives visitors, willing to climb to the top of it, outstanding views over Plymouth Sound. A visit to the bowling green on Plymouth Hoe, where Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing his game of bowls before engaging with the Spanish Armada in 1588, is almost compulsory if you’re in Plymouth. Even better it’s free! Another point of historical interest is the Mayflower Steps. The Mayflower Steps are at the Barbican on the west coast of the estuary and it is from that point that the “Mayflower” set sail on September 6th 1620 for the ‘New World’ of America with the Pilgrim Fathers. Sixty six days later the Mayflower arrived at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, on November 11th.
Plymouth is the home of the National Marine Aquarium (NMA). This is a new purpose built facility which is not only here to conserve and research marine life, but also to educate the nation on marine matters. The NMA is in the Coxside area of Plymouth on the opposite side of the estuary to the Barbican. Opening times vary seasonally, but for a family ticket (2 adults 2 children) at £27 it’s not only good value for a day out, but it is also highly educational about all things marine and their impact nationally and globally. The City Museum and Art Gallery is in the heart of the city at Drake Circus. It has a rolling programme of displays and exhibitions as well as its permanent galleries. The Barbican is an area often referred to in Plymouth, is the area around the old harbour and the original heart of Plymouth and well worth just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere of this ancient port. The Naval Base Visitors Centre at Devonport enables you to see the heritage of support that the city of Plymouth has given to the Royal Navy over the centuries. Owned by English Heritage, the Royal Citadel on the seafront is an old fortress built in 1666. At the time of the English civil war, it became a garrison for the Parliamentarians and went on to be used to keep watch for invading Dutch in the seventeenth century. Merchants House, due to re-open in April 2007, on St Andrews street, is an original Tudor building which now houses a small Victorian school-room, an old style ‘apothecary’ and images and artefacts recalling the effects of the blitz on Plymouth. The Elizabethan House is what it says, located on the Barbican it is full of character and is furnished as an Elizabethan sea captain would have lived.
Plymouth has some 950 hectares of parks and open spaces for you to explore and walk in. Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park is across the estuary on the Rame peninsula in Cornwall. However, it is co-owned by Plymouth City Council and is a very popular destination for a stroll and breath of air. However, for a truly serious ‘breath of air’ the Dartmoor National Park is 15km, or 10 miles, to the east of Plymouth on the A38. Covering nearly 1000 square kilometres it is famed for its ponies, geological features such as its Tors, history and archaeology as well as its weather. If you do visit Dartmoor please go prepared for all weather conditions, possibly within a one day visit!
A walk along the Plymouth shore from Stonehouse to Jennycliff reveals not only some splendid views but also lets you touch on the local history. Stonehouse itself has a connection with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, then later on during your journey amongst the things that you’ll walk by are; the Royal William Naval yard, West Hoe with its glorious views over Plymouth Sound, then carrying on you’ll come to the intriguing sculpture known locally as “the prawn on a stick”. On reaching the area where RAF Mountbatten was once located you may know of a connection with Lawrence of Arabia? There is a booklet available for the Tourist Information Centres to guide you along the walk.
To the north of the city is the River Tamar estuary, which is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The intertidal salt marshes, reed beds and mudflats provide both habitats and feeding grounds for the local fauna. Whilst you may see Avocet in the estuary, the woodland banks contain rare lichen and wild orchids. You can also follow the Tamar Valley inland; there is a 40km (about 30 miles) discovery trail from Plymouth to Launceston.