Plymouth Hoe Walking Tour, Plymouth

Plymouth Hoe Walking Tour (Self Guided), Plymouth

Plymouth Hoe, referred to locally as the Hoe, is a large south-facing open public space in Plymouth with commanding views of Plymouth Sound, Drake's Island, and further afield into Cornwall. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word hoh, which means a sloping ridge shaped like an inverted foot and heel.

This part of town has always been a meeting place, where people would come regularly to meet friends and generally enjoy themselves. Notable buildings and statues of various sorts have been on the Hoe for so long that to some they may appear as part of the furniture that the people often walk past without thinking how really special or unusual they are.

A prominent landmark on the Hoe is Smeaton's Tower, the lighthouse, moved here, stone by stone, from the Eddystone Rocks, in 1877.

But Plymouth Hoe is probably best known as the place where Sir Francis Drake famously played the game of bowls before sailing out from Plymouth Sound to engage with the invading Spanish Armada in 1558. The Armada Memorial was placed here in 1888 to celebrate the tercentenary of the event; four years before that, a statue of Drake was opened nearby to commemorate the captain himself, famed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world.

There are also several war memorials along the northern side of the Hoe, the largest of which pays tribute to the Royal Navy personnel lost at sea during two world wars. Another one, close by, commemorates the RAF & Allied Air Forces servicemen and -women of the same period.

No trip to Plymouth is complete without a visit to Plymouth Hoe. With the unbeatable views across Plymouth Sound, this is a perfect location to spend a sunny day and explore the multiple historical sites just crying out to be learned about. Luckily, you can do so comfortably, in your good time and at your own pace, with the help of our self-guided walking tour!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Plymouth Hoe Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Plymouth Hoe Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » Plymouth (See other walking tours in Plymouth)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.7 Km or 0.4 Miles
Author: VictoriaB
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Plymouth Dome
  • Smeaton's Tower
  • RAF Monument
  • National Armada Memorial
  • Plymouth Naval Memorial
  • Sir Francis Drake's Statue
  • Belvedere
Plymouth Dome

1) Plymouth Dome

The Plymouth Dome is a close neighbor to Smeaton's Tower, the transported lighthouse tower on Plymouth Hoe. The Dome opened as a museum in 1989. Before its opening to the public in July 1988, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a plaque to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

An official opening followed in November, officiated by Bryce Harland, High Commissioner for New Zealand. In 2004 the museum, it is said, drew over 60,000 visitors. However, in 2006 falling visitor numbers led the Plymouth City Council to lease the building to the Wykeham Group, which intended to open a restaurant in one of the exhibition spaces.

This arrangement didn't work out, and the Dome closed for five years. In 2011, celebrity chef Gary Rhodes announced he would reopen the Dome as a restaurant. He opened it in 2013. After Rhodes left in 2016, the "Rhodes & the Dome" became "The Dome." The Restaurant is bistro-style, with a cocktail bar and a live piano.

There are plans involving doing the Dome over again with more ambitious construction, eco-friendly, better landscaping, etc. Perhaps the best alternative is to return it as a visitor center with a restaurant. It commands magnificent views of the harbor and the sea beyond. Together with Smeaton's Tower, it is an attraction not to be missed.
Smeaton's Tower

2) Smeaton's Tower (must see)

John Smeaton was an 18th-century mechanical engineer and physicist called the "father" of civil engineering. Smeaton is noted for reviving the ancient Roman art of pouring concrete underwater using hydraulic lime. He designed the lighthouse on the Eddystone Rocks considered his main achievement.

Thirteen miles southwest of Plymouth are the dangerous Eddystone Rocks, notorious for rough weather, stormy sea, and deathly obstacles. Winstanley's Tower of 1698 was the first Eddystone Light. It was designed and built by Henry Winstanley, known for his Waterworks of Hyde Park in London. Made of steel, Winstanley's Tower was replaced by Rudyerd's Tower in 1709.

John Rudyerd was a merchant of Ludgate with a hobby in engineering. His octagonal wooden tower lasted until 1755. It caught fire on a stormy night in December and burned for eight hours. The keeper, 94-year-old Henry Hall, later died. Steel was corruptible, and wood was combustible. Smeaton had new ideas, and he used stone.

Smeaton created his tower based on the shape of an oak tree. He utilized granite for the foundation and facings. The blocks were secured with dovetail joints and marble dowels. The technique used by Smeaton allowed concrete to be set underwater. The lighthouse remained in use until 1877 when the rocks became eroded. Each time a large wave hit, the lighthouse shook from side to side. Smeaton's lighthouse was replaced by Douglass's Tower in 1882.

The 72-foot-high upper part of Smeaton's Tower was disassembled and rebuilt as a memorial to Smeaton on a new base on Plymouth Hoe, overlooking the harbor and the rocks beyond Drake's Island. The Eddystone Light of today is operated automatically. It is controlled by the Trinity House Planning Center in Harwich, Essex.
RAF Monument

3) RAF Monument

The Royal Air Force and Allied Air Forces Monument on Plymouth Hoe is erected in memoriam of the brave men and women who served in the Allied Air Forces during the period of 1939-45, both in the air and on the ground, including those of the British Army Air Corps, Fleet Air Arm and the Air Transport Auxilliary.

The monument's main body – a two-stepped base and surmounting square plinth – is made out of granite, and is topped with a 6-foot tall bronze statue of the Unknown Airman, sculpted by Mrs. Pamela Taylor. Three tablets with dedicatory inscriptions are set into the seaward face of the plinth, and one more tablet is at the foot of the steps. The Airman in flying kit is depicted gazing out to sea, holding his parachute in his right hand.

It was the inspiration of Mr. Jim Davis, a former rear gunner on the Lancaster during the Second World War. He and the wartime commander of the Pathfinder Force of Bomber Command, Air Vice-Marshal Don Bennett, fought for over nine years to have this monument erected on the Hoe. The ashes of Don Bennett are buried right here, at the base.

RAF Monument is the only international air memorial in the world. Many of the airmen and -women to whom it is dedicated were from the countries which were not directly involved in WWII hostilities. Nationals from as far afield as the Caribbean islands, Iceland and Southern Ireland (Eire) served within the RAF.

The monument was unveiled on September 3rd 1989, marking the 50th Anniversary of the declaration of the Second World War. Among the several hundred veterans who paraded that day were representatives of 17 countries, including the USA, the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
National Armada Memorial

4) National Armada Memorial

The Armada Memorial on Plymouth Hoe celebrates the 300th Anniversary of the First Sighting of the Spanish Armada by the English captains stationed in the city.

The Spanish Armada was a fleet that unsuccessfully attempted a naval invasion of England. News of its approach reached Plymouth on the afternoon of 19 July 1588 and it entered into sight on 20 July. Tradition recorded that tidings of the approach came to the captains whilst they were playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe. It also involves the following passage reportedly uttered by Francis Drake: "There is time enough to play the game out first, and thrash the Spaniards afterwards."

The foundation stone of the Armada Memorial was laid on 19 July 1888. According to records, the occasion drew together the largest ever concourse of people to have visited Plymouth in one day. Excursion trains were run and crowds gathered for the ceremony, which was marked as a public holiday and included a banquet at the city's Guildhall. The memorial was inaugurated by the then Duke of Edinburgh, Alfred, on 21 October 1890, with full civic pomp and imposing naval and military demonstration.

The monument, made of granite, was created by architect Herbert Gribble and sculptor William Charles May. Its octagonal base, with steps, supports a tall square plinth bearing a shield decorated with drapes and a crown. A panel shows the battle of the Armada inscribed with "HE BLEW WITH HIS WINDS AND THEY WERE SCATTERED". The plinth bears a wreathed medallion and a chest with a head, presumed to be that of the Spanish admiral Sedonia.

On top of the monument stands an 11-foot bronze statue of Britannia (a female personification of Great Britain) with a watchful lion by her side. The patron of the National Armada Memorial was Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

The memorial became a listed monument in 1975.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Plymouth Naval Memorial

5) Plymouth Naval Memorial

Situated centrally on The Hoe, looking directly towards Plymouth Sound, is the Plymouth Naval Memorial. This war memorial is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth sailors who fell during the course of two world wars and whose graves are unmarked.

After World War I, the Royal Navy wanted to find a way to commemorate sailors and Royal Marines lost at sea and without known graves. An Admiralty committee recommended building memorials at the three main naval ports of Great Britain – Plymouth, Chatham, and Portsmouth. The memorials at all three sites were designed by Sir Robert Lorimer with sculpture by Henry Poole.

The Plymouth memorial was unveiled on July 29th, 1924.

Following World War II, the naval memorials were expanded to commemorate the dead from that war, too. Sir Edward Maufe performed the architectural design for the expansion at Plymouth, and the sculpture was done by Charles Wheeler and William McMillan.

The Plymouth Naval Memorial commemorates 7,251 sailors of the World War I and 15,933 of the World War II. In addition to sailors from the UK, it bears the names of those from Australia, South Africa, and India.

The memorial features a central obelisk, with the names of the dead arranged according to the year of death. Those for the First World War are on panels affixed to the obelisk's base; while those for the Second World War are on panels set into the surrounding wall. Within each year, the names are grouped by service, then by rank and surname.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Sir Francis Drake's Statue

6) Sir Francis Drake's Statue

The bronze statue of Sir Francis Drake, overlooking the Hoe, pays homage to one of the most celebrated and respected seamen of his time, Captain Francis Drake, who was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. The 10-foot tall monument was created by sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm, and was unveiled on February 14th, 1884 in the presence of Lady Fuller Drake, a distant relative of the famous marine explorer.

In 1577, Drake was secretly commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I to set off on an expedition against the Spanish colonies on the American Pacific coast. He sailed up the west coast of South America, plundering Spanish ports along the way, and arrived back in England in 1580 with a rich cargo of spices and Spanish treasure. In 1581, Elizabeth knighted Drake in recognition of his achievement. That same year he became Mayor of Plymouth, and went on to become a member of parliament.

Drake is also celebrated for his central role in the victorious battle against the invading Spanish Armada. Popular legend has it that he was playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe, on 20th July 1588, when the first news of sightings of the approaching Armada came in. Thereupon Drake ostensibly continued the game, a cool reaction fabled as an act of true English heroism. In reality, however, Drake and his fellow captains probably knew full well that the wind and tide conditions at that particular moment precluded the English Fleet from putting to sea immediately. When Drake eventually did go out to sea, he defeated the Spanish Armada and thus added greatly to his fame.

In 1979, on the 400th Anniversary of Drake's voyage around the world, the Sir Francis Drake Commission of California presented the city of Plymouth with a plaque commemorating his coming ashore in Marin Country, California in June 1579. The plaque has since been added to the base of the statue.

Years on, the area around the statue has changed much as the public sentiment. Lately, a petition calling on local authorities to remove Sir Francis Drake's statues both in Tavistock (there's another identical statue in Tavistock, Devon, where Drake was born at Crowndale Farm in 1540) and on Plymouth Hoe for his involvement in the British slave trade.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

7) Belvedere

Lying on the seaward side of Plymouth Hoe and originally known as the Public Shelter, the Belvedere is more commonly referred to as the 'Wedding Cake'. The nick is due to the layered structure of the building, with an open colonnaded front and a pompous staircase.

As for the actual name, Belvedere, it derives from the two Italian words: 'bel' which means 'beautiful' and 'vedere' meaning 'to see/view'. Indeed, this fine terraced summer house, which once served as the ornate entrance to Promenade Pier (one of the Hoe’s greatest attractions), affords visitors a rather breathtaking view of Plymouth’s beautiful coastline.

The Wedding Cake has three levels and under its steps you can actually see the remains of the old Plymouth Promenade Pier, where it once met the land. The Belvedere was constructed in 1891 and tradition says that the pillars of its two upper tiers are reused 17th-century granite Tuscan columns taken from the old Market.

Throughout the 1800s, regular political meetings were held right below the Belvedere, in what used to be the so-called the Bull Ring. In the early 1900s, people would come here to meet friends and go out for a dance or a concert at the Pier. As well as tea dances and musical concerts, another event that drew crowds to the Wedding Cake and the surrounding area, was a swimming regatta in the Sound. Thousands of people would gather to watch the swimming, for which reason, some of the steps down on West Hoe are bum-sized, i.e. sized to one's bottom so as to fit as many people in as possible on the steps to watch the regatta.

Unfortunately, a lot of Plymouth was bombed in WWII, and the Pier caught fire during the Plymouth Blitz in 1941. What was left of it had to be demolished in the early 1950s, so the Wedding Cake is the only bit of it that lives on, much as the tales of the Pier's former splendour.

Walking Tours in Plymouth, England

Create Your Own Walk in Plymouth

Create Your Own Walk in Plymouth

Creating your own self-guided walk in Plymouth is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Plymouth Introduction Walking Tour

Plymouth Introduction Walking Tour

Plymouth's early history began in the Bronze Age when the first settlement emerged at Mount Batten. It is mentioned in Ptolemy's Geographia as a maritime outpost exporting bronze mirrors.

The settlement was a major port in the southwest of England in Roman times. It was surpassed as a port in the ninth century by the nearby wealthier village of Sutton, later called Plymouth.

...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Pilgrim Fathers Trail

Pilgrim Fathers Trail

Back in the early 17th century, a group of English Puritans – nowadays reverently referred to as the Pilgrim Fathers – fled religious persecution in their homeland and established a colony in North America that later became known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims embarked on their perilous journey across the Atlantic from Plymouth, England in 1620 aboard a ship called the Mayflower,...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.5 Km or 0.3 Miles