Dartmouth: Ideal for Daysails or Dawdles
Justifiably feted for its extensive and varied maritime heritage
Monday, 19th July, 2021
Dartmouth in South Devon is justifiably feted for its extensive and varied maritime heritage. To pluck just a few examples from the air, the Mayflower famously put in for repairs at Bayards Cove on her epochal voyage to the New World in 1620: more prosaically, Bayards Cove would also provide an evocative setting 350 years later for the well-loved BBC series The Onedin Line, while the imposing Britannia Royal Naval College is today the only naval officer training facility in the country.
As is always the case in any busy and popular waterway with strong currents, a sail up the River Dart requires forethought and vigilance; but the attentive sailor is amply rewarded with abundant points of interest as the passage unfolds along the Dart valley. Entering The Range from the sea, the wide channel narrows gradually, and the sight of Dartmouth Castle to port and Kingswear Castle to starboard makes for a suitably impressive portal to the Dart estuary.
Diligent perusal of detailed LightHouse charts is particularly important here so that skippers know where to expect the ferries that traverse the river between Dartmouth and Kingswear several times an hour. The lower ferry, maintaining a service which has been in operation since the 1700s, transports vehicles on a floating platform controlled by a tug, while the higher ferry is chain-guided, so skippers sailing in this area are warned to take submerged cables into account. Similarly, both these and the intermediate passenger ferry can be hidden by pontoons and other vessels, so extra caution is strongly advised.
As the aforementioned Bayards Cove comes into view, a 16th century Tudor fort dramatically marks the entrance to Dartmouth Harbour. Mooring berths proliferate on either side of the river, including deep-water visitors’ pontoons, the town jetty and the Dart Harbour Yacht Club pontoon: details and pricing can be found in the Dart Harbour Guide, available online in PDF form. Note that anchoring is not permitted just north of Dartmouth Yacht Club, west of the mooring buoys in front of Dartmouth: the main anchoring area can be found on the east side, between the buoys and mooring buoys off Kingswear.
Dartmouth itself offers much to inquisitive visitors, ranging from off-road tours and coastal walks to steam railway excursions, trips to the castle, cream teas and, needless to say, outings to some decidedly agreeable pubs and restaurants.
Further north, past Noss Marina and the small craft moorings off the opposite bank, the cheeringly restless nature of the river traffic is, somehow, simultaneously underscored with a profound quietude. Sir Walter Raleigh’s boathouse nestles sleepily against the verdant east bank, although only the footings remain from the original structure. Taking a closer look is nevertheless quite prudent at this juncture if only to give the Anchor Stone to port, resplendent with its bright red topmark, a respectfully wide berth.
The Greenway Ferry plies the river just beyond this point, conveying passengers down to Dartmouth from the beautiful village of Dittisham and across to Greenway, an atmospheric National Trust-curated house and garden steeped with palpable mystery from its days as Agatha Christie’s holiday home. Dittisham is again well stocked with visitors’ buoys, and as the river widens north of the village a broad auxiliary channel hugs the curve of Higher Gurrow Point.
Unlike the main channel on the starboard side as you sail past Galmpton, the auxiliary channel is not navigable at low tide, and this also applies to the auxiliary channel which opens up in the Marine Conservation Zone beyond Blackness Rock and Blackness Point. The main channel takes you past Pighole Point towards Stoke Gabriel, which can be accessed by following the mooring trots towards Stoke Gabriel creek. Those wishing to stop off and explore the village can either moor in the creek and proceed by dinghy, or tie up in the dam at the creek’s end.
Opposite Stoke Point, the Bow Creek tributary off the Dart will lead discerning epicures to Tuckenhay, where the 18th century Maltsters Arms, once owned by the maverick TV chef Keith Floyd, offers a true riverside fine dining experience. A pontoon and mooring piles are provided, with the commendable proviso that £5 is donated to the RNLI: and keep a close eye on the tides as Bow Creek dries from the Maltsters Arms quay to the River Dart entrance.
The weir in the pretty medieval market town of Totnes marks the head of navigation on the Dart for seagoing craft. Note that the river almost dries for 3.2km below Totnes at low water Springs, although boats with a draught of up to 0.91m will be able to sail on to Totnes from one-and-a-half hours after low water. As a final treat for any castle aficionados going ashore, there are two within three miles of each other in Totnes; Berry Pomeroy Castle and Totnes Castle itself. Visits to either, or both, would be a fine way to round off a trip upriver; although a relaxed pint in one of the town’s fine pubs never goes amiss.
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