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You are in: Devon > Discover Devon > Great Outdoors > Coast and Country > Devon's rivers: The Dart

The River Dart at Dartmouth

The River Dart at Dartmouth

Devon's rivers: The Dart

The River Dart winds its way down from Dartmoor to the port of Dartmouth on the South Devon coast.

Dartmoor, Dartmouth, Dartington, Dartmeet - the River Dart lends its name to many of the places it meanders through en route from the moors down to the sea.

On Dartmoor, the East Dart and West Dart meet at a point where the Dart heads south towards Buckfastleigh. The Dart's entire catchment area covers 475sq kms, and takes in a population of 31,000 people.

The Dart has helped to mould southern Dartmoor and the towns and villages is touches - like Buckfastleigh, Totnes, and Dartmouth.

In fact, legend has it that the River Dart played a major role in the history of Britain. It's claimed that after the Trojan War between Greece and Troy in the 12th century BC, the defeated Trojans set out to find a new home.

The river at Newbridge

The river at Newbridge in Holne Woods

Led by a young prince called Brutus, they reached an island (Britain) and sailed up the Dart. Brutus came ashore and proclaimed: 'Here I stand and here I rest; And this place shall be called Totnes.'

They named the country Britain in around 1170BC, and, although there's absolutely no proof this ever happened, you can - to this day - see the Brutus Stone, where the prince was said to have landed.

The threat of invasions via the River Dart was a distinct possibility hundreds of years ago. So, in the 14th century, a castle was built at the mouth of the river by local merchants led by John Hawley.

The remains of Dartmouth Castle still stand and the site is managed by English Heritage.

Industry, trade and wealth

With its estuary location, Dartmouth grew into wealthy port full of merchants. It also developed links with the navy, and the Royal Navy's officer training base, The Britannia Royal Naval College, overlooks the Dart.

Dartmouth is linked to Kingswear on the other side of the estuary via car and passenger ferries.

The Dart at Totnes

The Dart at Totnes

The river is tidal from Totnes, and there are no bridges between the town and the mouth of the Dart.

Like Dartmouth, Totnes also thrived as a result of overseas trade. Merchants made a killing thanks to the river location, and mills were built along the banks of the Dart.

It was the same story for towns further up the Dart - including Buckfastleigh, where woollen mills, paper mills and tannery works were all built.

The monks at Buckfast Abbey made the most of their riverside position.

A little bit further up, and the Dart reaches Dartmoor, where you can see some lovely old stone bridges. At Dartmeet, the East and West Dart rivers converge - hence its name.

These days, the Dart - as well as being a base for boat-building - is a honeypot for visitors and it plays a big part in Devon's tourism industry.

At the Dartmouth end, there are the yachts and pleasure boats, while up river, the Dart attracts walkers, anglers, canoeists and people who just want to take in the scenery.

Looking after the wildlife

The extremely diverse River Dart is hugely important for wildlife - which is why the Dart Biodiversity Project was started in 1998, involving all the relevant bodies - including the Dartmoor National Park Authority, the Environment Agency and English Nature.

The Dart has populations of trout and salmon; bats can be found in sections alongside the Dart; birds thrive in the riverside woodlands; and even seals have been known to poke their heads into the estuary.

So that's the Dart in a nutshell - a beautiful river with a colourful history which has helped to shape some of Devon's best loved towns and villages.

last updated: 06/02/2008 at 13:38
created: 05/02/2008

You are in: Devon > Discover Devon > Great Outdoors > Coast and Country > Devon's rivers: The Dart

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