Sometimes, to find Secret Devon, it’s not only the place but also the time that is crucial. After a late evening arrival in Dartmouth and being allocated the very last berth in any marina, we enjoyed a couple of swift beers in Kingswear before heading to our bunks, ready for an early-morning start the next day.
I hadn’t realised that we’d chosen probably the town’s busiest boating day of the season for our visit – the biennial Classic Channel Regatta. So despite being early, the river was buzzing with activity. But while it felt like every boat in the estuary was on the move towards the sea, we headed upstream.
Quickly the bustle of Dartmouth gave way to a different world. Tiny riverside villages, then just rolling Devonshire countryside. The Dart is navigable as far as Totnes on the right tide, around
12 miles upstream, and as soon as you leave the town you enter another world – green, lush, tranquil.
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The river meanders and loops lazily through deep, rich Devonshire countryside. For almost two hours as we headed upriver towards Totnes, we were the only boat, apart from an occasional early morning angler and a couple of rowers heading downstream in their skiffs. Now this really is one of Devon’s hidden secrets!
As the river narrowed, I realised that motoring up a river like this is such a different experience to boating in the open sea, with very different considerations. Any wake can damage the banks and disturb nesting birds and other wildlife.
So I dropped the speed to just a couple of knots so that we were barely even leaving a ripple in our wake – no rush, no hurry, just soaking up the simple pleasures of the river, the birds feeding along its banks, the occasional fish jumping.
We’d selected the right time of day to have the river to ourselves, but unfortunately not the right state of the tide, which was already falling and mud banks were starting to show.
If we made it to Totnes, we would be trapped until the next tide. So, reluctantly, we turned and rode the flow of the ebbing tide back towards the sea, leaving Totnes for another day.
Read the full feature in the June 2018 issue of MBY.