DART VALLEY TRAIL
Stage 1: Greenway to Kingswear
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
The Dart Valley Trail starts by the river on Greenway Quay, near the National Trust's Greenway estate. The estate has had several notable residents over the centuries, including seafarer Sir Walter Raleigh, who defeated the Spanish Armada, and his half-brothers Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who claimed Newfoundland for Britain, and Sir John Gilbert, who put prisoners of war from the Armada to work landscaping the grounds. More recently, Greenway was owned by the crime novelist Agatha Christie, who set several of her novels on the estate. Christie's daughter gave the estate to the National Trust in 2000.
I reached Greenway by catching the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway from Paignton to the tiny Greenway Halt (picture 1). After watching the train steam off into the Greenway Tunnel, I followed a well-signposted path through a small wood, over a low hill with views of the River Dart (picture 2) and through another small wood (picture 3) to reach the National Trust carpark next to the main entrance of the Greenway estate. A few minutes walk up the shady driveway leads to Greenway House (picture 4), built around 1780. The house is much as it would have been in the 1950's and worth a look, even for those who are only vaguely familiar with Christie's novels.
The grounds surrounding the house are also well worth exploring and I spent a couple of hours doing just that. Down by the river at the southern end of the estate is a large boathouse (picture 5), whose ground floor contains a tidal swimming pool. Overlooking the river a little further upstream is the Greenway Battery (picture 6), built to make a token effort to defend against any invading boats that might, rather improbably, make it past the defenses guarding the mouth of the River Dart. The grounds also offer several pleasant woodland paths (picture 7) and gardens featuring exotic plants.
Eventually, I headed out of the Greenway estate, taking a sharp left turn by the lodge at the main entrance to follow the narrow road down to Greenway Quay. The Quay is an ancient crossing point of the Dart that has been in more or less constant use since the Bronze-Age and still has it's 400-year-old thatched ferryman's cottage (picture 8).
As well as being the starting point of the eastern leg of the Dart Valley Trail, Greenway Quay is also on the John Musgrave Heritage Trail, a 56-kilometre walk that takes a vaguely semi-circular route around Torbay from Maidencombe, on the coast north of Torquay, to Brixham, at the south end of Torbay. The Heritage Trail uses the ferry to cross the Dart from Dittisham (picture 9), which I would visit the following day on the upstream leg of the Dart Valley Trail, and shares parts of the Dart Valley Trail on both sides of the river.
I finally set off from Greenway Quay just after two o'clock, heading back up the road, turning sharply past the lodge once again, crossing the carpark and climbing the wildflower-covered meadow behind it (picture 10). When the path to Greenway Halt turns off to the left, the Dart Valley Trail bears slightly right and continues to climb the grassy slope, signposted for Maypool and Kingswear.
From the top of the hill there is a fine view back up the winding valley (picture 11), equaled by the view down the valley a couple of minutes later after the path descends slightly to pass through a gate and turn left along the top edge of a grassy pasture (picture 12).
The path along the top of the pasture goes through another gate to leave the Greenway estate and joins a quiet lane heading past Higher Greenway Farm (picture 13) before turning right at a signpost opposite a white farmhouse. A dusty track heads past Greenway Barn and bears left at a fork to reach another wooden gate, where the Dart Valley Trail parts company with the John Musgrave Heritage Trail. The latter goes straight on towards Brixham, while the Dart Valley Trail turns right to follow a narrow footpath between a rough hedge and a wire fence as it climbs over Oakham Hill (picture 14).
Near the top of the hill, the path reaches a stile and switches sides of the hedge, climbing a little more before passing a National Trust sign near the beginning of the shady Long Wood (picture 15), where a wonderful stretch of woodland walking among tall, lichen-covered oaks awaits.
Descending from Oakham Hill, the Trail turns right at a junction of footpaths then left at a second junction to join the lower of two parallel paths through Long Wood, a short distance up the hillside from the single track of the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway (picture 16).
Long Wood is true to its name and it is almost two kilometres before the path crosses a tiny stream fed by a spring further up the hill and the ancient oaks give way to firs and chestnuts planted around the middle of the 20th century. The path soon bends left to head into the adjoining Cart Wood (picture 18), where the Dart Valley Trail eventually forks right at a junction to leave the main path and head around the top of Noss Creek (picture 18). After following the creek for a little while a vague path climbs through Noss Plantation to join a better path that was lined by bluebells (picture 19).
That path soon ended at a construction site, where a new road bridge and footbridge were being built across the railway line to the small shipyard and marina on Higher Noss Point, but the Dart Valley Trail doesn't cross these. Instead, I followed a temporary path through the construction site and back into the woods, where a long flight of rough steps (picture 20) soon climbs to meet the A379 on Lower Noss Point.
The Dart Valley Trail crosses the road and heads along a lane, marked as a private road (picture 21), passing above several riverside homes and a viewpoint over one of those homes and into Old Mill Creek on the other side of the Dart (picture 22).
A little further along the road, a signpost points down steps and a short woodland path that reaches the A379 just upstream from the Higher Ferry (picture 23), one of two car ferries taking vehicles across the river to Dartmouth. The Higher Ferry is a chain ferry, or "floating bridge", which hauls itself back and forth across the river on two large chains attached to the landings on each bank. This service, though not the current ferry itself, has operated continuously since 1831, when it began transporting horse-drawn carriages.
The Dart Valley Trail follows the road down to the ferry landing, where it crosses the railway line and joins a narrow path along the riverbank beside the track (picture 24).
The path alongside the railway offers good views across Dartmouth Harbour (picture 25), where there are seemingly thousands of small boats and comparatively few larger craft that call this stretch of water home.
After about a kilometre, a railway bridge crosses the mouth of Waterhead Creek, with the houses of Kingswear clinging to the steep hillside that rises from the far bank of the creek (picture 26). Beyond the bridge, the path crosses a boatyard to a metal footbridge that crosses over the end of Kingswear Station (picture 27), the southern terminus of the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway. The PDSR has operated as a heritage railway since the first day of 1973, one day after it was closed to National Rail services.
The Trail then follows the road overlooking the station down to the main station building and the adjacent clock tower (picture 28), though on closer inspection the clock faces don't have any hands. This was the end of this short first stage of the Dart Valley Trail. I had walked at a fairly leisurely pace, covering the 7.2km in about two-and-a-half hours and still had an hour to wander around the village before the last train back to Paignton. It is a steep but mercifully short climb up to the 12th-century village church and the next-door Ship Inn, which both overlook the station.