DART VALLEY TRAIL
Stage 2: Dartmouth to Totnes
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
The morning after I started the Dart Valley Trail I returned to Kingswear on the first steam train service of the day to rejoin the trail at Kingswear Station. Just outside the station, an arch under the clock tower leads to the jetty of the pedestrian ferry that crosses the Dart at a 45 degree angle to Dartmouth's Town Jetty.
I just missed the ferry that is timed to meet the train as I had lingered at the station to watch the locomotive being decoupled and running around to the other end of the train for the return journey (picture 1), so I had about a quarter of an hour to wait for the next ferry. This gave me an opportunity to watch the adjacent Lower Ferry make a couple of crossings, carrying half a dozen cars at a time.
From the ferry there are excellent views of both Dartmouth (picture 2) and Kingswear (picture 3) where just about every house in both settlements must have a fine view of the river.
Eventually I alighted from the ferry onto the Town Jetty, next to Dartmouth Station (picture 4), which is claimed by several tourist publications to be the only railway station in the UK at which a train has never arrived. The railway was originally planned to terminate at Dartmouth but permission to build a bridge across the river near Greenway was never gained so the line was extended to Kingswear instead and Dartmouth Station was built to provide a ticket office and waiting room for rail passengers using the ferry to board the train at Kingswear. Today, the station, still bearing the railway company's livery, is home to an ice-cream parlour and a champagne bar, but I resisted temptation and instead made a short detour upstream along The Embankment.
One hundred and fifty metres north of the station is the Dartmouth D-Day Memorial (picture 5), which commemorates the large flotilla of 485 vessels that sailed from Dartmouth Harbour on 5th June 1944 to join the Allied liberation of France on the beaches of Normandy the following day. That was not the first time that a large fleet departed from Dartmouth — in 1147, more than ten-thousand men departed from the harbour in a fleet of 164 ships on their way to the Middle-East for the Second Crusade, and in 1190 another 37 ships set sail for the Third Crusade. Dartmouth was also a port of call for the Mayflower before the Pilgrim Fathers sailed across the Atlantic to America.
Incidentally, the land on which the memorial sits, and indeed virtually all of the flat land on Dartmouth's waterfront is man-made, reclaimed from the river over the past eight centuries.
Back at Dartmouth Station, the Dart Valley Trail heads away from the river, going around two sides of the Boat Float (picture 6) to turn up Duke Street, passing The Butterwalk (picture 7), built in 1635, which is home to Dartmouth's excellent little museum. At the next crossroads after The Butterwalk, the Dart Valley Trail turns right along the narrow but very busy Foss Street (picture 8), where several nautically-themed shops here cater to the town's large sailing fraternity.
Interestingly, opposite the turn into Foss Street is the short Anzac Street. To me, as an Australian, the word ANZAC signifies the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the soldiers who came halfway around the world to fight alongside British forces during World War I, and particularly the assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey on 25th April 1915. That battle is commemorated on the same date every year by a public holiday and remembrance ceremonies in towns and cities all over Australia and New Zealand, and at the site of the battle in Turkey. Within a year of that battle, the word Anzac became one of the most heavily regulated words in the world, with all usage for commercial purposes or place names in Australia requiring ministerial approval, which is rarely granted, and commercial usage in New Zealand almost totally outlawed. Thus I was a little surprised to find the word on a street sign in Dartmouth. A little research revealed that the thoroughfare was renamed Anzac Street in 1917, when the former name of Hanover Street (the German surname of King George I) was well and truly out of favour.
At the far end of Foss Street, a path goes ahead between a couple of shops and the bustle of the town centre is instantly left behind as the Dart Valley Trail swings left and begins to climb the very long flight of the Brown's Hill Steps (picture 9). Until 1825, this steep and relatively narrow passage was the main road in and out of Dartmouth.
At the top of the steps, the Trail joins Clarence Hill and continues to climb past a row of white-painted townhouses, though not quite as steeply as before. Clarence Hill soon becomes Townstal Hill as the Trail enters the suburb of Townstal, originally a separate village in Anglo-Saxon times before being absorbed into Dartmouth. It isn't long before Townstal Hill merges into Mount Boone, which becomes Church Road beyond the next crossroads. Church Road continues through this residential part of Dartmouth, eventually swinging right to pass St Clement's Church (picture 10) just before reaching the A379 Townstal Road.
Across the road and a little to the left, the route turns down Old Mill Lane. At a junction with Archway Drive, the Trail crosses over and goes down steps beside Archway Cottage, which incorporates an arch and turret from an older building (picture 11).
The steps lead to the short Mill Crescent and at the end the Dart Valley Trail bears left onto another Old Mill Lane, finally heading out into open countryside as the quiet road descends into the valley of Old Mill Creek (picture 12), a tributary of the River Dart.
The lane snakes its way down into the valley, making a couple of sharp turns just before crossing a small packhorse bridge in front of Old Mill Cottage (picture 13). The Dart Valley Trail turns right on Lapthorne Lane, which briefly runs alongside the creek opposite Distin's Boatyard (picture 14) before starting to climb into woods behind the larger Creekside Boatyard. The tarmac soon runs out at the wrought-iron gate of a house called Creekside and Lapthorne Lane continues as an unsealed bridleway going to the left of the gate.
Before long, a junction is reached, where the official route of the Dart Valley Trail goes straight ahead, but an alternative permissive path goes off to the right. I decided to stick to the official route and continued along Lapthorne Lane and through shady woodland (picture 15) to a fork where a signpost points along the right branch, which climbs gently to reach a wooden five-bar gate. Through the gate, a straight stretch of track runs between tall hedges, and when these end the Trail bears left on a grassy track just outside a field (picture 16). Farm buildings visible over to the right are simply named Hole on the Ordnance Survey map.
Beyond another farm gate, an obvious path heads diagonally across a field. From the middle of the field there is a good view over the mouth of Old Mill Creek and across the River Dart to the landing of the Higher Ferry (picture 17), which I had passed on the previous afternoon's walk.
In the far corner of the field, a gate gives access to a sunken vehicle track whose banks were covered in white, blue and purple flowers until the track reached a large group of stone farm buildings at Bosomzeal (picture 18). The track then becomes a sealed lane that climbs gently over Fire Beacon Hill, where a beacon was erected on the summit in 1988 to celebrate to 400th anniversary of the English victory over the Spanish Armada (picture 19).
At the next gap in the bank on the right, a track brings the alternative route back to the official route of the Dart Valley Trail, and about 100 metres further along the lane the Trail turns off through an overgrown pedestrian gate to the right of a larger farm gate. The Trail now begins to descend from Fire Beacon Hill, heading down the broad, grassy margin of a large field (picture 20).
A stile in the lower corner of the field opens onto a track that runs across the top of The River Farm with views over the broad bend in the River Dart where it flows between Dittisham and Greenway (picture 21). The views are lost when the track descends to a gate and turns right along an enclosed path and then left on a tarmac lane to head into Dittisham.
The lane leads to a junction at the top of Manor Street, where there is a choice of routes. The route to Totnes goes straight ahead on The Level, but first I took the other branch, which turns right to follow the steep Manor Street (picture 22) down to the water's edge in front of the Ferry Boat Inn. Walkers who want to complete a loop from Greenway can use a small ferry that leaves the jetty in front of the pub for the short crossing to Greenway Quay, which is framed by woods on the opposite bank of the Dart (picture 23). Walking out onto the jetty gives a good view of the pub and the adjoining row of two- and three-storey houses (picture 24).
As mentioned in the previous stage, the John Musgrave Heritage Trail also crosses the Dart via the Greenway ferry, and that trail coincides with the Dart Valley Trail for the rest of the way to Totnes.
A sign outside the pub proclaimed that "education is important but beer is more importanter" so I took that wise advice on board and stopped at the pub for a pint and a late lunch. I also took a detour to The Ham (picture 25), a large and grassy riverside park accessed via a narrow lane part of the way back up Manor Street, before I climbed the rest of the way back up to the top of Manor Street and turned right along The Level.
The narrow lane winds its way among houses to a small carpark that doubles as a good viewpoint down to the river (picture 26) then continues on past more houses to the Red Lion Inn at Higher Dittisham (picture 27). St George's Church (picture 28) stands over to the right behind the Red Lion, but the Dart Valley Trail swings left into Higher Street and heads past a few more houses and out of the village.
The road soon descends to the side of Dittisham Mill Creek (picture 29), following it up to a signposted crossing of the little stream that feeds the creek. At the top of a short flight of rough stone steps, the Dart Valley Trail turns left to follow a wire fence across a grassy, sloping meadow overlooking Bramble Torre, a former mill where a large waterwheel is positioned between two of the buildings (picture 30).
At the far end of the meadow the Trail crosses a stile and follows a shady woodland path to a lane at the edge of the small village of East Cornworthy. Turning left, away from the bulk of the village, the Trail follows the lane past the last house (picture 31) and across the same stream crossed earlier (picture 32). Uphill from the stream, the lane reaches a lonely junction where the route turns sharp right onto Broadridge Lane, signposted for Coombe.
The lane passes Coombe Farm Studios and Fingals Hotel. Between them there is a view into the valley (picture 33), but this is fleeting and the lane soon narrows and passes a stone barn before becoming unsurfaced. A little further on is a junction where the Dart Valley Trail is signposted to turn right off Broadridge Lane and onto Broadgates Lane. The latter is a shady woodland track (picture 34) that climbs beside the stream for a while before crossing it and taking a dogleg to the right before climbing the rest of the way up to Broadgates Farm.
The lane is tarmacked from the farm and passes one more farm before heading straight through Longland Cross and down into the village of Cornworthy. Turning left in front of St Peter's Church, the Trail heads down the village street (picture 35) and past the Madruth Inn (picture 36), where a missing pub sign and the sound of a circular saw emanating from within alerted me to the fact that the pub was no longer in business. (Since this walk the pub has reopened as the Hunters Lodge Inn.)
At the bottom of the village street, the Dart Valley Trail bears right twice in quick succession to pass to the right of Wisteria Cottage and follow a track to a gate on the edge of the National Trust's Charleycombe Wood. A path heads through the pleasant wood (picture 37) to a second gate, from which a track descends towards Bow Creek (also called the Harbourne River on some maps), a tributary of the Dart.
A path runs parallel to the creek on the low edge of a grassy field, separated from the steep riverbank by a line of trees. Eventually, after the path climbs higher up the hillside on rough steps, it goes through a kissing gate and along a short woodland path to emerge on the bank of Tuckenhay Creek, just upstream from its confluence with Bow Creek and directly opposite the village of Tuckenhay (picture 38).
About 200 metres up Tuckenhay Creek, the path reaches a quiet residential lane and crosses the creek via Tuckenhay Bridge, turning right on the other side to follow another lane through Tuckenhay, back down to Bow Creek (picture 39) and then around a bend and past the Maltsters Arms (picture 40).
The road continues past riverside buildings, with views back down Bow Creek (picture 41), and onward to a signpost where the Dart Valley Trail can cross the water on stepping stones on the lower part of the tide. My timing was good, so I duly crossed the stepping stones (picture 42). Walkers arriving closer to high-tide need to walk a bit further upstream to cross the river on Bow Bridge, adding about 300 metres to the walk.
A track climbs from the creek crossing to meet the sunken lane coming back from Bow Bridge in front of Stepps Cottage. The lane climbs gently up to the centre of the village of Ashprington, where the Durant Arms (picture 43) stands next to a small roundabout that holds the village's war memorial (picture 44).
The Dart Valley Trail continues ahead, to the right of the roundabout and past St David's Church to follow the lane back out of the village, between fields and up to the three stout stone columns that mark the entrance of the Sharpham Estate. An enclosed footpath to the left of these takes the Trail along the edge of Lower Gribble Plantation to emerge on a hillside overlooking the River Dart (picture 45).
The Trail heads down a field to a stile where it turns left along a gravel farm track that runs between paddocks and riverside saltmarshes. In bygone centuries, the reeds from these marshes were a popular raw material for the local thatchers. The track eventually joins a tarmac path that is followed along the edge of a wood as far as a gate on the right, where a well-worn path crosses a small coombe and heads through another patch of rather dark woodland (picture 46).
Paralleling the River Dart, though mostly out of sight of it, the path now alternates between dark woods and small meadows a couple of times before the path climbs behind the first buildings of Totnes (picture 47), where boatyards and other marine businesses line both sides of the river.
The path is tarmacked as it passes a long line of apartments and at the end of the path the Trail turns right down St Peter's Quay then briefly left on New Walk before taking a paved path across the front of more apartments to reach the bank of the Dart opposite Steamer Quay (picture 48), where the ferries from Dartmouth arrive at Totnes.
Just upstream from Steamer Quay, the river splits to flow around both sides of Vire Island, a pleasant public park, named after the French town of Vire, with which Totnes was twinned in 1973. The Dart Valley Trail runs along the quayside, opposite Vire Island (picture 49), until 19th-century riverside buildings force the path back onto New Walk, which is followed along to a mini-roundabout at the foot of Fore Street.
On a traffic island by the roundabout is a stone obelisk (picture 50) with another connection to Australia. The obelisk is a memorial to William John Wills, a native of Totnes, who was the navigator for the first European expedition to cross Australia from south to north in 1860/61. Wills, aged just 27, and expedition leader Robert O'Hara Burke both perished on the return journey in June 1861.
At the roundabout, the Dart Valley Trail turns right to cross Totnes Bridge, where the trail ends overlooking the River Dart and the eastern side of Vire Island (picture 51). My GPS measured the upstream leg of the Trail at 18.5 kilometres.
Before heading over to Totnes Station, I first backtracked to the roundabout and went for a wander up the steep Fore Street, under the distinctive East Gate (picture 52) and up to the top of the hill. This is where the Saxon town of Totnes was first established and where the shell of its medieval castle keep still stands. At the top of High Street, just in front of the castle is the Totnes Brewing Company, where I stopped for a celebratory pint of the local brew, which like many things about Totnes was a little different but quite wonderful.