GUIDE TO THE RIVER DART
(New Bridge to Holne Bridge - the 'Loop')
NAME OF RIVER: Dart.
WHERE IS IT?: The classic SW paddle, this trip is on Dartmoor, would you believe it, not far from Ashburton and the A38 Plymouth - Exeter road.PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put-in at New Bridge (take-out for the Upper Dart) where there is a huge car-park. Don't use the section of the car-park reserved for non-paddlers.
The egress is at Holne weir but paddlers are advised that the limited parking should be used for dropping off/picking up only, and are requested (where possible) to continue down to Buckfast and egress at the Dart Valley Railway (please patronise their caf whilst there).
Alternately, carry on downstream on the next section to Buckfastleigh.
APPROX LENGTH: 4 miles.
TIME NEEDED: At least an hour.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Can be run at most levels, hence the popularity. At New bridge there is a rock ledge on river left. If the river covers most or all of this, the river is at a good medium or high level. If water is flowing through all three arches on the bridge, then it's very high. If the water level does not reach the ledge, then the Dart is low. Look at the 'scrapeyness' of the rapid leading under the bridge and assume that all the Dart will be similar. If it's a job getting past this point, really don't bother.
There is a gauge hidden away in an eddy early in the trip. You canno see it bfore getting on the river unfortunately, but the webcam link below may suggest what the gauge is reading.
GRADING: Grade 2 for most of the river with few rapids at Grade 3. The river gets more continuous at higher levels but does not really exceed Grade 3. At extreme levels the rapids merge to continuous big and bouncy wave trains but surprisingly still do not exceed Grade 3+. However the seriousness of the trip and tree hazard are obviously hugely increased...
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Trees regularly drop into the river and should be watched out for. Holne weir is very dangerous at certain levels.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From New Bridge, it is a hundred metres to a small play-wave which improves at higher levels, offering a breaking wave which can be surfed, cartwheeled and so on. In flood it becomes quite superb but difficult to get up to.
There is a guide to the wave as a playspot here.
The river bends right and drops over a tiny ledge producing a small stopper across most of the river. Below this is a long Grade 2 wave-train leading to a left bend in the river. The river mostly flows right of an island and overhanging trees should be watched out for.
The gauge is in an eddy below an island on river right at this point...you'll have to look hard to find it.
The river leads down to a small rapid before a right bend...this is the best spot on earth for learning how to do tail squirts. From the bend, an easy series of rapids leads down past another island and a footbridge to where the river widens and the River Webburn enters from river left with a miniature play stopper. All of the trickier rapids are still to come, and it's not too far downstream that the river opens out into a wide pool above an island. Most water flows to the right of the Island and forms the Grade 3 Washing Machine rapid. This describes a 1 metre ledge which forms a small stopper. The stopper can be easily avoided by staying close to the island. Unless the river is at a medium level or higher, the stopper's towback is barely noticeable and provides a good introduction to running drops. In high levels, the hole is genuinely formidable but is again easy to avoid. In flood, it begins to wash out into a breaking wave.
Heading downstream, a series of steep Grade 2 rapids keep the interest up. Somewhere along here you will no doubt recognise a series of sloping rock slabs on river left which offer a painful seal launch to those willing. The river continues flowing fairly straight until you reach a point where it bends right and steepens into a very long rapid...you have reached Lover's Leap. This name describes the cliff at the end of the rapid which the inexperienced will find difficult to avoid as the water flows into it. There are several stoppers and rocks to negotiate in the rapid above this point, it's an enjoyable introduction to Grade 3. The cliff used to be regarded as a major hazard, but is now one of the most popular playspots around...if you know how to do 'splats'! Treat with caution all the same.
Lover's Leap is followed by several wide and rocky rapids. After the river flows left of a long island, keep your eyes peeled for the horizon line which marks the approach of Triple Falls (Grade 3). There are three(!) small rapids here, and only the first qualifies as a fall, being a 50 cm drop which washes out in anything other than low levels. This is a good spot for cartwheels/ loops/ etc. in low water. The second 'drop' is simply a chute through a wave into a pool. The final fall is a trickier rapid with some small waves and stoppers to negotiate. This section becomes an impressive wave-train in flood.
Past this section, flat water gives a chance to mellow out before a left bend leads into the Spin Dryer, which is basically just an eddy on river right beside a good wide surf wave. The eddy tends to be tricky to escape for the inexperienced but is far from terrifying, why did anyone bother naming it? Directly below the eddy is a small play stopper on river right which works well at some levels. A final steep wave-train gives fairly simple paddling through the last rapid to Holne Bridge (SX731706).
Egress at Holne Bridge or continue on down the next section.
Video of the Dart Loop in spate conditions, from Nick Clendon
OTHER NOTES: Local, quite reliable and you always find a new play spot!
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.