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Devon's rivers: The River Dart
River Dart at Newbridge
The River Dart at Newbridge on the southern edge of Dartmoor

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 around 31,000 people.

The Dart has helped to mould the towns and villages is touches.

Through the ages, it has helped places like Buckfastleigh, Totnes, and Dartmouth to thrive.

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 Dart at Totnes
The River Dart in Totnes

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

The Dart at Dartmouth and Kingswear
The Dart at Dartmouth and Kingswear

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 is a honeypot for visitors.

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.




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