Sophie Pierce introduces us to the revitalising pass time of wild swimming on Dartmoor.
On a sparkling summer’s day there is no better place to be than the River Dart, not just by it, but in it! The local swimming holes get very busy in hot weather, but of course you can swim in the river all year round, and many people do.
There’s something about the clear and refreshing waters of the Dart that is incredibly restorative, and if you swim regularly, you experience Dartmoor in all its moods. From a frosty walk and an icy plunge, to wandering through woods full of bluebells and watching the sunbeams on the water as you swim, to the balm of the river in high summer, wild swimming is a great way to immerse yourself in nature.
A short drive from Ashburton is New Bridge, where you can swim both upstream and downstream. There are several pools within ten minutes walk upstream, some are even named on the Ordnance Survey Map (OL28): Salters Pool and Horseshoe Falls for example. Sharrah Pool, is arguably the biggest pool on the river and about 45 minutes’ walk from New Bridge. A fun circular walk goes from New Bridge to Sharrah Pool, then up to Bench Tor (a very steep climb), on to the village of Holne (stopping for a pint or cream tea) and then back down to the river. This, and other walks feature in the book Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon.
Downstream of New Bridge (10 minutes walk from the car park) is Spitchwick, a beautiful area of common land on a bend in the Dart which is perfect for swimming and a very popular spot on hot summer days.
Rising waters in the River Dart and a strong Westerly wind can cause a strange booming noise - the "Cry of the Dart!"
The "Cry of the Dart"
The cool and revitalising waters of the River Dart are treasured by visitors and locals alike. The river begins its journey high on Dartmoor National Park as two separate branches (the East Dart and West Dart), which join at Dartmeet before snaking its way through beautiful scenery and eventually reaching the sea at Dartmouth. The River Dart also is the source of much folklore, where it is respected and feared. The waters have a tendency to rise without notice following heavy rainfall on the moors causing strong currents. When this coincides with a Strong Westerly wind a strange booming noise may be heard - the ‘Cry of the Dart!’
Never swim alone, never swim after drinking alcohol, and never jump in without checking the depth and for obstructions, and working out where you will get out. Leave only footprints and take only memories. Above all enjoy immersing yourself in nature!
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Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon by Sophie Pierce is for sale from in Ashburton Information Centre.