The River Dart, once described by Queen Victoria as “England’s Rhine”, is the subject of a talk by Devon authors Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury, who, between, them, have walked or swum pretty much its entire length.

The Dart rises on Dartmoor and reaches the sea nearly fifty miles later, at Dartmouth. It passes through a series of varied landscapes, from the mires on the moor, through a granite gorge, and down through farmers fields to Totnes, where it becomes a tidal estuary. Famously celebrated in Alice Oswald’s poem “Dart”, which is now 22 years old (it was published in 2002), the Dart is loved by many, from walkers to swimmers and anglers.

Wild Swimming Walks authors Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury have been exploring along the river for the last 20 years, and are keen to share its history and stories. Says Sophie: “I swim with a group of friends in the river at Spitchwick every Sunday morning, rain or shine, and love to walk along its banks. It also has great emotional significance for me after the death of my son Felix, connecting precious family memories of playing in the Dart with his burial place above the river at Sharpham Meadow.”

Matt remembers walking to the source of the Dart, at Cranmere Pool, an expedition which was somewhat challenging at times. “I remember how boggy it was; we had to hop from tussock to tussock, and when we finally got to Cranmere Pool I confess it was rather a disappointment, being a small puddle.”

Sophie, with a group of friends, has spent the last few summers swimming and walking different sections of the Dart, starting at Dartmeet. “We call these trips the Dart Scrambles as they involve swimming, but also a certain amount of slithering and crawling! The first one we did was from Dartmeet all the way down to New Bridge. Clad in wetsuits, boots, and gloves, with only some Marmite sandwiches for sustenance, we swam, slid and walked all the way. Needless to say it took hours, and our supposed drybag let in water resulting in soggy sandwiches! It was though, an exhilarating experience as the river is so wild and beautiful on the moor, with its cascades, channels and gorges.”

Sophie and her friends have subsequently completed nearly all the river downstream. She remembers one birthday celebration when they swam from Totnes down to Sharpham, to have lunch in the café which was operating there at the time. Matt was invited but said he couldn’t come. So it was a lovely surprise, when she was approaching North Quay at Sharpham, to see a distant figure swimming towards her , which of course turned out to be Matt, surprising her at the end.

Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce are the authors of 5 wild swimming guides covering Dartmoor, South Devon, Torbay, East Devon, Dorset, Cornwall, Exmoor and North Devon. They have been friends for many years, united by their love of exploring places by swimming as well as walking.

They will be sharing many stories, as well as some stunning images of the Dart, in a talk at Sandridge Barton near Stoke Gabriel, on Thursday April 18th at 18:30.  

The vineyards border the river, which contributes to the perfect climate for growing grapes; a glass of Dart Valley Reserve will be included in every ticket!

Authors Matt and Sophie wild swimming in the River Dart (Contributed)

Matt and Sophie in the O Brook, a tributary of the Dart (Contributed)

A scramble in the Dart (Contributed)

The glorious Dart (Valentina Sotnikova / Unsplash)