The Source Part 2: the West Dart River

From the outset the West Dart is a completely different river from his sister the East Dart that flows only a mile away beyond the next ridge of moorland.

Despite some time spent searching a soggy bog the East Dart was unwilling to reveal the secret of her source to me.  How discrete.  The West Dart is however far more overt and as I follow the dwindling water upstream it fades to a trickle and then opens into a small pool of dark, peaty water, flecked with weeds and surrounded by mossy banks from which the water drains.


Wild Swimming

Heading downstream the banks are grassy and open, no morass of impenetrable bogs for this river.

The Summer Brook spills into the river and instantly it is transformed from a stream flowing between deeply incised peat banks to a broad, clear, fast moving river that swirls and tumbles around granite boulders.

In the deep valley below Rough Tor is the first swimming pool.  It is barely big enough to lie in flat out with the river bed of algal coated stones at arms reach, but at the head of the pool is a small waterfall and after nearly 3 hours of stumbling about the moor not always on a dry surface it is relief to sink beneath the surface and rinse away the mud and freshen up.

The river teems with fish that flit amongst the stones frantically searching for non-existent cover in the clear open water as I pass by on the bank.  And now, having seen no-one for 3 hours, two unrelated walkers pass me in succession, one hot on the heels of the other, like buses.


Swim two is a long channel cut under the peat bank and then immediately a third pool, longer, but from here it is almost a mile downstream to the small weir where the Devonport Leat spurs off the river. That is however a real disappointment and is nowhere more than 18 inches deep.  It is worth it only because I am again covered in peaty slime to above my knees from a misjudged bog crossing.  Rinsing my shoes and socks it is quite clear the socks have had it, that is no massive loss, but the shoes, which were admittedly splitting in several places, have split in several more places and have taken on a sandal like quality.

Things now become more tricky and I find myself wading through massive tussocks of grass, unable to see where my feet are landing and often it is wet, soft and muddy.  Above me on the far hillside a two-way stream of walkers are making or have made the pilgrimage to Wistmans Wood and it seems forever ago that I swung briefly into its cool, low hung interior.  I could do with some cool down here, the steep sided valley has cut off all the breeze that swept the high moor earlier.


Wild Swimming

Relief.  Just below the lower corner of the wood the river makes a hairpin turn, I saw this earlier and it looked promising.  It is. On the inside of the bend is a wide beach of rounded pebbles and I hurriedly dump my small ruck sack and strip off my shirt, the ‘sandals’ may as well stay on at this point.  Under the opposite bank is a deep water channel that for the purposes of my River Dart swim adventure constitutes a proper swim.  In other words it is deep enough and big enough to do at least three breast strokes without running aground.

From here on I am off the moorland with permitted access and onto private farmland.  However, I have managed the other 77 miles of the river and I am not about to be defeated here in the closing stages.  Rule 17 applies here: it is usually easier to apologise after the event than try to get permission in advance, especially in instances where no harm is being done.  Go for it.

And I almost get away with it, but just before the cover of some beech trees and higher grassy banks there is a small stretch right under the gaze of the farmhouse and sure enough someone is stood by the wall watching my progress and even from this distance I can tell what they are thinking!  Best to just get on with it, as it is after all only 300m to the road and car park.


My 100 Swims South-West Google map.


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