Our blog on Kayaking on the River Dart is with thanks to Sam Anderson at Cornish Hampers. Before setting up Cornish Hampers Sam actually used to compete in a form of kayaking called freestyle (its kind of like surfing on a river), He was British champion from 2010 to 2012 and represented Great Britain at a number World and European championships.
So far this winter has been extremely wet, providing great conditions for canoeing. In the South West we've been lucky enough to avoid any serious flooding but the River Dart has been high on a more regular basis than most canoeists can remember, with any dry spells not lasting for much more than a few days. Not only has there been plenty of water around but as usual with wet periods in winter it's also been relatively warm, although this winter has been exceptionally mild.
Dartmoor is blessed with one of the best paddle-able rivers in the country, the River Dart. The beauty of it flowing through Dartmoor’s deep wooded valleys, its easy access and the various river sections to accommodate almost all abilities make it widely regarded as the most popular river to paddle in the country. On its busiest weekends the Dart welcomes a couple hundred paddlers and its Facebook group, Kayaking on the River Dart, boasts 3.6k members consisting of paddlers from across the UK.
Although many paddlers will take to the river whenever there is water, the most popular time to paddle still remains between the start of October and mid-March when river levels are generally the most reliable allowing groups to plan trips with more confidence.
The River Dart is split into sections for paddling purposes; the Lower Dart – from Buckfastleigh to Totnes, the Middle Dart – from the Holme Weir to Buckfastleigh, the Loop – from Newbridge to Holme Weir and the Upper Dart - from Dartmeet to Newbridge. As with most rivers, generally the higher up the Dart you go the steeper and harder to descend it becomes. The Upper Dart is therefore the hardest section of the river which is run by the more experienced and competent paddlers. As the name suggests, it starts where the East and West Dart meet, with the West Dart from Bellever to Dartmeet becoming an increasingly popular trip. The Loop section is by far the most popular part of the river with a number of nice rapids in-between flatter sections making it suitable for most canoiests with some white water experience. It’s also very accessible and possible to paddle without shuttling cars by walking back up the road, which is a much shorter route to Newbridge than the river. The Lower/Middle Dart is the slowest section of river making it popular with large open canoes.
It’s very important when paddling the Dart to appreciate how different the river can be in high or low flows. Rain runs quickly off the steep granite lined slopes surrounding the River Dart which can transform the river from a gentle trickle to a raging torrent in a matter of hours. There’s plenty of information on river levels available but one of the best sources is Rainchasers as not only does it tell you whether the river is low/medium/high, it also shows whether the river is rising or falling, which can be very useful to know.
Here is a list of accommodation near to the River Dart