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Dartmouth Harbour – What can I see?

You are standing on the Embankment.  In front of you is the superb natural harbour of Dartmouth.

Looking out across the river, from North to South (left to right) you can see…

  1. The Higher Ferry – the blue car ferry at the north end of town. A floating bridge, pulled across the river on two cables
  2. The steam railway was built as part of Brunel’s Great Western Railway.  Its arrival in Kingswear in 1864 led to the growth in the tourism industry in the town
  3. The Fuel Barge – a low, blue hulled boat in the middle of the river – our floating petrol station
  4. The Fisherman’s pontoon.  In the middle of the river, opposite the Town Jetty and normally busy with colourful fishing boats.  There is still a very active fishing industry in the port, concentrating particularly on shellfish.  Catch is landed on South Embankment and in Kingswear
  5. Hoodown Workshop – On the Kingswear side, the green-roofed building behind the Fisherman’s Pontoon.  This is the Dart Harbour workshop and base, where we maintain our boats and moorings.
  6. Darthaven Marina – The large group of yachts and pontoons to the right of the Fisherman’s pontoon.  On the quayside behind is a blue boat hoist, which you will often see in use lifting yachts in and out of the river
  7. Mainstream Moorings – the very large cylindrical yellow buoys, which we use for mooring larger vessels such as cruise ships and Royal Navy vessels.  These are anchored to the bottom with a system of massive chains to hold them firmly in place, and they can take vessels up to 200m in length.
  8. Kingswear signal box, station and ferry pier.  As the Great Western Railway was unable to serve Dartmouth by train, they introduced a ferry service from Kingswear ferry pier to their station building in Dartmouth (now Platform 1 restaurant)
  9. The Lower Ferry.  Grey floats hauled across the river by yellow and black tugs.  Owned by the local council, it has run since the 1700s
  10. Dartmouth Castle.  Built in around 1400 by John Hawley – Chaucer’s Shipman from the Canterbury Tales, to defend the river

Where you are standing is reclaimed land – originally this was part of the river.  Over the centuries Dartmouth has progressively been built out into the river – effectively any flat part of the town has been reclaimed.

The Dart Estuary is a drowned river valley or ‘ria’, formed over the last Ice Age – the deep river valley carved out by rushing waters and drowned by the post glacial sea-level rise.  It has been used as a harbour since time immemorial, being deep, sheltered and well positioned in the Western Approaches to the English Channel.

In the 12th Century fleets of ships sailed from Dartmouth for the crusades.    Chaucer visited the area in 1373 and it is said that his Shipman in the pilgrim tales was based on local resident John Hawley, who built Dartmouth Castle to defend the mouth of the river around 1400.  In the 16th century the port was home to explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humphrey Gilbert.  The latter’s claiming of Newfoundland for the crown brought a period of prosperity for the town, based on cod fishing.  The Butterwalk was built to service ships – at that time it was at the waterfront. The Pilgrim Fathers put in to Dartmouth for repairs en-route to America in 1620.