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  • Writer's pictureJodie Newton

The Dart Gorge and Aish Tor

Stepping stones over a tributary of the river Dart

Between Dartmeet and Newbridge lies the Dart Gorge, which can be explored via paths along both sides of the river (there are no viable crossing places between). You could of course choose to do a ten mile loop hike crossing at Newbridge and Hexworthy or shorter, one-way walks. Most of the gorge and its woodland is part of The Dart Valley Nature Reserve, which extends upstream from Newbridge for about 3.4 miles.

Be advised that this walk was extremely difficult in places but I will suggest alternatives.

On the paths through the nature reserve

Our family adventure took us along the less travelled Northern side of the river, from Newbridge pay and display car park (this is notoriously busy at peak season and I would go so far as to suggest this area be avoided on high days and holidays) up river towards Sharrah SX711 708 and Mel pools both of which are near Holne.

The path is fairly flat and easy to navigate to begin with. It starts on the river which we kept to our left through a very picturesque woodland area.

Shortly after the first few hundred yards the path skirts around some farm land, before an obvious track cuts back left towards the river once more. We followed this path beside the waters edge until it took us up and around the side of the valley.

If you wanted a short and pretty walk, this is a lovely point at which to stop and retrace your steps.

Our adventure began to get rather tricky here. The path was less obvious and being somewhat covered in slippery leaves, slightly more treacherous. It meandered its way along the river cutting sharply up and down the sides of the valley and at some points came precariously close to some very steep drops over the torrent of water in the Dart bellow.

I do not mind admitting that I found this part of our hike slightly nerve wracking, I was very glad of my trekking pole. There were several points where bouldering was necessary and I even traversed down parts of the track on my bottom.

Eventually we arrived at Sharrah pool.

A winter swim

The river Dart cascades and tumbles through the valley, over granite rocks. After heavy rain and amplified by the gorge, the white noise produced by the water is awesome. However, even when engorged, the river runs calm along some pools of water. Sharrah Pool is one of these. It has become a popular place for wild swimming and in high season can get busy. If you cross the river at Newbridge and walk the path on the Southern side I'm assured it is slightly easier to get to.

The water here is deep and the rocks slippery so again, it is not somewhere for a paddle with young children but confident swimmers will find it an ideal place to cool off (making sure you take all safety precautions and never swim alone).

Although it was practically December I decided that I would like to swim. The weather was unusually mild for this time of year and though my family think I'm bonkers I thoroughly enjoyed an icy cold dip in the Dartmoor waters, perhaps I'm part fish?

At this point we decided that we would retrace our steps a little as the path forward was virtually nonexistent and tried to find a way up the North side of the valley towards Dr. Blackalls Driveway.

Struggling up the steep slopes of the valley

This was some of the toughest hiking I have experienced including the Jurassic coast and Snowdon. We found some semblance of tracks and grappled our way up out of the trees to the ferns and Gorse covered hills above.

These became our next obstacles and should we have tried this in the summer months, I fear we would not have made it through the vegetation. Luckily the ferns had all but died back and the Driveway was not too far through the gorse, but it took some navigating and a few prickled legs.

Sharrah pool

once on the crest of the hill we found the path known as Dr. Blackalls Driveway

It is known locally that Thomas Blackall lived at nearby Spitchwick Manor in the late 1800s and had the carriage drive created to enable his guests and supposedly his disabled wife to enjoy the spectacular views across the Dart Gorge.

Dr. Blackalls Driveway

The driveway follows part of the Two Moors Way and makes a nice easy stroll on the Moor with superb views SX 698 718.

From here we navigated relatively open moorland to Aish Tor SX702 715

Aish Tor is a small tor above the northern side of the Dart Gorge. It stands at 283 metres (928 ft) above sea level and is topped by a cairn. The actual 'Tor' is relatively flat and generally hard to pin-point. From here we decided to head back to the car, dropping down the track towards a disused quarry on the side of the hill.

Aish Tor

Whilst you can walk to the Dart Gorge from all directions, the easier places to start are the car parks at Dartmeet, Venford Reservoir, New Bridge and Sharp Tor.

I would suggest a gentle walk to Bench Tor from either of the two car parks by Venford Reservoir. Start from the car park on the Eastern side of the water. Grass tracks lead to a spur jutting out into the Dart Gorge. Here you can see the rocky outcrop of Bench Tor. The views down into the gorge are breath taking.

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