Kingswear is on the Southwest Coastal Path, Britain's longest footpath which follows the coastline for 630 miles from Minehead in North Somerset, round the point at Lands End and then onwards to Poole in South Dorset (or of course vice-versa, depending on your start point) and the ferry across to Dartmouth is considered part of the trail.
For a short hike beginning in Kingswear I can heartily recommend taking the path up towards Froward Point for the great views over the estuary and the twin castles of Kingswear and Dartmouth. I didn't get as far at Froward but instead looped back and descended to join the river before catching the ferry myself - Dartmouth being my intended destination. But even such a short walk (about 30 minutes) provided plenty of scenery, a bit of exercise and another bit of local mystery.
As I was walking up I glimpsed a rather magnificent house (pic #2) tucked away on the river's shore below me. When I got to where its entrance from the roadway is this was fenced off and without any signage as to what it is all about. Doing a bit of research as I'm writing this fails to elicit any further information except for the fact that it is there - I have a full-screen pic of it on Google Earth in another window but there's no tag as to what it is called. Coming back, following the shore, the house isn't visible from anywhere accessible...hmmm...another Kingswear mystery and one which will require a revisit to attempt a solution - watch this space!!
Continuing back towards the ferry you pass the old quay, the historic slipway of the Kittery (see tip under "favourites") and the Royal Dart Yacht club, which is one of the UK's best-known if you are into that sort of thing. And more suited to me arriving at the Royal Dart Hotel where I enjoyed a swift beer whilst watching the ferries shuttling backwards and forwards across the river.
As with all the best walks the handily located pub at the end is always the highlight ;-HIC!
Whilst the Lower Ferry has been around since at least 1365 the Higher Ferry is a relative newcomer. Originally, in 1828, a suspension bridge was planned to connect the A379 Plymouth to Torbay road but for whatever reason this failed to get planning permission and so a floating bridge was constructed instead. This comprised a 40 foot by 30 foot pontoon powered by a 4 hp steam engine which shuttled back and forth drawn by chains.
After several manifestations, including a period of being, literally, horse-powered, the ferry service was discontinued in 1908 and wasn't reinstated until 1912 when the Torpoint Chain Ferry Company aquired the old floating bridge. They had a new purpose-built ferry made at Cremyll Shipyard which was propelled by wire ropes instead of chains and all subsequent ferries have used this system.
The present-day ferry was installed in June 2009 and has a maximum capacity of 36 vehicles. This shuttles continuously 365 days a year, including Christmas and New Year, with the normal operating hours from 0630 until 2250 Monday to Saturday and 0800 until 22.50 on Sundays. Foot passenger fare is a mere 50 pence whilst for a standard car is £4.50 and for regular users a multiple journey, machine-readable, "Tag" is available.
There's probably been some sort of ferry crossing between Kingswear and Dartmouth since time immemorial but the first documented evidence comes from a 1365 Close Roll entry (the Close Rolls were the Chancellor's administrative records, so-called because the individual entries were rolled up and tied at the end of each period). At this time the ferry was operated as a Crown created monopoly and the reference in the Roll was to the granting of this to a local landowner, William Carey.
In 1365 the ferry was probably simply a rowboat with maybe a couple of burly rowers and the capacity to transport people or relatively small quantities of goods.
Over the years there have been many different types of operation including a floating bridge, a prototype RoRo (Roll-0n, Roll-off), paddle steamers and tug boats. When the railway arrived in 1864 the then railway company, Dartmouth and Torbay Railway, set up a franchise operation to ferry its passengers across to Dartmouth - the original aim had been to bridge the river which is how Dartmouth ended up with a railway station with neither platforms nor trains.
When Great Western Railway aquired the line in 1876 they initially continued using the existing franchise and then decided to have their own purpose-built ferry, The Mew, commissioned. The Mew was a twin-engined steamer certificated to carry up to 547 passengers and with a top speed of 10 knots. When The Mew began service in 1908 passenger accommodation was on the main deck whilst the promenade deck was used for freight.
As the use of motor vehicles increased The Mew was redesigned and the pontoon docks strengthened so that the ship could function as a RoRo - vehicles could board at one side of the river and drive straight off at the other.
Parallel to the various railways' ferries there continued to be an independently-run, tug-pulled "Horse Boat". The railway companies owned the rights of passage to this crossing too but contracted it out to a company run by the Casey brothers who became Casey and Heal when George Casey retired in 1909. The Postmaster General had the power to have the mail shipped on whatever boat he chose and the railway companies were required, according to the original 1857 Dartmouth and Torbay Act, to allow use of their ferries by the general public as well as their own passengers.
In 1925 Great Western sold on the rights to the "Horse Boat" to Dartmouth Town Council, effectively establishing the route as a public highway, and concentrated on using The Mew as its own passenger, goods and vehicular crossing.
The Mew was in service until 1954 before she was retired, after 46 years of almost continuous crossings, and GWR commisioned the building of a pair of smaller boats, the Adrian Gilbert and the Humphrey Gilbert to run the crossing. Meanwhile the council continued with a tug-pulled service as a continuation of the roadway.
Upon privitisation British Rail took over the GWR service, using the existing boats, and then after BR decided to withdraw its train service in 1972 and selling the line on to the fledgling heritage Dart Valley Railway their ferry service was included in the package.
This situation continues to the present-day. The vehicular ferry is operated by the local government (now the South Hams Council) whilst the passenger ferry is run by what is now known as the "Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company" who operate the ferry year round, even when the trains are no longer running their seasonal timetable.
The council-run ferry, now propelled by "Hauley V", is the only vehicular one whilst the railway's "Edgecumbe Belle" (formerly the GWR's Humphrey Gilbert) is foot-passenger and light freight only. For those of us without infernal-combusting-engined machines there's a 10p difference in fares - on the cheaper vehicle ferry you have to cross on deck whilst on the Edgecombe Belle there is a covered seating area. However the crossing only takes three-minutes (and neither have bars) and so, penny-pinching aside, it's usually just a case of turn up and see which the next boat is going to be.
When British Rail decided to close the section of its railway between Paignton and Kingswear in the late 1960's the commercial Dart Valley Railway Company took it over to run as a heritage tourist attraction.
The company has gone from strength to strength and now offers boat cruises and open-top bus tours as well. Now known as the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company it offers various combinations of days out during its April to October season, centred around the steam train journey from Paignton to Kingswear.
During its high season the company runs 9 trains a day each way between Paignton and Kingswear with a journey time of 30 minutes. From Kingswear the ferry (run by the same company) shuttles across to the historic naval town of Dartmouth. 2011 fares start from a basic £10 adult return and there are several fare options including family tickets.
This is something I haven't, as yet, done but is definitely on my list - and of course the Royal Dart pub is the railway/ferry waiting room ;-HIC!
For details visit the website.
Sometime in the 1960's (the exact date, or even year, seems to have been forgotten) a couple of local divers, Neville Oldham and Tony Almer, discovered a set of cannons on the river bed in front of Kingswear Castle. At first it was assumed that these were the redundant cast iron guns from the castle which had had to be replaced because the salt air corroded them and they were to be replaced by brass pieces. As with the exact year of the discovery there also seems to be some confusion about the number of cannons. The 2012 "Dartmouth Cannons Report" (click HERE for link) initially mentions seven but everywhere else has the number at eight and indeed within the same report the drawing on page 16 clearly shows eight (and yet another source mentions nine - http://www.kingswear-devon.co.uk/July%202010%20Newsletter.pdf).
The guns were arranged in an oval formation which would suggest that they hadn't been thrown haphazardly into the river, either from the castle or perhaps from a foundering ship offloading them to reduce weight. The arrangement would suggest that they were the guns from a ship which had sunk on the spot but apart from a few shards of Portuguese pottery and some more modern debris there is no other evidence of a wreck.
One of the guns was raised in 2003 and upon examination it was decided that it was indeed a ship's cannon - the castle guns would have been much larger and it is dated 1577 which was after Dartmouth Castle ceased to be used for river protection. However apart from that date and a weight there is no other identifying mark and so which ship it could have come from is impossible to trace. Records of shipping lost in the area also fail to provide any clues as to the gunnery's history and so everything is merely conjecture as evidenced by the vagueness of the information board beside the cannon where it has now been displayed at the car park.
Just as a matter of interest there is a similar cannon, similarly located, over the river at Dartmouth but that one has a well-documented history.
The coastal town of Kittery in Maine, USA, claims to be "the oldest town in the state" and was first settled sometime in the early 1600's. What it was called then is anybody's guess but it got the name of Kittery sometime after 1635 when the Kingswear merchants and shipowners, Alexander Shapleigh and Francis Champernowne, arrived to set up a salt cod export business.
Shapleigh was reputedly born at Kittery Manor and their ship, the Benediction, sailed from Kittery Quay. Kittery was officially incorporated as a town in 1647 and a group of local residents made a pilgrimage to Kingswear in 1998 to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the incorporation and to donate the commemorative plaque which now takes pride of place on the wall of the present-day Kittery Quay (pic #2).
Here's a link to the US page - Where Kittery Got Its Name
Whenever I'm in this neck of the woods I'm always reminded of the old tale from the Combined Services Dinner.
A General and a ship's Captain happened to be using the urinals at the same time. When the Captain finished his business with a quick shake, zipped up and headed for the door the General, in a loud plummy voice, called after him, "What ho, my dear chap! At Sandhurst we were taught to wash our hands after using the toilet."
To which the Captain, mockingly plummily, responded, "Well old boy! At Dartmouth we were taught how not too pee on our hands in the first place." HA!
Toilet humour at its best but relevant here at Kingswear because only from this side of the river can you get this sort of view of the Naval College.
This is Britannia Royal Naval College were Naval officers have been trained since 1863. Originally the training took place on the hulks Britannia and Hindostan which were moored in the river. The present-day, purpose-built, College was completed in 1905 and is now the only officer training Naval establishment in Britain. About 400 prospective officers undergo training in all aspects of Naval requirements at any given time and as well as our own Royal Navy cadets the college offers courses for candidates from all over the world.