Dart Gorge Venford Reservoir to New Bridge South Bank Walk, Holne, Dartmoor National Park

Dart Gorge Venford Reservoir to New Bridge South Bank Walk, Holne, Dartmoor National Park

This is one of our favourite walks in Dartmoor National Park. It's difficult, owing to the absence of paths in the central section of the Dart Gorge below Bench Tor. For long sections of the walk, you're picking your way through wild woodland. Don't try this walk unless you are a confident walker. That said, it's worth it. The setting is sublime. At points, you are next to the River Dart as it rages through steep-sided gorge walls. When the river is in spate, the noise is awesome. If you walk at weekends during Autumn and Winter, it's likely you'll also see canoeists making their way over cascades. We've divided the walk into three sections. The central section is the difficult and isolated stretch.

Section one.

Venford Reservoir to White Wood. About 40 minutes. Park, or start, at the car parking area just east of Venford Reservoir. Walk north west to the corner of the railings that fence off the dam and water works buildings. Drop down to the disused road that runs around the spur of land on which Bench Tor sits. Follow the road for a couple of minutes and you'll see a track to your left that cuts through bracken to the side of Venford Brook and then the River Dart in the Dart Gorge. This track to your left that cuts through bracken starts before the tree line. If you disappear in to woods, you've gone too far. Whilst you can clamber down to the River Dart further along the disused road, this track is the easiest way down so try not to miss it.

Down on the south bank of the River Dart, a good track runs east along the side of the river to Mel Pool under Mel Tor and Bench Tor. At points, you walk next to the water. The noise and natural beauty are exceptional.

Section two.

White Wood to Sharrah Pool. About 30 minutes. This is the tricky bit. In White Wood, below Bench Tor and across the water from Mel Tor, the good track that you've been walking on disappears. You have to pick your way through wild woodland following partial human and animal tracks until you reach the upper cascades at Sharrah Pool. We've walked this section on numerous occasions with young kids. As long as you watch your footing and leave plenty of time for slow progress, it's not too problematic. Very soon, you connect with a very good path so even if you find it uncomfortable going, it doesn't last too long. Again, do not try this section unless you are a confident walker. It's a great place but it's wild.

Section three.

Sharrah Pool to New Bridge. About 50 minutes. Sharrah Pool is a popular wild swimming spot at the western end of the National Trust's Holne Woods. There are huge boulders and granite slabs lining a long pool of water. A good track runs south east through Holne Woods and then bends with the river to New Bridge. There are many other places where you can stop and swim on this section. Very obvious tracks lead down to them. Invariably, these spots are pools of smooth, slow moving water. 

This last section is easy walking. Clearly, you can walk this third section the opposite way around to swim at Sharrah Pool.