On the Waterfront

When we planned the route to Cornwall, Nancy realized that we’d be passing close by Dartmouth, the sister city of her hometown, Dartmouth, MA, and suggested we visit. Our friends from Lewes agreed that Dartmouth was worth a visit, so there we went. I’ve been navigating with a GPS that has not, so far, taken me over a cliff or into a bogland, though it has occasionally pointed me the wrong way on a one-way street. The system steered us directly toward Dartmouth, down a rather steep hillside into the town. I was taken aback by road sides indicating I was to “queue for ferry” with no option to turn off or around. In a moment of panic, I assumed we had been misdirected and we’d find ourselves on a boat bound for France. Not a bad possibility, of course, just not one we had planned on.

Rounding the last curve, I followed the lane of traffic onto a small ferry (the locals call it the “floating bridge) that was taking us from east side of the town to the west.

At the mouth of the river Dart, the town is crammed into a narrow valley with neighborhoods stepping up both sides along hills as steep as the most extreme in Ithaca. Without space for bridges, the town relies on a pair of car ferries and one pedestrian ferry to shuttle cars and people back and forth. Both the hills and this transit system must limit, to a degree, further urban developments, but a tea shop owner assured me that his town was also affected by the burgeoning pressure from London.

The town has a fine harbor, extending along both sides of the river. The commercial center is on the west, and we chose a hotel there not far from the water. The Ship in Dock hotel advertises a pedigree (somewhat updated) from the 17th century and thrusts itself into the town at the foot of one of the steep hillsides.

It is a rather ramshackle place, with hallways that seem to slant, creaking floors, a slightly askew doorway. It’s not the only building we encountered that is out of true.

The hotel features a small local pub at the entrance and while the music did finally die, until 10:00 p.m. we put up with the kind of dim, throbbing music I associate with living close to student apartments.

Dartmouth is a working harbor, though its fishing fleet is not as large as that in New Bedford. Sailboats, as well, line the jetties,

We took another ferry, this one simply a large, open motor boat from the jetty out to the mouth of the Dart where an old castle once defended the port from pirates and marauding Spaniards.

While I do get seasick, I can manage the slight bounce on a river cruise. Nancy and I both immediately took front row seats. We’ve read Melville and understand that sailors in the foc’sle get the freshest air first, while those farther back endure the foul airs, astern.

The river journey took us along the steep neighborhoods of Dartmouth, each street rising above the next.

While local streets zigzag up the hillside, steep alleys provide direct access from one level to the next.

After a few cloudy days in Salisbury, the weather has been stunning–bright, sunny, warm. In the evening, the town took on a warm spring glow.

2 thoughts on “On the Waterfront

  1. Glad to see you made it to Dartmouth. On the opposite side of the river to the ‘old castle’, in Kingsweir, is a corresponding fortification of the same vintage. This is owned and run by the Landmark Trust as self-catering accommodation – Lesley and I stayed there a few years ago. Highly recommended!


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