Monty Halls, star of TV's Great Escapes, shares his experiences running an eco-tours shop on the Devon coast. This week he's heading upriver…
22:30 GMT, 9 November 2012
Throughout the spring and summer it’s always been my habit to turn the nose of the boat towards the sea the moment I move away from the harbour.
Surely – or so the perceived wisdom says – this is where the adventure lies, this is where scaly leviathans scull through deep water and dolphins snort and frolic.
But going upriver has held little attraction – why head inland when you can open the throttles to a full-throated bellow and hurtle towards an endless horizon
This week Monty heads up river with Reubs in tow, of course
There’s a speed limit on the river – quite right too – and even if I wanted to break it the fact that the boat is rather noisy, 24ft long and a conspicuous bright orange makes this somewhat tricky.
In a moment of ill-judged enthusiasm many moons ago, when I thought I’d spotted a dolphin in the river mouth, I crept over the permitted six knots and received a good talking to from an irate man in a large yacht.
He was almost certainly a colonel of some sort, probably had gout, may well have had a double-barrelled surname, and went an interesting shade of puce as he gesticulated in my direction.
What was doubly annoying was that he was quite right – the speed limit on the river stops expensive crunches between boats, and ensures that the wildlife on the banks remains undisturbed by foaming wakes.
I throttled back in shame, and hastily moved away in case he felt obliged to punctuate his rant with some hot grapeshot from a monogrammed shotgun.
All of this means that I generally breathe a sigh of relief whenever I reach the mouth of the River Dart, delighted to venture once more into the wide open spaces of the sea. But the weather recently has meant several trips up the river instead, exploring the various tidal inlets that feed it, and revealing in the process a whole new world.
Reubs and I have already had many a happy hour exploring in the boat and on foot, feeling like we're hundreds of miles from anywhere or anyone
Every river in Britain that finds its way to the sea carries with it the essence of the land through which it passes. Like a network of capillaries, the streams that feed the rivers follow every curve and hollow.
The water that twists through them is a distillation of the landscape itself, carrying the soil, the leaves and the local wildlife into the larger systems that await them.
They leach away the chalk and the clay of Middle England, carving tracks as they do so that become highways for all manner of scuttling creatures.
Every stream is subtly different, combining with others to create the personalities of our river systems, which in turn carve their signature on the coast – they are the link between the land and the ocean.
And so our forays up the River Dart have been a revelation to Reuben and me. The word ‘Dart’ is an ancient Brythonic Celtic word meaning ‘oak’. One trip inland and you can see why this might be the case – with dense oak forests cloaking the hills and crowding the banks.
The quiet estuarine inlets have the whiff of exploration about them. They have the whiff of a few other things as well, with glutinous mud bubbling and squelching beneath your feet.
This mud is potent stuff, the term ‘nutrient-rich’ springing to mind as the stench of rotten eggs rises in noxious clouds at every footstep. But it is the basis for a fabulous array of life.
There was a large group of herons – known as a ‘siege’ of herons – in one inlet we encountered. There are snow-white egrets a-plenty, looking for all the world like they should be pecking tsetse flies off buffalo in Africa, and every now and then the whirr of an airborne jewel – a kingfisher flying low and fast, twisting in the sun as if to mock every other creature in Britain with its dazzling colours like some lost bird of paradise.
Reubs and I have already had many a happy hour exploring in the boat and on foot, feeling like we’re hundreds of miles from anywhere or anyone.
There is the rather splendid feeling that one could never grow tired of this, and yet if I glance up from my wellies, the dense forests of the banks beckon.
This is yet another world to explore, an irresistible few short steps away, beckoning me closer as the winter draws in.