Tucked away in Kingswear Castle’s old home port of Dartmouth in Devon a paddler is still in service flapping her way backwards and forwards across the river from early morning to late at night pretty much every day of the year. The Dartmouth Higher Ferry’s trip, which lasts only a few minutes, may not be in quite the same league as steaming around the Isle of Wight on the Balmoral; it may be absolutely unchangeable on the whim of the captain as the ship makes her way along guide wires attached to the shore on each side; but the motive power is provided by paddle wheels; and the familiar flap, flap, flap of the floats beating the water is a tonic in itself on a cold, dark morning in the middle of an otherwise paddle steamer free winter.
The Dartmouth Higher Ferry’s paddle wheel design is very similar to that of KC which is not altogether surprising as both ships came from the same local yard of Philip & Son.
As you can see, not a lot of expensive was put into this vessel’s paddle boxes in the way of ornate decoration but at least the absence of much of a structure gives a good view of the wheels themselves.
The Diesel propelled Dartmouth Higher Ferry was built in 1960 to replace a broadly similar vessel dating from 1920 powered by steam. As it was the practice in those far off days for all coal fired ships to drop their ash straight over the side it was said that the ferry tended to run aground on the piles of ash beneath her at low tide.
If you are down in Devon do try to take a trip on this unusual craft. And for a real treat you could stay in the sumptuous Dart Marina Hotel directly overlooking her route and wake to the magical sound of the flap, flap, flap of her paddle wheels drifting across your balcony as she makes her early morning crossings. What a delightful way to start the day!
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.