Highs and lows
The first thing to understand is that tide times and height change as the moon goes round the earth. When the moon is full or new, then high tides are higher and low tides are lower (called “spring” tides) than they are when there is a half moon, called “Neap” tides. So it’s worth taking a note of the phase of the moon as you are preparing for your trip to Dartmouth!
As a rule of thumb, if there is a spring tide (moon is almost full or just a crescent), then it will be low tide around the middle of the day, and if it is a neap tide, then it will be high tide around mid day and low tide in the evening. The second rule of thumb, is that high and low tides are between 30 and 60 mins later every day – if you are in Dartmouth for a week, you will see this shift between spring and neap tide.
One word of caution: we tend to focus on when there is a high or low tide, but it is important to remember that tides are typically flowing fastest halfway between high and low tide, and this must be borne in mind if you are in the water. If you try to go up the River Dart when the tide is falling, you may be surprised at how hard you need to paddle/motor to make any progress. Look out for the wind direction too.
Low tide suggestions
Most beaches are better, and obviously bigger at low tide. Beaches facing the Atlantic (Bigbury, South Milton, Thirlstone, Hope cove) tend to be shallower and sandier and are particularly large at low tide, and then get very crowded when everyone retreats when the tide comes in!. The beaches facing East (like Blackpool Sands) are steeper and don’t grow so significantly, though a low tide does allow you to walk from Slapton sands to Beesands (see if you can discover the hidden quarry along the way!). At low tide you can walk across from Mothecombe to Wonwell, or across from Bigbury to Burgh Island – just be careful not to get cut off as the tide rises. Surfing is usually best either side of low tide.
High tide suggestions
Rivers are often at their best when the tide is higher – they certainly tend to be muddier and smellier at low tide. Obviously if you’re walking along the foreshore, there may be less of it to tread on at a high spring tide, but walks such as the Dart Valley Trail , or Frogmore Creek are better when the river is higher. River cruises (eg up the River Dart to Dittisham or Totnes) tend to be more attractive at high tide – some places are only really accessible for a couple of hours either side of high tide, such as the Maltsters arms at Tuckenhay off the River Dart. Windy cliff-top walks tend to be more fun at high tide if the waves are crashing on the rocks.
So, watch the moon, check your watch, pack your picnic and enjoy the changes that the tides bring to the coast.