THE TAMAR VALLEY
The Tamar Valley has awe-inspiring scenery and a wealth of wildlife, it is an area rich in scenic beauty and history.
The Estuary is an important haven for a wide range of flora and fauna, including birds such as the avocet and little egret. The valley of the river Tamar and its tributaries, the Tavy and Lynher are designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The source of the Tamar is less than 4 miles from the north Cornish coast, but it flows southward. The river has been the official border between the counties of Devon and Cornwall since Saxon times. At its mouth, the Tamar flows into the Hamoaze before entering Plymouth Sound. Tributaries of the river include the rivers Inny, Ottery, Kensey and Lynher on the Cornish side, and the Deer and Tavy on the Devon side.
Calstock Railway Viaduct
The Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers around 75 square miles around the four ancient towns: Launceston in the North with its steam railway and Norman castle, Tavistock to the East with a daily pannier market for food and crafts; Callington in the West, and Saltash, and its tributaries the Tavy and the Lynher. It was first proposed in 1963, but was not designated until 1995.
The river has around twenty road crossings, including some medieval stone bridges, such as the crossing at Greystone Bridge near Lawhitton: this arched stone bridge was built in 1439. The lower Tamar is spanned by the Royal Albert Bridge rail bridge built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859, and the Tamar Bridge, a toll bridge on the A38 trunk road, both of these bridges run between Saltash and Plymouth.
The Royal Albert Bridge and Tamar road bridge at Saltash.
The River Tamar was an important means of transport in the Tamar Valley. The Tamar Manure Navigation Canal was completed in 1808 to bypass the weir at Weir Head. This was part of a scheme devised in 1794 to build a canal from North Tamerton Bridge not far from the source of the Tamar to Morwellham a distance of just over 30 miles. There was also to be a cut to Launceston.
In 1774 John Edyvean came up with the idea of building a canal from Bude, but it wasn't until 1819 that the Bude Harbour and Canal Company was formed and a canal was built as far south as Launceston in 1825.The war with France put an end to the scheme and only the section between Morwellham and Weir Head was completed.
Manure, building sand, bricks, lime and granite were hauled up from Morwellham by teams of men pulling ropes attached to the masts of vessels. When the Gunnislake gasworks opened, coal was brought up through the canal. By 1905 a third of the canal traffic was coal, the rest was granite and bricks.
The Tamar was not only used for transporting goods, but people as well. A paddle steamer service was introduced in the 1820s to take people from Callington, Gunnislake, Calstock and the surrounding areas to the markets in Plymouth. The river passes amongst the former meadows that once provided cherries, apples and spring flowers, the valley was a big market garden area and Plymouth was the main market until the coming of the railway. Excursions began around 1825.
The uniqueness of the Valley has been shaped by time and people. Mining thrived in the Tamar Valley from medieval times, with silver and tin reserves but it was copper in the 1800's which made the greatest impact. In today's serenity, it is hard to imagine that at the height of the mining boom there were over 100 mines along the river. Impressive chimneys and ruins throughout the valley serve as a reminder of this industrial past. Morwellham grew as an inland port to serve the mines, and today has been brought back to life as a living history museum, offering you a taste of Victorian life.
Now you can explore the area by train on the scenic Tamar Valley Line, by boat on the Tamar Passenger Ferry or pleasure cruises from Plymouth, by car or on foot on the extensive network of local footpaths also two on-road circuits for cyclists.
The valley has many fine houses to visit, including medieval Cotehele House, Buckland Abbey - the home of Sir Frances Drake, and Mount Edgcumbe House on the Rame peninsula, plus a thousand year old castle at Launceston. There are great gardens open to the public, such as the Garden House at Buckland Monachorum, and Endsleigh at Milton Abbot.
The Garden House. --- Mount Edgcumbe House. --- Buckland Abbey.
You may travel by train from Plymouth to Bere Ferrers, Bere Alston, Calstock and Gunnislake.
This 14-mile scenic branch railway line completed in 1907 runs into the heart of a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Passing Devonport Dockyard you travel under Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Royal Albert rail bridge, the line crosses a long, low viaduct to the peaceful farming countryside of the Bere peninsula, across to the Cornish bank of the River Tamar and on to the Calstock viaduct to the end of the modern line at Gunnislake. The lines beyond Gunnislake and Bere Alston were closed 40 years ago.
The line connects with the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail part of a network of footpaths, which runs 30 miles north from Plymouth to Launceston. Visitors frequently mix train rides and hikes between stations as an ideal way of exploring the area. Ferries still run regular river cruises from Plymouth.
The Shamrock at Cotehele Quay. --- The Shop at Morwellham Quay. --- The Brunel Bridge Saltash.