by Sarah Bartlett, Tamar Marketing
Part of The Discovery Trail series of articles.
Autumn is a great time of year to explore the Tamar Valley. The abundance of mixed woodlands present a colourful canvas of rich russet, golden bronze, and glowing yellow. In the still, quiet dawn an ethereal, translucent mist often shrouds the estuaries and rivers.
As part of our Discovery Trail series, we set out with doggo one autumn afternoon last week to walk the section between Lopwell Dam and Blaxton Creek. It’s not a long walk – some three miles out and back through the woodland above the river. If you prefer a longer walk, its possible to cross the Dam at low tide, so you could easily tack it onto the Bere Peninsula section of the Trail. From the Bere Ferrers Parish side of the dam, it’s a short walk to Bere Ferrers where you can hop on the Tamar Valley Line train service back to Bere Alston. More about that adventure in the next blog.
On the day, we drove to Lopwell Dam. Its easy to find. If you’re staying locally, follow the signs to Buckland Abbey. Carry straight on, past the Abbey along Watery Lane and after about two and a half miles the road takes you all the way down to the river. As you drive along, look out for the vibrant terracotta walls, balustraded parapet and pineapple finials of Maristow House on your left. The Mansion was built in about 1560, remodelled in the mid-1800s, destroyed by fire during World War II before being restored in the late 1990s. Now grade II* listed its had a variety of purposes, including a servicemen’s hospital during the war, a retirement home for clergy, a school, and a field-study centre. It’s now converted into 12 private homes.
At the bottom of the hill, the road doubles back along the riverside to the dam where you can park. Lopwell Dam is a glorious spot that marks the upper tidal reach of the River Tavy. Above the Dam is a nature reserve and the entire area is a haven for wildlife. On hot summer days, you’ll find people paddling, swimming, and kayaking, but on a quiet autumn day the sense of tranquillity and harmony is profound.
Dog and I walked back along the lane, past the parkland surrounding Maristow House and on to the Boathouse at Maristow Quay. At this point, the river widens into a broad estuary. At low tide, one of the largest areas of mudflats in the southwest is on full, glorious display. The mud is sculpted into deep ravines by fingers of running water and it shifts and oozes as the tide runs. It provides a home for an abundance of invertebrates and a hunting ground for an astonishing number of waders. Whatever the tide, the estuary provides shelter for Canada geese, over-wintering avocets, shelduck, gulls, cormorants, and heron. You might even spot a kingfisher if you’re lucky.
We walked for about half a mile beyond the House. Just before the lane began its ascent to the top of the hill, we ducked through a gateway on the right, leading onto a woodland path. The path meanders gently upwards and before long we found ourselves high above the water. We gazed (or at least I did – dog had her nose in a rabbit hole) out across the estuary, the Bere Peninsula with its shoreline village of Bere Ferrers framing the view. The church of St Andrew plainly visible against the green pasture beyond.
As you wander along, you’ll spot the ruins of another stone-built boathouse, its wooden gate long since washed away, and its roof missing. We gazed down at it, the receding tide revealing a thick, green tidemark of algae.
Onward.., dog making the most of the delicious woodland smells.
A short while later we reached an impressive stone turret affording the most wonderful views of the estuary and distant Hamoaze where the River Tavy meets the River Tamar. The eight iron bowstring braced girders of the Tavy Bridge that carries the Tamar Valley Line across the water to Plymouth were clearly visible, etched against a backdrop of low cloud and mist.
A little further on, we reached the banks of Blaxton Creek, a tributary of the River Tavy. Before us, Blaxton Quay, the ruins of Blaxton Mill and the nearby triple lime kilns.
The Mill was built in 1822 and was in operation until the late 19th century. Its floodgates allowed the incoming tidal water to flood the mill pond which, according to the parish tithe map of 1839, once covered some 9 acres. At low tide, not only is it possible to see the remains of the floodgates, but you can also cross the mouth of the Creek to explore the ruins. Today however, we decided to turn and follow the same route back to the car.
All in all, this section of the Discovery Trail provides a gentle walk that both children and dogs will enjoy. Mind the drop though! In places the path narrows and the land falls away steeply towards the river. Keep little ones under close control, no matter how many legs they have.
Its also important to note that this part of the Trail is closed during the shooting season from 1st October until 1st February. You’ll need to follow the alternative route along the quiet lane, instead of turning right onto the woodland path.