by Sarah Bartlett, Tamar Marketing
Known colloquially as the ‘apple trail’ owing to the apple symbol adorning the waymarks, the Discovery Trail and is a wonderful 35-mile route through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The trail connects the outskirts of Plymouth with Launceston, the ancient capital city of Cornwall. It takes in some of the most beautiful and unspoilt countryside along the way. Countryside that although tranquil now, was once a hive of industrial activity, agricultural activity, and even bloody conflict!
Following the route is easy. Look for the waymarks to guide you along quiet lanes, through sleepy villages, pretty woodlands, steep valleys and lush pastureland. Along the way, you’ll pass historic quays, crumbling mine-workings, and the remains of old lime kilns. Relics of the area’s unique industrial heritage. For nature lovers, the tidal waters of the river estuaries are designated a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. You’re bound to spot herons, gulls, egrets, cormorants, Canada geese and more. In recent years red kites have been spotted soaring high over the meadows too. If you’re keen on the idea of bird-spotting, choose to start your walk at Tamerton Foliot. The first river you’ll encounter as you head north is the Tavy, a tributary of the Tamar and a wide estuary teaming with wildlife. After about 3.5 miles (5.7km), you’ll reach Lopwell a small dam that crosses from the Bere Peninsula to West Devon. Crossing is not possible for two hours on either side of high tide, so remember to check the tide times.
If you don’t want to tackle this ultra-long walk in one go, with a bit of planning it’s easy to chop it up into manageable sections. The Tamar Valley AONBs Trail guide has done exactly that and is a fantastic aid to planning your excursion. As for the terrain, it’s generally easy-going, with the odd steep hill thrown in for good measure. Stout shoes are a good idea, as is dressing for every seasonal weather eventuality.
If you wish, you can combine a walk with a scenic trip on the Tamar Valley Line train service. The train line connects with the trail at a number of stations along the way, allowing you to create circular routes. Trains are quite infrequent, however, so do check the timetable before you set off.
It’s also quite easy to build in a stop at one of the many villages along the trail for some well-earned refreshment. Most of the villages you pass through will have a shop, pub or cafe including, for example, Calstock nestled beneath a spectacular viaduct where you can drop in at the Tamar Inn for a bite to eat and drink.
If you’re staying in Tavistock, hop on the bus to Bere Alston where you can pick up the short 4.5-mile section, or the longer 8.5-mile section of the Bere Peninsula Link, both lovely walks indeed (see page 6 of the guide). In this quiet village, you can grab a bag of the finest fish from Tap Hill Takeaway, or enjoy a leisurely home-cooked feast at The Voting Tree both businesses are dog-friendly. From Bere Alston you can take the Tamar Valley Line train service north to Calstock and rejoin the Mid Tamar Valley section of the trail to Milton Abbot (page 8 of the guide). As you leave Calstock behind, the path will take you past the workings of Okel Tor Mine. If you stand quietly, eyes closed, you can almost hear men shouting, the clang of metal and the rumble of rock being transported to the surface. Continue on along quiet lanes before dropping down to the river path and on to New Bridge at Gunnislake.
New Bridge is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and was built in 1520. Despite its peaceful setting today, it was once the site of a bloody civil battle between the Parliamentarians and Royalists. In the end, the Royalists were defeated with some 200 men either killed or taken prisoner. Your mind’s eye might even see them tumbling from the high parapet, before splashing to the river below.
Perched at the edge of a precipitous drop to the River Tamar, the ancient mining village of Gunnislake is a good place to stop for refreshments. It also marks the end of the Tamar Valley train line.
Did you know that the Tamar River belongs to Cornwall? That’s right – until you reach the Devon bank, you’re still in Cornwall!
Heading north from Gunnislake, you’ll pass through the hamlets of Chilsworthy, Latchley, Luckett and Horsebrige, all the while leaving the steep wooded valley behind in favour of a much gentler landscape as you head towards Milton Abbot, Lifton and beyond. From here the landscape of the mid Tamar Valley (pages 13, 14 and 15 of the guide) looks markedly different. Still mostly given over to arable and pastureland, the fields roll gently between villages and towns. Mind you, the going can get quite challenging, even steep and uneven in places. The views are well worth the effort though. Look out for the hazy rolling hills of Bodmin Moor off the west.
If you rather like the idea of stepping out in the morning straight onto the trail, then you could consider staying at Carzantic Chapel Barn near Launceston, the ancient capital of the Earldom of Cornwall. Carzantic Chapel Barn is located just north of Lawhitton (see page 12 of the guide), and the trail passes the front door. There are lots of lovely places to stay near this section of the route whatever the time of year, including Hotels, B&Bs, self-catering and luxury yurts.
With so many miles of wonderful countryside, quiet lands, grassland, footpaths and even spots where your pooch can enjoy a dip, it’s no wonder that this Trail attracts visitors from far and wide with their four-legged friends in tow. You’ll find a great many businesses that are dog-friendly too.
Download the Discovery Trail leaflet to help you navigate the various sections of the route. Don’t worry about getting lost because the route is waymarked and finding the distinctive Apple signs carved into weathered wooden posts along the route is great fun. If you’ve children in tow, you could even make it a competition with ice cream to tempt the winner.