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Walking in Cornwall, West of the River Tamar

The Cornish side of the river is the Celtic side, and features ancient barrows, castles, hill forts, rolling countryside, secluded creeks, hilltop views and shady woodland walks.

 

Launceston to Greenscombe Wood

Around Launceston the land is open and rolling, with narrow twisting lanes winding across small fields which offer easy walking. There are far reaching views across to Bodmin Moor and Caradon hill. The Tamar is a fairly small river at this point, and is crossed by a pretty granite bridge at Old Greystone Hill. 

Following the Tamar South from the little Cornish village of Luckett, walkers can explore Greenscoombe Wood, where mining remnants, market gardens and a Hill Fort have all together been swallowed by the encroaching woodland. Here the main footpath is strung along the side of a forbiddingly steep hillside, so you can look out from the Cornish slope over the low-lying green Devon fields to the Dartmoor hills beyond.

 

Gunnislake, Callington and Kit Hill

A little down the river at Gunnislake, the A390 crosses the Tamar on the early sixteenth century New Bridge. (It was "new" in 1520!) Turner painted the bridge in 1815. Here, the topographical situation is reversed, with steep cliffs rising up on the Devon side frowning across at the Cornwall side. Walking on the Cornish side, you'll find a long stretch of footpath all along the western side of the river, connecting from time to time with narrow, little-used lanes which make for pleasant walking.


It is worth venturing a little further from the river to climb the long slopes of Kit Hill, an isolated hilltop between Dartmoor and Bodmin moor looming majestically over Callington. It is a long climb up to the summit, but the spectacular views of both moors and also down to Plymouth and the sea make it worth it. (If you're less energetic, you can drive to the car park at the summit.)

As you climb up out of the river valley, you may well notice the weather changing. The Tamar Valley often has its own weather, and sometimes there is bright sunshine in the valley when Kit Hill is cold and sticking its head up high into the mist. First thing in the morning you will often see the reverse effect, with the river mists blanketing the valley like a fallen cloud, when the sun has already warmed the hilltops.

 

 

Calstock to the Estuary

Bronze age barrows and Iron Age hill forts are scattered along the Cornish slopes of the Tamar, and at Calstock you can follow an ancient road which will take you past the church and right through the forgotten remnants of one of Cornwall's three known Roman forts.

As you walk down into the lower Tamar valley, the river becomes tidal, although it's a while before it starts to open out into a wide estuary. When the tide is coming in, you'll be treated to the odd sight of a river seemingly flowing upstream! There are many small boats on the river here, and if you wish, you can take the ferry down to Plymouth from Calstock. But don't miss the walk from Calstock to Cotehele, past the Danescombe valley. This part of the valley is spectacularly beautiful at most times of year, but perhaps at its very best in spring when all the flowers are blooming. First the daffodils and later the bluebell woods. A close contender for 'best time of year' is the autumn when the leaves are on the turn, and the late afternoon sun turns the whole woodland golden.   

Downriver of Cotehele, footpaths will sometimes be a little way inland of the river, mostly because of the geography of the estuary - lots of tidal creeks forcing paths to go away from the river. (This gives you an excuse to visit some beautiful little hamlets and small areas of woodland.) These tidal creeks (often called "lakes") and mud flats are especially important wading bird habitats. Egrets are now common, but also keep an eye open for spoonbills, avocets and even the occasional visiting osprey.

 

Saltash

As the Tamar is met by her sister river, the Tavy, the estuary widens considerably to become the stretch of water known as the Hamoaze. Dominating the Hamoaze are the two Tamar bridges - Brunel's Royal Albert rail bridge of 1859 and the road bridge of 1961 that carries the A38. It's amazing to think that before 1961, the lowest road bridge over the Tamar was the single track 'New Bridge' in Gunnislake. To the west of the two bridges is the town of Saltash. The town centre is well worth exploring (try following the Saltash Heritage Trail.

 
 
Photo copyright Bruce Hunt, Saltash and Tamar Valley History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lynher Estuary

The third of the rivers that flow into the Hamoaze is the Lynher (sometimes called the St Germans River). As you follow the coast southwest from Saltash, you'll end up on the banks of this estuary. It, like the Tamar and Tavy estuaries, is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area under the EU Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds. There's plenty to explore here, but if you want to cross to the other side of the Lynher, you'll have to walk all the way uprive to Notter Bridge, then walk to Landrake, Tideford and St Germans. Then you can cross over the River Tiddy (a tributary of the Lynher) at Polbathic. That puts you on the right side of the river to explore the Rame Peninsula.

 

The Rame Peninsula and Torpoint

Even though it might be tucked away "around the corner", the Rame Peninsula should be a must for any Tamar Valley walking holiday. At Downderry, Seaton or Portwrinkle, you can join the famous South West Coast Path and turn south east. This will bring you to Whitsand Bay, three miles of golden sandy beaches, and then the promontory of Rame Head - famously the last piece of England that sailors would see as they sailed from Plymouth. Both Whitsand Bay and Rame Head are Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Rounding Rame Head will bring you to Cawsand (where you can take a ferry across to Plymouth's Barbican) and Kingsand and views of Plymouth Sound and the Plymouth Breakwater. The Breakwater was built during the Napoleonic Wars to make Plymouth Sound a safe anchorage for the Royal Navy's Channel Fleet. Turning again northwest, you will come to the stately home and gardens of Mount Edgecumbe. A passenger ferry runs between the little village of Cremyll and Stonehouse in Plymouth. However, birdwatchers will want to continue on to the mud flats of St John's Lake (another tidal creek) - another Site of Special Scientific Interest and a haven for migratory wildfowl and waders.

North of St John's Lake is the town of Torpoint, home of the Royal Navy's main training facility, HMS Raleigh. Torpoint is directly across the Tamar from the Devonport Naval Base and Dockyard and there are several good vantage points for warship-spotting. A series of chain ferries transport motor traffic and pedestrians across the river to Plymouth.