The River Tamar divides Cornwall from the rest of England for all but three miles between the source and the north Cornish coast. It runs for 60 miles down to Plymouth Sound, winding its way through rich farmland and areas of industrial history, now with World Heritage Status. Much of the area is also part of the Tamar Valley AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
Whilst most visitors to Cornwall flood to the beaches or walk along the South West Coast Path, there are some who return year after year to the quieter areas such as the Tamar Valley, precisely because is it quiet and hidden away. The valley itself starts for most people upstream of the Tamar Bridge, linking Plymouth with Saltash. Here the Tamar is joined by the Tavy, full of the waters draining from Dartmoor. The wide expanse of water is fringed by marshland and is best seen by boat. On the waters edge at Landulph the church was built near to a Medieval port, but this has now dissapeared and the church now sits on its own on a slightly raised piece of land, away from the main village in the parish at Cargreen.
Up past Cargreen the river snakes back on itself and then cuts in under the Pentille Estate with its private quayside and boathouse. Pentille Castle now offers award-winning accommodation and has doubled up as the Penrose Hotel in Sky 1’s drama series ‘Delicious in recent years. The house has been in the Coryton family since the early 1700s and in recent years the house and grounds have been undergoing restoration providing a wonderful escape for those wanting to stay in this part of Cornwall.
Inland from Pentillie, St Mellion golf course is one of the finest in Cornwall having been used for international tournaments over the years.
At Halton Quay, narrow lanes bring visitors down to a pretty medieval quayside where limestone was once unloaded to improve the fields around the valley and a small riverside chapel stands watch over the tidal waters flowing past. The valley sides as you head upstream have historically been used for growing soft fruit including cherries and strawberries. They are now often full of daffodils in the early spring, if you can see over the high Cornish hedges that flank the lanes around here.
Most lanes lead to Cotehele, the National Trust’s Medieval property that attracts thousands of visitors every year. The house itself is full of period tapestries and furnishings, whilst its sheltered grounds lead down past ponds and rhododendrons to the river below. Here you will find Cotehele Quay, home to the ‘Shamrock’, a Victorian sailing barge that used to sail up and down the coast of Devon and Cornwall. One of her cargos may well have been grain or corn, and here, just up the valley you will find Cotehele Mill, where they still make flour in the old fashioned way using water-power.
You are about to enter the industrial heartland of the Tamar Valley. Walking upstream from Cotehele to the village of Calstock you will pass the Danescoombe Valley where former mine buildings have been converted into modern homes. This part of the valley is included in the UNESCO World Heritage area, awarded in 2006 to mining sites across Cornwall and West Devon. In the 1800s the valley was a hive of industry with men mining for copper and tin up and down its banks. The port of Morwellham on the Devon side of the river is now an open air museum with it’s own mine that you journey into on a train. Engine houses dot the landscape above the river, climbing up through the villages of Harrowbarrow, St Ann’s Chapel and onto the heights of Kit Hill Country Park, where the summits chimney is a landmark for many miles around.
Calstock is a pretty village with a couple of pubs down by the river and several shops and cafes to peruse. There’s a vibrant arts scene and you may be lucky to coincide with a concert or exhibition. It also has it’s own railway station on the Tamar Valley line, giving access to Plymouth and other villages in the valley. People looking to stay in the area should check out Todsworthy Farm Cottages in the nearby village of Albaston.
At Gunnislake you reach Newbridge, the first crossing point over the river since we left Saltash. The road into Devon takes you to Tavistock, gateway to Dartmoor, whilst heading back into Cornwall you pass the Tamar Valley Centre at the top of the hill and further on the turning to the Tamar Valley Donkey Park, where children of all ages can have fun with our four legged friends or let of steam in the indoor play barn.
The river continues beyond Gunnislake, entering steeply wooded valleys as it heads toward Launceston but that section will be covered in another blog. For now enjoy discovering the section covered.
Please note: The effects of COVID-19 mean not all attractions and accommodation featured here may be open as normal. Please check before visiting.