Karen’s Tavistock Tour – Sunday 18th October

9 Walkers met for this ‘different’ walk, from Tavistock, led by Karen.

The weather couldn’t have been better with sunshine sparkling on the tumbling waters of The River Tavy and blue skies above. Blessed. A brief Covid precaution reminder to all and we set off for a 7.5 mile history tour and walk.

Tavistock is renowned particularly as the birthplace of our famous Devon son, Sir Francis Drake and we were to walk past his actual birthplace today, Crowndale Farm. He is buried at sea of course.  Two other things Tavistock should be noted for are – the origin of the Devon Cream Tea, (this fact was disputed by a Cornish member of our group but we let the argument rest unresolved) and – it is the wettest town in Devon!

Not today though. Tavistock is called the ‘Western Gateway to Dartmoor’, dominated by the remains of the Benedictine Abbey, founded in the 10th Century. Wool was the commodity that provided the town’s wealth originally, but it is also a Stannary town and at one time the local mine was the richest source of copper in Europe. Today, tourism is the main income although the town is still growing with a large Community College and extended residential development, a satellite town for Plymouth undoubtedly.

We followed the town path, beside the tumbling River Tavy, passing the Abbey Still by the weir and paused to look at the leaf clearing machinery, controversially referred to as an ‘ugly monstrosity‘. Beauty is in the eye perhaps. Interesting anyway.

We passed many other interesting buildings as we walked around the Abbey Walls,  including Betsy Grimbal’s tower with its sarcophagus, found when the Charter House was excavated. Legend would have us believe poor Betsy was murdered here by a drunken soldier. However, factual investigation confirms it is just a corruption of the name, ‘Blessed Grimwald’ –  but we all like a good story.

Our route then took us through the Meadlowlands, given to the people of Tavistock by the Duke of Bedford who also gave his name to the town’s famous hotel, The Bedford – where previously mentioned Cream Tea can be enjoyed!

Taking the underpass for safety, but not before espying the statute of Mr. Drake (which is apparently the original rather than the ‘copy’ which adorns the Hoe in Plymouth),  we passed Fitzford Cottages, a sturdy row built for miners, to pick up the Canal path heading south. On our left some of the original Crowndale Farm buildings remain, where little Francis presumably dreamt of adventures across the oceans.

The Canal was 14 years in the building and opened in June 1817. It was 5 metres wide but only a metre deep, allowing horse drawn barges to transport the copper ore as far as the tidal River Tamar, via Morwhellam Quays. There was also an aqueduct and a 1.5 mile tunnel but these were not preserved, sadly.

We followed the gentle waters of the Canal for around 2 miles, a canopy of autumn colours making this a pleasant, easy walk and surprisingly quiet. We stopped to see the stunning, but disused, Shillamill Viaduct, Brunel built as part of the Plymouth & South Devon Railway in the 1800’s.  We took tea after the lockeepers cottage and where the canal turns into the tunnel,  by the lovely memorial to a young girl who sadly and suddenly died. From here we took what would have been the southbound section of the Canal, to cross the Gunnislake to Tavistock Road – very carefully as visibility was restricted – then onwards and largely upwards, to Mill Hill.

Crossing the Lumburn River by the ancient bridge we continued our walk east now, passing through several fields, fairly friendly cows, more than a little mud and eventually a housing estate-in-progress, to reach the main road and the descent into town.

Strolling through the town, we stopped to look at many buildings constructed of the greenish Hurdwick Stone, quarried locally and following the historic markers, we were able to spot the old Corn Exchange and the first swimming pool, Browns Hotel (now Weatherspoons), not to mention the Pannier Market and the Guildhall which dominate Bedford Square.  There are 175 listed buildings in Tavistock, (19,000 in Devon altogether).   Another reason to visit and enjoy one of those cream teas!

We did indeed take socially distanced refreshment al fresco at the Riverside Cafe which ended a lovely day.

Thank you all

Karen H