|River Tamar (Dowr Tamar)|
The River Tamar flowing past the City of Plymouth
|- location||Woolley Moor, Morwenstow parish, Cornwall|
|- location||Plymouth Sound, English Channel|
|- average||22.55 m3/s (796 cu ft/s)|
|- max||714.6 m3/s (25,236 cu ft/s) 28 December 1979|
|- min||0.58 m3/s (20 cu ft/s) 23 August 1976|
|Discharge elsewhere (average)|
|- Crowford Bridge||2.34 m3/s (83 cu ft/s)|
The Tamar (//; Cornish: Dowr Tamar) is a river in South West England, that forms most of the border between Devon (to the east) and Cornwall (to the west). It is one of several British rivers whose ancient name is assumed to be derived from a prehistoric river word apparently meaning "dark flowing" and which it shares with the River Thames. The area is a World Heritage Site due to its historic mining activities.
The Tamar's source is less than 6 km (3.7 mi) from the north Cornish coast, but it flows southward. At its mouth, the Tamar flows into the Hamoaze before entering Plymouth Sound. Tributaries of the river include the rivers Inny, Ottery, Kensey and Lynher (or St Germans River) on the Cornish side, and the Deer and Tavy on the Devon side.
In November 2013, South West Water was fined £50,000 after it admitted permitting the discharge of sewage from its Camels Head treatment plant into a tributary of the River Tamar for eight years.
Tamar Valley AONB
Together, the Tamar, Tavy and Lynher form the Tamar Valley, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers around 195 km2 (75 sq mi) around the lower Tamar (below Launceston) and its tributaries the Tavy and the Lynher. It was first proposed in 1963, but was not designated until 1995.
European Special Area of Conservation
The Plymouth Sound and Estuaries are a European Special Area of Conservation. Rocky reefs in low salinity estuarine conditions far inland on the Tamar are very unusual and support species such as the hydroid Cordylophora caspia. The Tamar is one of few estuaries where zonation of rocky habitats (intertidal and subtidal) can be observed along an estuarine gradient.
Site of Special Scientific Interest
The Tamar–Tavy Estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) covering the tidal estuaries of the River Tamar and the River Tavy. Part of the Tamar estuary also forms the Tamar Estuary Nature Reserve, owned by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. The site was designated in 1991 for its biodiversity and varying habitats that support a large number of wader and wildfowl species, as well as the special interest of its marine biology. The site supports a nationally important wintering population of avocet and supports species such as black-tailed godwit, whimbrel, greenshank, spotted redshank, green sandpiper and golden plover.
Rocks around the edge of Dartmoor were mineralised by fluids driven by the heat of the earth's core, which gave rise to ores containing tin, copper, tungsten, lead and other minerals in the Valley. The medieval estate of Cotehele, owned by the Edgcumbe family, was a significant producer of silver for the Royal Mint. During the industrial revolution, there was significant mining activity near the river, between Gunnislake and Weir Quay. During this period, the Tamar was an important river for shipping copper from ports such as Morwellham Quay, Calstock and New Quay (Devon) to south Wales where it would be smelted. The valley forms district A10i of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape.
The river has long been famous for the quality of its salmon whilst the valley was known nationally for the high quality, and early, soft fruit and market gardens sheltered by its steeply winding slopes.
The Tamar is navigable by seagoing ships of up to 400 register tons as far inland as Weir Quay, near Bere Alston, where the estuary narrows into the tidal river. Vessels of 300 tons sailed as far inland as Morwellham, 24 miles from the sea. A further 2-mile stretch to Weir Head, near Gunnislake, the tidal limit, was accessible to smaller passenger ships. In 1794 the Tamar Manure Navigation Company was formed to extend navigation inland for a further 30 miles, to North Tamerton in the river headwaters, but the project advanced no further than Gunnislake. Barges of up to 30 tons could then proceed as far as Gunnislake New Bridge, bypassing the weir through the new canal. The import of fertiliser and coal and the export of bricks along this short section proved profitable for many years. The section from Launceston to Tamerton was completed in 1826 as part of a separate project, the Bude Canal. A typical Tamar vessel was a sailing barge, built on the open river bank, of up to 60 tons, with a peaked, gaff-rigged mainsail and a fore staysail.
The initial importance of navigation on the river was to cross this natural obstacle between the counties of Devon and Cornwall, and the old ferry crossings were later to develop into the busy river quays of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In mediaeval times the transport of goods to supply the Benedictine abbey at Tavistock, four miles by track from the river port of Morwellham, was significant. Sea sand from the coast was imported to spread on farmland, until in the eighteenth century a dressing of lime was found to be more beneficial. Large quantities of limestone and coal were then imported to burn in the numerous limekilns on the river quays; the lime had to be made locally as it was not slaked before application and was too reactive for transport by water after burning. Later, street sweepings and other refuse from Plymouth and Devonport, together with bones for the newly discovered bone fertiliser, were carried inland to manure the fields. Other regular imports were timber from British Columbia and the Baltic, in large baulks for use as supports in the mines, and coal from Wales to supply the mine pumping engines.
Tavistock was one of the three stannary towns of Devon and large quantities of refined tin ore were exported through Morwellham from twelfth century until 1838, when the requirement to pay duty on the metal at one of the specified towns was relaxed. The opening of the Tavistock Canal, between Tavistock and Morwellham, in 1817 facilitated traffic. Later, the East Cornwall Mineral Railway provided an outlet through the quays of Calstock from the Cornish side of the valley. Other significant cargoes exported were quarried granite and, later, copper, lead and manganese ores, with their important by-product of arsenic. Arsenic was extracted from mispickel, once regarded as a waste product but later offering an important source of revenue as copper and tin extraction declined in profitability. The refined product was exported worldwide, in particular to the southern United States, where it was used as an insecticide in the cotton fields.
In the thirteenth century lead and silver output from the royal mines on the Bere peninsula (between the Tamar and the Tavy) was significant, and production continued intermittently until the nineteenth century. The Johnson Matthey smelting works at Weir Quay extracted silver and lead not only from local ore, but from ore imported by sea from Europe and as far away as Newfoundland. Fluorspar from the lead mine tailings was exported to France for use in the manufacture of glassware.
The development of the "Three Towns" (Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse) at the mouth of the river offered an important market for the valley's agricultural produce, needed in particular to serve the victualling requirements of the royal dockyard, and this was always carried by boat. In 1820 or 1821 the first paddle steamer on the Tamar inaugurated a service between Calstock and Devonport to deliver foodstuffs. In 1859 a rail connection from Plymouth to London was opened, and fresh produce could be landed at the Devonport steamer quays in the evening and be on sale in London by the next morning. The growing city population created a large demand for sightseeing cruises on the river and this was a significant source of traffic from 1823, with the launch of the Cornish steam packet Sir Francis Drake, until the outbreak of the second world war.
Mineral traffic on the river diminished towards the latter end of the nineteenth century, after the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway reached Tavistock in 1859 (so making the Tavistock Canal to Morwellham redundant for transport, although it remains in use as a source of hydropower) and as the copper and tin mines became exhausted. The decline accelerated from 1894 when the East Cornwall Mineral Railway, until then linked to the outside world only through the port of Calstock, was extended to the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway at Bere Alston. Tourist and market traffic on the river, using purpose-built or converted steamers, remained substantial until the Devonport piers were closed and the ships requisitioned on the outbreak of war in 1939. Pleasure craft still operate on the river from Devonport, but on a much reduced scale.
The east bank of the Tamar was fixed as the border of Cornwall by King Athelstan in the year 936. In a few places the border deviates from the river, leaving, for instance, the Devon village of Bridgerule on the 'Cornish' side. The modern administrative border between Devon and Cornwall more closely follows the Tamar than the historic county border. Several villages north of Launceston, to the west of the Tamar, were transferred to Devon somewhen in the eleventh century; the border was changed to follow the River Ottery westward, rather than the Tamar. Boundary changes of 1966 restored the border to the Tamar. Part of the Rame Peninsula was in Devon until 1844, when the parish of Maker was transferred to Cornwall.
The river has some 20 road crossings, including some medieval stone bridges, such as the crossing at Greystone Bridge near Lawhitton: this arched stone bridge was built in 1439. The lower Tamar is spanned by the Royal Albert Bridge (1859), the first crossing of the lower Tamar, and the Tamar Bridge, a toll bridge on the A38 trunk road. Both of these bridges are between Saltash (known as the Gateway to Cornwall) and Plymouth.
A traditional Cornish tale claims that the devil would never dare to cross the River Tamar into Cornwall for fear of ending up as a pasty filling. Though unusual landscape features are often named after the devil (e.g. devil's frying pan) it used to be said that the devil never came to Cornwall: he once reached Torpoint and immediately noticed that various kinds of pie were customary; he feared that devilly pie might be the next kind so returned to Devon. This legend is set to music in the traditional Cornish folk song Fish and Tin and Copper.
- Tamar River (Tasmania), named after this Tamar
- Rivers of the United Kingdom
- Tamar Valley Line
- Saltash, "the gateway to Cornwall"
- Royal Albert Bridge between Plymouth, Devon and Saltash, Cornwall
- Morwellham Quay, historic river port in Devon
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