River Tamar

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This article is about the river in England. For the river in Tasmania, see Tamar River.
Coordinates: 50°21′30″N 4°10′0″W / 50.35833°N 4.16667°W / 50.35833; -4.16667
River Tamar (Dowr Tamar)
River
The Cremyll Ferry on the Tamar - geograph.org.uk - 1184611.jpg
The River Tamar flowing past the City of Plymouth
Country England
Regions Cornwall, Devon
Source
 - location Woolley Moor, Morwenstow parish, Cornwall[1][2]
 - coordinates 50°55′25″N 4°27′46″W / 50.92361°N 4.46278°W / 50.92361; -4.46278
Mouth Hamoaze
 - location Plymouth Sound, English Channel
 - coordinates 50°21′30″N 4°10′0″W / 50.35833°N 4.16667°W / 50.35833; -4.16667
Discharge for Gunnislake
 - 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)
High tide at Weir Head, 26 miles from the sea. Excursion steamer Alexandra, 127 gross tons, 126 feet in length, reversing at the entrance to the Tamar Manure Canal.[3]
Loading dock at Morwellham
A sketchmap of the River Tamar south of Launceston showing the principal Cornish tributaries
A fisherwoman on a tributary of the Tamar near Botusfleming

The Tamar (/ˈtmɑr/; Cornish: Dowr Tamar)[4] is a river in South West England, that forms most of the border between Devon (to the east) and Cornwall (to the west). 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.

The name Tamar (or Tamare) was mentioned by Ptolemy in the second century in his Geographike Huphegesis. The name is said to mean "Great Water."[5][6][7]

The seventh century Ravenna Cosmography mentions a Roman settlement named Tamaris, but it is unclear which of the towns along the Tamar this refers to. Plymouth, Launceston and the Roman fort at Calstock have been variously suggested.

The Tamar is one of several British rivers whose ancient name is assumed by some to be derived from a prehistoric river word apparently meaning "dark flowing" and which it shares with the River Thames.[citation needed]

Environment[edit]

The Tamar River (and/or land on its banks) is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a European Special Area of Conservation, and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. [8][9]

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.[10]

Tamar Valley AONB[edit]

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.[11]

European Special Area of Conservation[edit]

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.[12]

Site of Special Scientific Interest[edit]

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.[13]

Geography[edit]

Source[edit]

According to the Ordnance Survey map, the source of the Tamar is at Woolley Moor, approximately 3.5 miles from the north Cornish coast. The location of the spring is a "high windswept plateau largely devoid of farmland, and inhabited by stunted trees and wiry undergrowth."[5] The exact source of the river is difficult to pinpoint, because it arises "from a boggy morass . . . behind a hedge near some willow trees at Woolley Barrows . . . A small square stone culvert drains the first tentative trickle of water away from the bog, through a hedge and into a ditch. From here a pipe carries the water under the highway and the infant river Tamar is on its way to the sea at Plymouth."[7]

Navigation[edit]

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.[14][15] Vessels of 300 tons sailed as far inland as Morwellham,[16][17] 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.[18] The section from Launceston to Tamerton was completed in 1826 as part of a separate project, the Bude Canal.[19] 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.[20]

In 997 according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, raiding Vikings travelled up the Tamar and then the Tavy river as far as Lydford, and burned Ordwulf's monastery at Tavistock.

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[21] 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.[23] 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.[24][25] 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.[14] Fluorspar from the lead mine tailings was exported to France for use in the manufacture of glassware.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28] 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.[27][29]

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.[30] 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.[29]

There was the speedy Tamar, which divides
The Cornish and the Devonish confines;
Through both whose borders swiftly downe it glides.
And, meeting Plim, to Plimmouth thence declines:
And Dart, nigh chockt with sands of tinny mines;

From "Rivers of England" by Edmund Spenser

Border[edit]

The east bank of the Tamar was fixed as the border of Cornwall by King Athelstan in the year 936.[31] 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.[32][33] Part of the Rame Peninsula was in Devon until 1844, when the parish of Maker was transferred to Cornwall.[34]

Crossings[edit]

Higher New Bridge, near St Stephen by Launceston

The river has some 20 road crossings, including some medieval stone bridges. The oldest bridge still in use is at Horsebridge (1437), and the next oldest is at Greystone Bridge near Lawhitton: this arched stone bridge was built in 1439. Gunnislake New Bridge was built in 1520 by Sir Piers Edgcumbe, the owner of Cotehele and Mount Edgcumbe. The Gunnislake bridge was a main route into south east Cornwall and the lowest bridge over the Tamar until the Tamar Bridge at Saltash was built in 1962.

The lower Tamar is spanned by the Royal Albert Bridge (1859), which is a rail bridge, 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. Crossing the Hamoaze at the mouth of the river Tamar, the Torpoint Ferry is a chain ferry connecting Torpoint to Devonport.

Economy[edit]

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.[35] The medieval estate of Cotehele, owned by the Edgcumbe family, was a significant producer of silver for the Royal Mint.[36] 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[37] whilst the valley was known nationally for the high quality, and early, soft fruit and market gardens sheltered by its steeply winding slopes.

Folklore[edit]

The Alliterative Morte Arthure states that the mortal combat of King Arthur and Mordred took place close to the banks of the river.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40] This legend is set to music in the traditional Cornish folk song Fish and Tin and Copper.

Legend of Tamara[edit]

The legend behind the name involves a nymph by the name of Tamara, who lived in the underworld. Tamara wanted to wander freely in the mortal world, against the advice of her parents. One day, wandering in Dartmoor, she happened to meet two giants called Tavy and Torridge (or Tawradge). Both giants became smitten with Tamara and vied for her affections. Tamara led the giants on a dance, but never let them touch her, instead darting out of reach whenever they came too close. Tamara's father, who had been out looking for her, located her just as the giants finally caught up with her near Morwenstow. He flew into a rage and used a spell to put Tavy and Tawradge into a deep sleep. This infuriated Tamara, who subsequently refused to return to the underworld with her father. He became even more enraged and cast a spell on Tamara, turning her into a bubbling spring, which produced the Tamar river and flowed all the way to the sea. Tawradge awoke to find his beloved had become a river; in despair, he sought the advice of a magician, who turned him into a river (the River Torridge and the River Taw) so that he could hope to reunite with Tamara. Tawradge was never able to find and merge with his beloved Tamara, instead turning north toward Bideford and the Bristol Channel and is still said to mourn his love, the Tamar. This legend explains why the River Torridge, which rises only 500 meters from the Tamar, veers away from the Tamar and forms a huge arc, eventually flowing to the North Devon coast. The other giant, Tavy, also awoke in despair and sought the aid of his own father, also a powerful magician. His father turned Tavy into a river as well, and the Tavy set off in search of the Tamar, eventually finding her and merging with her into a wide and beautiful estuary.[5][6][7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ordnance Survey. 126 Clovelly and Hartland (Map). 1:25,000. Explorer. Section SS 260 157. http://getamap.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/getamap/frames.htm?mapAction=gaz&gazName=g&gazString=SS2693116744.
  2. ^ Harding, William (16 December 1863). "Morwenstow Church". Transactions (Exeter, England: Exeter Diocesan Architectural and Archaeological Society): 218. 
  3. ^ Kittridge, Alan (1984). Passenger Steamers of the River Tamar. Truro, Cornwall: Twelveheads. pp. 68; 88. ISBN 0-906294-10-X. 
  4. ^ Place-names in the Standard Written Form (SWF) : List of place-names agreed by the MAGA Signage Panel. Cornish Language Partnership.
  5. ^ a b c Furneaux, Robert. The Tamar: A Great Little River. Ex Libris Press. 1992.
  6. ^ a b Foot, Sarah. The River Tamar. Bossiney Books. 1989.
  7. ^ a b c Neale, John. Discovering the River Tamar. Amberley. 2010.
  8. ^ http://www.tamarproject.org.uk/about-the-river-tamar-project/
  9. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/discovering/rivers/tamar.shtml
  10. ^ http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Water-firm-fined-50-000-admitting-sewage/story-20241925-detail/story.html
  11. ^ "Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". 
  12. ^ http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/protectedsites/sacselection/sac.asp?EUCode=UK0013111
  13. ^ http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/homepage/leisureandtourism/parksnatureandgreenspaces/greenspacesssi/tamartavyestuarysssi.htm
  14. ^ a b Booker (1971: 62)
  15. ^ Barton, Denys (1964). A Historical Survey of Mines and Mineral Railways of East Cornwall and West Devon. Truro: Bradford Barton. pp. 99; 101. OCLC 12216380. 
  16. ^ Otter, R. A. (1994). Civil engineering heritage: Southern England. London: Institution of Civil Engineers. pp. 32–33. ISBN 0-7277-1971-8. 
  17. ^ Barton (1964: 75–6)
  18. ^ Booker (1971: 126–128)
  19. ^ Otter (1994: 29)
  20. ^ Booker (1971: 259)
  21. ^ a b Booker (1971: 28–29)
  22. ^ Barton (1964: 65; 76)
  23. ^ Booker (1971: 178)
  24. ^ Booker (1971: 162)
  25. ^ Coyle, Geoff. Riches beneath our Feet. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-19-955129-3. 
  26. ^ Barton (1964: 100)
  27. ^ a b Booker (1971: 83–84)
  28. ^ Booker (1971: 233)
  29. ^ a b Kitteridge (1984: 13; 75)
  30. ^ Booker (1971: 30–31)
  31. ^ Stenton, F. M. (1947) Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Clarendon Press; p. 337
  32. ^ Ordnance Survey (1961). 174 Bude (Map). 1:63,360. Seventh.
  33. ^ Thorn, Caroline; Thorn, Frank (May 2007). "Devon introduction". Kingston-upon-Hull: University of Hull. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  34. ^ Davidson, Robin (1978). Cornwall. London: Batsford. p. 31. ISBN 0-7134-0588-0. 
  35. ^ "Characteristics of the City of Plymouth (The geology)". Plymouth City Council. Archived from the original on 2008-06-09. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  36. ^ Peter Claughton: The medieval silver mines at Bere Ferrers, Devon, Dept. of History, Exeter University
  37. ^ Noted by Daniel Defoe and Sir Richard Carew
  38. ^ The Death of King Arthur translated by Simon Armitage
  39. ^ Martin, Edith. Cornish Recipes: Ancient and Modern. A. W. Jordan. 
  40. ^ Croxford, Bob (1993) From Cornwall with Love. Mullion: Atmosphere; p. 8 (text quoted from Robert Hunt's Popular Romances of the West of England, 1865)

Further reading[edit]

  • Booker, Frank (1971). Industrial Archaeology of The Tamar Valley (2 ed.). Newton Abbot, England: David and Charles. ISBN 0-7153-5172-9. 
  • Carrington, N. T. (1820) The Banks of Tamar, a poem, with other pieces. Plymouth Dock: Printed for the Author (another ed.: London: John Murray, 1828)

External links[edit]