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River Tamar & Tributaries

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Overview





The River Tamar flows into the English Channel by passing through Plymouth Sound on England's south coast. The river and its tributaries offer many anchorages and berthing opportunities for deep draft vessels and many more for shoal draft vessels that can take to the mud when the water is away.

Entered by passing through the protected Plymouth Sound, the river offers complete protection from all conditions. Plymouth Sound and the path to the river mouth may be safely accessed through the wide and deep commercial channels that exist on either side of Plymouth Breakwater in all reasonable conditions, at any stage of the tide, night or day.



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Keyfacts for River Tamar & Tributaries
Facilities
Water hosepipe available alongsideWater available via tapGas availableShop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationCashpoint or bank available in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationMarina or pontoon berthing facilitiesAnchoring locationVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: rising tide required for accessNote: harbour fees may be chargedNaval or military area with specific regulations

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

Approaches
5 stars: Safe access; all reasonable conditions.
Shelter
5 stars: Complete protection; all-round shelter in all reasonable conditions.



Last modified
January 29th 2019

Summary* Restrictions apply

A completely protected location with safe access.

Facilities
Water hosepipe available alongsideWater available via tapGas availableShop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationCashpoint or bank available in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationMarina or pontoon berthing facilitiesAnchoring locationVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: rising tide required for accessNote: harbour fees may be chargedNaval or military area with specific regulations



Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 21.523' N, 004° 10.211' W

This is close inside the port Battery buoy, Fl.R.2s, off Wilderness Point and in the entrance to the river ..


What are the key points of the approach?

Seaward approaches are available in southwestern England’s coastal overview from Start Point to Lizard Point Route location. Plymouth sound is detailed in the Plymouth Harbour Click to view haven entry.


Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to River Tamar & Tributaries for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Plymouth Harbour - 0.9 miles ENE
  2. River Yealm - 3.3 miles ESE
  3. River Erme - 5.5 miles ESE
  4. Looe Harbour - 6.7 miles W
  5. River Avon - 7.7 miles ESE
  6. Polperro Harbour - 8.3 miles W
  7. Hope Cove - 8.5 miles ESE
  8. Kingsbridge - 9.8 miles ESE
  9. Salcombe - 10.6 miles ESE
  10. Starehole Bay - 10.6 miles ESE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Plymouth Harbour - 0.9 miles ENE
  2. River Yealm - 3.3 miles ESE
  3. River Erme - 5.5 miles ESE
  4. Looe Harbour - 6.7 miles W
  5. River Avon - 7.7 miles ESE
  6. Polperro Harbour - 8.3 miles W
  7. Hope Cove - 8.5 miles ESE
  8. Kingsbridge - 9.8 miles ESE
  9. Salcombe - 10.6 miles ESE
  10. Starehole Bay - 10.6 miles ESE
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try our resources search

Chart
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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What's the story here?
River Tamar
Image: CC0


The River Tamar's rises less than 4 miles from the north Cornish coast from where it flows southward across the county to exit into the English Channel by Plymouth Sound. During its 60 mile course it forms most of the historic border between Devon, to the east, and Cornwall, to the west. Hamoaze is the lower part of the river and can be considered its river mouth. Tributaries of the Tamar include the rivers Inny, Ottery, Kensey, and Lynher a.k.a. St. Germans River on the Cornish side, and the Deer and the Tavy on the Devon side. Its estuary and lower tributaries create a barrier to east-west communication, which is solved by the ferry at Torpoint and the Tamar Road Bridge upstream of the historic railway bridge at Saltash.

The Tamar is navigable on the rise for 12 miles to Calstock where 0.7 metres LAT will be found. Small shallow boats can carry on exploring for a few more miles up to Morwellham and beyond. Gunnislake Weir, which is the head of navigation, can be reached by craft carrying 1.5 metres draught at MHWS but for most part, this is best carried out by a dinghy.

Though shallow in its upper reaches, the River Tamar fairway carries 2.4 metres as far as Neal Point, 1¼ miles above the Tamar Bridge, thereafter shallow patches will be encountered on the approaches. After Cargreen the river is only navigable by deep draft vessels on the tide. The channel contracts is increasingly winding and intricate but is nonetheless relatively straightforward with the best water always on the outside of the bends.

The first major tributary to the Tamar is the St. German River which opens on the west side of the river below the Tamar Bridges and just past Devonport on the opposite bank. It has good water in its marked channel for 1½ miles and several deep pools after this. The tide flows up the St. German as far as Tideford, which is 6 miles from its junction with the Tamar, and the private quay at St German's, 2 miles below this, may be reached at high water by vessels drawing 1.8 metres that can dry when the tide is away.

St. Germans River is the only tributary we cover as Tamerton Lake and the River Tavy, 1½ miles above the Tamar Bridge, have a railway bridge with 7.6 metres clearance which prohibits sailing boats. The river dries almost completely at LW but it may still be explored on the tide by a tender as far as Bere Ferrers.

The river and its surrounds are a World Heritage Site due to its historic mining activities and it is a cruising mecca for vessels that take to the mud. Deeper-draught vessels should not be put off as the river and its tributaries also offer a surprising amount of useful deep water berths. The options for progressing upriver are as follows:


Cremyll

Cremyll
Image: Michael Harpur

Cremyll lies off the Hamoaze on the Cornwall side of the river around Cremyll Point and beyond Mashford boatyard. Though just a few miles from the city it is entirely undeveloped and offers a deep water anchorage on the steep-to shore close outside of the local moorings. Before the Plymouth breakwater was built this was where vessels anchored to shelter from southerly gales.

The channel leading to Millbrook Lake
Image: Michael Harpur


Do not stray too far in as the two large inlets Millbrook Lake and Saint John’s Lake are fronted by the vast drying area of West Mud. Vessels that can take to the mud will, however, find excellent shelter on the drying approaches to Millbrook Lake. In either case, sound in and anchor off according to draft.


Yachts off Cremyll
Image: Michael Harpur


Row or motor ashore or land at the old quay. The simply beautiful Cornish Coastal path follows the shoreline back around Cremyll Point and through Edgcumbe Country Park. A regular passenger ferry runs from Cremyll to Stonehouse from where there are buses right into the centre of Plymouth. Vessels equipped with a stalwart outboard that can take the currents of the Hamoaze, could cut across directly to the City of Plymouth.

Alternatively, a mile westward and at the head of the Millbrook Lake inlet is the village of Millbrook that offers a convenience store and pubs serving food. This is possible on the top half of the tide for shallow draft vessels or by tender.




Southdown Marina

Southdown Marina
Image: Michael Harpur


Southdown Marina is a small, quiet, traditional marina on the entrance to Millbrook Lake. It has 35 berths, including designated visitor berths, that dry to soft mud LWS 2 metres above CD. It can only be accessed at High Water ±4 where it has about 2 metres of water. The small marina provides visitors with walk ashore berths from its pontoons or drying quay.


The channel to Southdown Marina at low water
Image: Michael Harpur


Dry for a large proportion of the time and in a sheltered harbour recess, it is well-protected and in a quiet rural location. Its shore facilities include toilets, showers, laundry and a café that serves food. The village of Millbrook is just a ½ mile walk away. The marina’s old quays date back to a 17th-century gunpowder factory which, during the 18th-century, was the site of the King's Brewhouse for Navy ale. A history that is retained today by the marina's onsite bar.


Yachts alongside at Southdown Marina
Image: Michael Harpur


It is best to contact Southdown Marina in advance of any intended visit, VHF 80/M [Southdown Marina], Landline+44 1752 823084, E-mailoffice@hugginsmarine.com, Websitewww.southdownmarina.com.




Torpoint Yacht Harbour

Torpoint Yacht Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Torpoint Yacht Harbour is situated one mile from Plymouth Sound on the western shore across the Hamoaze from Plymouth and about two miles below Saltash. It is a small marina built within an old Ballast Pound that is dredged to 2 metres within the confines of the harbour walls. The small marina hosts 80 pontoon berths and is capable of hosting vessels of up to 14 metres with all tide access.


Torpoint Yacht Harbour within an old Ballast Pound
Image: Michael Harpur


It also has a drying outer harbour wall suitable for large vessels to moor against and take to the ground. The outer wall dries to soft shingle beach around 6 hours each tide. Torpoint Yacht Harbour also manages 100 + swinging and trot moorings, at which they may be able to locate a vacant berth for a visitor. Owners using this facility can use a courtesy taxi rib boat to go to and from their vessel without the need for a dinghy.

Visitor berths are available by prior arrangement with the marina office Landline+44 1752 813658, E-mailoffice@torpointyachtharbour.co.uk, Websitewww.torpointyachtharbour.co.uk. Be aware of the chain ferries running between the city and Torpoint. These cannot give way and can be particularly challenging when the tide is in full stream.




St. Germans

The entrance to St German's River as seen from above Antony Passage
Image: Michael Harpur


The River Lynher is called St Germans River when downstream from its confluence with the Tiddy. Its wide mouth enters the River Tamar on the west side of the Hamoaze, upstream of the dockyards and ¾ of a mile below the Tamar Bridge just beyond a trot of large warship moorings. The broad stretch of water beyond this, progressively turns into a wonderfully calm and unspoilt rural hideaway where the crew will have to rely upon the vessel’s provisions.


The western end of St. German's River
Image: Michael Harpur


The river carries at least 2.2 metres for the first 1½ miles to Ince Point and is buoyed for 2¼ miles. Deep draft vessels can go as far as Dandy Hole on the tide and anchor off in deep water. On the tide shoal draft vessels can progress 4 miles inland to the private quay at St German's where it is possible to dry by arrangement with The Quay Sailing Club. St Germans’ most popular anchoring locations are as follows progressing westward upriver:


Yachts anchored off Sand Acre Bay
Image: Michael Harpur


Sand Acre Point: This is close east of Sand Acre point and north of the first starboard buoy with depths of up to 4 metres. Sound into the north bank and anchor off according to draft. Situated less than ½ a mile within the entrance this is a very convenient anchoring location but it is close to the mainline railway that tends to disturb the wonderful tranquility of this lovely river hideaway.



Antony Passage
Image: Michael Harpur


Anthony Passage: This is off the mouth of Forder Lake, a deep inlet opening in the north shore. Keep east of the unlit red buoy and close to the northern shore where 2 to 3 metres will be found clear of the local moorings.



Shillingham and Ince points
Image: Michael Harpur


Shillingham Point: This is about midway between Anthony Passage and Shillingham Point. Be careful when anchoring here as a power cable crosses the bed of the river about 250 metres above Anthony Passage and, about ¼ of a mile further up, a gas pipe. As best seen on a chart, the underwater power cable crosses the river to Jupiter Point and a gas pipeline crosses the river from Shillingham Point. The crossing points are marked on either end by beacons on the shoreline and anchoring is prohibited around their transits. Anchor anywhere between these but well clear of them.



Ince Point
Image: Michael Harpur


Ince Point: Above where the drying Wivelscombe Lake opens and below a hill surmounted by Ince Castle with Ince Point about west round to north. This provides a secluded anchorage with depths of up to about 3 metres. A vessel carrying any draft has to work the tides beyond this.


Dandy Hole
Image: Michael Harpur


Dandy Hole: This is a deep hole scoured out by the narrows between Warren Point and Redshank Point and off the southwest end of Erth Hill. Dandy Hole has up to 5 metres but has to be accessed with a tide as there is as little as 0.1 in the approaches. Landing is possible at the hard at Wacker Lake but not possible at LW.

A ½ mile above Dandy Hole the river dries completely but shoal-draught yachts can work the tide up to St Germans, although it is easier to explore by dinghy.



Cargreen

Cargreen
Image: Michael Harpur


Once a major Tamar crossing point, Cargreen is now a quiet and peaceful village on the west bank of the river. Situated about two miles north of the Tamar Bridge and just upstream of some overhead cables with a HAT of 21 metres, is the largest part of the village comprising a single street running down to the quays and little else.


Local moorings off Cargreen
Image: Michael Harpur


Cargreen provides an excellent anchorage, close to its quay and clear of the local moorings, with good mud holding with depths of more than 5 metres in places. The village has a good slipway for landing but the nearest pub is about three miles away.




Weir Quay Boatyard

Weir Quay Boatyard
Image: Michael Harpur


Weir Quay Boatyard can be found 1¼ miles northward of Cargreen on the east bank and on the Devon side of the river. It is just above the second set of power cables that cross the river with 16 metres HAT. The boatyard manages almost a 120 river moorings of which some are available for visitors. Its berthing pontoon is accessible for two-thirds of all tides and outside of this, it is possible to land at their slipway.


Weir Quay Boatyard river moorings
Image: Michael Harpur


The moorings are relatively sheltered but gales from south-by-southwest have a long fetch which will bring standing waves in wind against tide conditions. A big spring tide will run as much as 2½ knots so a tender equipped with an outboard is essential for all but the closest moorings.


Weir Quay Boatyard
Image: Michael Harpur


It is always best to contact Weir Quay Boatyard in advance Landline+44 1822 840474, E-mailinfo@weir-quay.com, Websitewww.weir-quay.com. Failing this, pick up any vacant mooring near to the slipway and land to make arrangements.

The boatyard has toilets, showers and laundry as well as a chandlery, a mini-shop who can arrange for diesel/petrol by jerry can and gas exchanges. It is an ideal place to take care of anything from running repairs to a complete re-fit by skilled craftsmen. Facilities include a 12-ton crane, 15-ton boat transporter.



Cotehele

Cotehele
Image: Michael Harpur


The picture perfect historic quay at Cotehele is home to a small National Trust museum and restored sailing barges. It offers a deep water anchorage and the possibility of coming alongside its historic quay.

The deepwater anchorage is in a hole that has 4.1 metres and is located off a ruined quay on the Cornish side about 150 metres south of the historic quay. Shallow draft vessels that can take to the bottom have the option of coming alongside the poles of the most southerly quay's 'mud dock'. A crane will be seen overhanging it, but it may be worth a reconnaissance first as it only has 1.2 metres at HW and is not entirely level. In all cases make certain any chosen berth's suitability as the tides can attain rates of 3.5 knots during Springs and sometimes wash over the top of the quay.


The historic Cotehele Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Cotehele Quay was once the centre of an important Tamar Valley trade of copper, tin and arsenic industries and its Discovery Centre details its story very well. The Edgcumbe tea-room, overlooking the quay, serves light lunches, cream teas, cake, beer and wine. It is a wonderful place to take a day out.




Calstock

Calstock with its magnificent 1907 railway viaduct
Image: Michael Harpur


Though difficult to believe now, the quiet backwater of Calstock has been an important mining port since Roman times that traded tin. During Mediaeval times its chief asset was silver but its busiest time was in the late 19th century when its granite quarrying was bolstered by the discovery of copper. Large 150-ton sailing schooners, ketches and barges drawing up to 3 metres hauled these cargoes downstream.


The slip at Calstock
Image: Michael Harpur


Vessels of 3 metres can still reach Calstock at MHWS and it can be reached by shallower craft at MLWS. It is possible to anchor clear of the tour boat jetty and the pontoon at the village and beyond, but vessels need to be watched over during Spring tides as they run strong here and the holding is unsure. Neap tides are preferable for those planning on anchoring. Land by dinghy on the inside of the ferry dock or use the town slipway. It may be possible to lie alongside the old quay but inspect the position carefully as the bottom fronting it is beset with old rubble and not good to dry out on.


The ferry jetty just above the slip
Image: Michael Harpur


The simplest option is to take a mooring from the friendly Calstock Boatyard situated on the north, or port hand side, approaching the village. They have visitor moorings available for (2019) £10 per night that can take a vessel drawing up to 1 metre. Deeper draft vessels can raft up several-deep alongside the wall and sink into the soft mud to create their own plugs when the water is away. The boatyard provides toilets, showers, water, fuel, laundry as well as a chandlery and all sorts of repairs. Calstock has a choice of pubs that serve food. A small grocery shop as well as a railway station and a bus to Callington.


Calstock Boatyard situated a ¼ of a mile downstream of the viaduct
Image: Michael Harpur


However, it is important to call and make arrangements with the boatyard in advance Landline+44 1822 834559, E-mailinfo@calstockboatyard.org, Websitewww.calstockboatyard.co.uk/.




Further Upriver

The Victorian mining town of Morwellham is just over two miles further upstream of Calstock. It is now run as an open-air museum that is a World Heritage site and an award-winning monument to the industrial past of the Tamar. The attraction features the historic port and village, with the restored Tamar sailing ship Garlandstone, a copper mine and railway.

It is possible to visit the town as almost 4 metres will be found here on a 5.5 metre Plymouth high tide. Anchor off mid-river and expect to partially dry on the gravel riverbed. The historic quays are best avoided as they are fronted by rocks.

Gunnislake weir which marks the end of the tidal range, and is the limit of navigation of the Tamar, is two miles above Morwellham. The river is navigable on the tide to the weir. Vessels drawing less than 1.5 metres can navigate to within ¼ of a mile of it at MHWS.


How to get in?
The mouth of the River Tamar
Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Use southwestern England’s coastal overview from Start Point to Lizard Point Route location for seaward approaches and Plymouth Harbour Click to view haven for approaches and the run up through Plymouth Sound.


Hamoaze

Cremyll Point
Image: Michael Harpur


The Hamoaze is the mouth of the River Tamar which is an estuarine stretch between its confluence with the River Lynher and Plymouth Sound. The Hamoaze entrance is somewhat contracted, circuitous, and subject to strong tides but it is well marked, wide and well sheltered from wind and sea. This part of the river flows past Devonport Dockyard which is a major base of the Royal Navy. Navigation on the waterway is controlled by the Queen's Harbour Master for Plymouth. The presence of warships using the naval base and local restrictions make it advisable to keep a listening watch on their VHF control channel of 13 or 14.


West Mud opposite Devonport's South Yard
Image: Michael Harpur


Having gone through the Narrows the West Mud opens up to the west with two large inlets which entirely dry. Cremyll lies close north of Cremyll Point and the town of Torpoint, with Torpoint Yacht Harbour, lies on the west bank of the river opposite Devonport. Close north of this the large Torpoint chain ferry crosses between Torpoint and Devonport displaying a flashing orange light at their forward end to indicate the direction in which they are moving. These ferries require some care and never more so when the tide is in full stream. Technically the ferry is required to give way, but in practice, they are confined to fixed tracks and have a reputation for being mercilessly steadfast. Vessels would do well to avoid testing the pilot's resolve.




St. German

The entrance to the St German's River
Image: Michael Harpur


The first major tributary to the Tamar is the St. Germans or Lynher River. It opens on the west side when Devonport Dockyard has been passed and Royal Albert Bridge and Tamar Bridge comes into view upriver. The tide flows up the St. Germans as far as Tideford, which is 6 miles from its junction with the Tamar, and may be reached at high water by vessels drawing 1.8 metres. The river is buoyed for 2¼ miles and is navigable to St. Germans Quay.


St. Germans as seen from the north shore at Ince Point
Image: Michael Harpur


Follow the line of warship moorings and pass close on either side to the first red buoy ‘Lynher’, Q.R., situated close to the north shore. Then steer for the ‘Beggars’ and follow the marks up. There is deep water to Ince Point but after that vessels carrying any draft can only proceed on the tide.


Dandy Hole as seen from above Warren Point
Image: Michael Harpur


Only a few metres of tidal height is required to carry on upstream to Dandy Hole. 2½ hours either side of LW should provide a least depth of 2.5 metres to reach Dandy Hole that has more than 4 metres at LAT. Above this the river dries on the final run to St. Germans with a drying LAT of 2 metres on the final approach to the quay. So this is only recommended for shoal draught craft that can dry and, for the less adventurous, it may be best visited by dinghy from Dandy Hole. For those determined to press on expect at least 1.5 metres of water to the quay about 2½ hours either side of High water.



River Tamar

Royal Albert Railway Bridge and Tamar Road Bridge
Image: Ian Burt


The town of Saltash stands on the ascent of a steep hill on the east bank of the Tamar, a little above its junction with the St. German. Here the river is crossed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s historic Royal Albert railway bridge, HAT 30 metres, and the major Tamar Road Bridge, HAT 35 metres, immediately above.


Trots of Saltash Sailing Club moorings
Image: Tim Green


Many local trots of moorings will be encountered on both sides of the fairway but the channel runs broad and deep here and there is ample room. Many of the moorings belong to the Saltash Sailing Club who have their clubhouse and pontoon on the first prominent quay on the west side of the river, below the Tamar Bridge on the western shore. With the exception of deep draft vessels at LWS, their pontoon is accessible at all states of the tide and available for a short stay. It may be possible to overnight on a vacated club moorings by arrangement with the club, +44 1752 845988, weekdays between 0800 and 1200 hrs or by email at enquiries@saltashsailingclub.


Cargreen as seen from the south
Image: Michael Harpur


The Tamar fairway carries 2.4 metres as far as Neal Point, 1¼ miles above Tamar Bridge. After this shallow patches will be increasingly encountered with diminishing deep pools but it continues to be well marked past Weir Point and on to Cargreen. Cargreen has a LAT of 1 metre in its approaches so deep draft vessels must consult the tide tables to proceed. There is deep water to anchor in at Cargreen clear of the four parallel trots of local moorings that indicate the deeper water. High tension power cables cross the River Tamar below Cargreen, HAT 21 metres, and about a mile above HAT 16 metres at Weir Quay.


High tension power cables crossing below Weir Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Upstream of Weir Quay the river S-bends, contracts and partly dries with the channel above to Cotehele Quay having from 0.1 meters to more than 2.5 metres in pools. As always the best water is on the outside of the bends. It is relatively straightforward and a pleasure as the upper tidal river increasingly has high banks, covered with deciduous trees which are particularly beautiful. Just be mindful that large tourist boats run regular day cruises from Plymouth to Calstock and encountering one of these in these narrows, where there is not a great deal of water, can be a challenge. The skippers of these vessels deeply appreciate it if smaller vessels can pull over to enable them to pass safely.


The River Tamar passing Cotehele Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


There is a deep pool with 4 metre LAT immediately downstream of Cotehele Quay. It is possible to leave the vessel anchored afloat and visit Calstock by tender from here, as it is just over a mile, or indeed use the tripper boat for the ride up. Those pressing on will find a 90° bend eastward, to starboard, about a ½ a mile above Cotehele. As the reed beds open the town’s prominent viaduct, with a HAT 24 metres, will come into view. The once busy river port of Calstock supports 3.6 of water at high water but most vessels dry or partially dry at low-water springs.


The approaches to Calstock opening after the river's hard turn east
Image: Michael Harpur


Beyond Calstock, the river is navigable to Morwellham and onward to Gunnislake Weir. The Weir, or Weir Head, is a rock apron with two fish ladders, nearly 2 metres high, that stretches the full width of the river. The solid wall of large blocks of stone was set down in 1504 by the Abbots of Tavistock to help salmon that fought the tides and currents of the Tamar to swim upstream and spawn. Vessels drawing less than 1.5 metres can navigate to within ¼ of a mile of the weir head at MHWS.

However, above Calstock, the river narrowers and meanders excessively being much restrained by high land. It is very shallow and is best explored by dinghy or small shallow-draft vessels that should keep a sharp watch for river debris when operating in the margins.


Why visit here?
The river is named after the water nymph Tamara. Legend has it she wandered into the mortal world against the advice of her parents and besotted two giants on Dartmoor. Enjoying the experience so much she refused to return and it caused her father to become so enraged that he turned her into a bubbling spring. The spring, near Morwenstow just a few miles from the north coast, is now the source of the river. The name is said to also mean 'Great Water'.

Map of the River Tamar
Image: Ordnance Survey OpenData
During its 60-mile course the River Tamar forms most of the historic border between Devon and Cornwall and to a large degree the border between Celtic Cornwall and Saxon England. The name Tamar, or Tamare, was mentioned by Ptolemy in the second century in his Geography and it would have warranted some note. Throughout human history, the valley of the Tamar has been almost continuously exploited for its rich mineral and metal deposits including silver, tin, lead and arsenic. This is an area strewn with the relics of mining.

Remains include wheal or engine houses, deep and open cast mines that date from the Bronze Age right through the medieval to the Victorian era. This history is remembered at the abandoned Copper Quay at Morwellham that once traded lead and arsenic and boomed after the discovery of copper. In 1868 it claimed to be the 'greatest copper port in Queen Victoria's Empire'. Then the Devon Great Consols Mine was the richest copper mine in Europe and it alone employed 1,000 men. When it was exhausted, arsenic was discovered in such quantities that it accounted for over half the world's production, with enough stored to poison the world's entire population. It was against this backdrop that a plan to build a Tamar Canal to Bude was considered but it never materialised as it would require a canal to traverse a distance of 45km, as the crow flies. The site is now an open mining museum run by staff in period Victorian costumes and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the southwest. It is home to one of the river's ketches Garlandstone built in 1903.


Morwellham's open-air museum
Image: Hans Splinter


Likewise, it is almost inconceivable that the sleepy backwater of Calstock, two miles downstream and set in some of Cornwall's finest hill scenery, was once the busiest inland port in Devon and Cornwall. Unlike Morwellham, Calstock’s history as an industrial port goes back to Roman times. The 7th-century 'Ravenna Cosmography' mentions a Roman settlement named Tamaris which is likely to be the Roman fort discovered next to Calstock church in 2008. The Romans traded tin from here and from Saxon times it was a trading port. During Mediaeval times it was important for the mining of silver. Calstock's heyday came after the huge copper discovery of the 1770s. With 17 local mines producing copper, tin, tungsten, and even silver, and a steady trade in granite, Calstock was a booming mining town with a population of around 7,000. A few men became very rich from this but thousands of miners toiled in often appalling conditions for a pittance, working themselves to an early grave.


Morwellham's overshot water wheel, which once powered a mill for crushing
locally mined manganese

Image: Mark Coleman


Alongside the mines the town had a paper mill, brickworks, tileworks, a brewery, tannery, a foundry,
ropeworks, shipbuilders, and cherry and other fruit growing businesses. Opposite the village, where only reeds and sedge can be seen today, the famous shipyard of James Goss repaired river craft and built barges and vessels of up to 100 tons including the Garlandstone. Back then fortunes were made from its quays where ships of up to 200 tons lay two or three abreast ready to take all its output downstream. In the year 1861 alone, 70,000 tons of shipping passed from the quays of Calstock, chiefly aboard schooners of 120 tons laden with coals and copper ore. The remains of the engine house, attractive clusters of cottages and small Georgian and Victorian houses clinging to the steep roads up the hillside, serve as a reminder to its past fortunes.



Restored Tamar sailing ship Garlandstone at Morwellham Quay
Image: Public Domain


Although the Tamar is still navigable to Calstock by boats of up to 3 metres, the railway replaced it as the primary source of transport and it is fitting that the river town is dominated by its magnificent 1907 railway viaduct. The viaduct carries the Tamar Valley railway which runs from Plymouth to Gunnislake. One of the last great railway viaducts built in England it stands 36 metres tall, with a dozen 18-metre span arches, and it was one of the earliest to use precast concrete block construction.


Calstock's railway viaduct
Image: Michael Harpur


The history of the Tamar can be revisited a mile downriver at the mediaeval and Tudor site at Cothele. Cothele, meaning wood on the estuary, is now owned by the National Trust and its quay dates from the 18th-century. It has a watermill, a large cider press, wheelwright, blacksmith, carpentry workshops, limekiln, and riverside gardens and a quay from which to enjoy it all. It is also home to the restored 17 metre Tamar barge Shamrock. The ketch dates back to 1899 and Shamrock was one of the boats that plied her trade on this busy waterway. High above the river is Cothele House. Built between 1485 and 1627, in grey granite and slate with a timber ceiling in the great hall, it is considered one of the least-altered houses of the period in the United Kingdom.


Cothele
Image: Michael Harpur


Today, much restrained by high land and meandering excessively, the upper reaches of the Tamar are tranquil places, a quiet rural waterway that belies its former importance as one of the busiest industrial areas in the West Country. By contrast, the waterway from St. Germans, the first branch off the Hamoaze, has always been a quiet place. St. Germans River takes its name from the St. German's Priory, which in turn took its name from St Germanus, bishop of Auxerre.


Cothele House
Image: Caroline Ingram


In the 19th century St. Germans Quay, now privately owned by Quay Sailing Club, did export tin, copper and lead whilst importing coal, timber and limestone with limekilns close by. But outside of this, the tidal estuary has remained little touched. Although home to HM naval base all is splendidly calm and rural here. It is a place of slow-moving water over mudflats inhabited by wading birds and with the haunting cry of the curlew echoing on an incoming tide.


St Germans Quay
Image: Robert Pitman


The historic valley was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1995. This designation includes around 1700 hectares of woodland, of which 1500 hectares are on ancient woodland sites, and over 100 former mine sites and their associated physical and social infrastructure. The St Germans River is also a Special Protection Area to Erth Hill, as are the shores to Jupiter Point, including much low tide mud.


Millbroke Lake as seen from its southern hills
Image: Michael Harpur


This wonderful river provides ample berths for shallow and deep draft vessels alike. It offers protected cruising that is absolutely ideal during an extended period of bad weather. But that is not to say that it should be overlooked in fine weather. The waterway's upper reaches, winding through steeply wooded hillsides that are the haunt of the raven and peregrine falcon, with villages steeped in history, and pretty tributaries, will thoroughly reward all who come to explore it.


What facilities are available?
A large range of chandlers can be found in the Plymouth area including upriver at Weir Quay and Calstock Boatyard. Showers, toliets, laundry, water, and fuel can be found at Southdown Marina, Torpoint Yacht Harbour, Weir Quay and Calstock Boatyard.


With thanks to:
eOceanic


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