The Tamar Valley

calstock viaduct

Separating Cornwall from Devon (or some say England) the River Tamar rises within three miles of the north Cornish coast above Bude and flows south to enter the English Channel in Plymouth Sound. For the majority of visitors, entering Cornwall on the A30, you hardly notice you have crossed it, but for those who cross at Plymouth, be it by car, train or ferry, it’s a major obstacle.

It’s also a wonderful area to visit, quieter than much of Cornwall but with some of its finest inland scenery. It’s not always the easiest area to explore due to narrow lanes and the natural barrier of the river to cross, but a little bit of forward planning will be rewarded by hidden vistas and quiet villages unspoilt by tourism.

Much of the valley is part of the Tamar Valley AONB and at its southern end, the Rame AONB. It’s also includes a World Heritage site in the Gunnislake/Calstock area, because of its mining history. So with all this to offer and more, why not take some time to explore the Tamar Valley?

Five Highlights

Tamar Lakes: Steeped in industrial history and rich in flora and fauna, the two lakes near the source of the river provide interesting walks, plentiful fishing and even a chance to go sailing. The lower of the two lakes was created in the 1820s to supply water for the Bude Canal, whilst the larger upper lake was built in the 1970s as a reservoir for drinking water. A parkrun operates at the upper lake every Saturday morning.

Launceston: Once the main town of Cornwall, Launceston still has the remains of the towns walls, a 13th-century castle built for Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and one of the finest churches in Cornwall, it’s external walls covered in carved stone, a memorial to a young boy who drowned in the bath in the 16th century. It’s compact town centre has a nice selection of shops and cafes, whilst on the outskirts you can visit the Jo Downs Glass Gallery and the English Spirit Distillery.

Calstock: Overshadowed by the railway viaduct that crosses the river (see main image), the pretty village of Calstock is about as far as you can reach upriver by boat. Favoured by artists, even Turner visited the area, there are now several galleries in the village and paths out of the village lead downriver to 19th century mining remains and the National Trust’s Cotehele estate. Above the village, the Tamar Valley Donkey Park is a family favourite for all ages.

Pentillie Castle: Although the grounds are open sporadically, you can enjoy the splendour of this 17th century castle and its grounds when you stay here in five star luxury. Sleeping up to 22 people, live like a king for a few days, walk around the estate with its sweeping views across the Tamar, or just relax on the water’s edge and watch life slowly drift by.

Mt Edgcumbe Country Park: Situated opposite the city of Plymouth where the Tamar reaches the sea, the country park offers some of the most varied walks in Cornwall. With the South West Coast Path running through the park, you can hug the shore for several miles, whilst keen gardeners might prefer to explore the formal gardens or peruse the National Camelia Collection which brings early bursts of colour to the paths and drives. Children will just enjoy the freedom the parkland offers and the scattered follies and other buildings that can be explored.