We have at last found time to start the final stretch of our round-Cornwall trip. Rather than pick up where we left off at Gooseham Mill in the north, we started at the southern end, seeing the condition of the lower Tamar which we hope to canoe in due course.
We parked at New Bridge, Gunnislake, just upstream from the weir which marks the border between the tidal and non-tidal sections of the river. Here a lovely early C16 bridge with triangular cutwaters spans the narrow valley.
Our route took us north along the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail which is marked by a rather jolly apple symbol. It makes a change from an acorn, cross or cockleshell, familiar from our other Cornish walks.
The path emerged alongside the bank of the river in some lovely woodlands. The opposite bank rose steeply above us and was completely covered in a thick forest.
In amongst the trees were occasional lumps of masonry, reminders that this was once a busy mining area. The great bulk of Kit Hill with its familiar chimney was a constant reminder that between here and Tavistock was once an intensively mined and is part of the World Heritage Site.
This stretch of the river is known to canoeists as the rock garden and one could see why from the frequent mini-weirs where the water tumbled over rocks. Being August, the river was not in spate and must have been close to its lowest level.
Before long, the path climbed up a steep hill and delivered us onto a long rather dull road which dropped rapidly to the lovely village of Latchley. This is clearly proud of its heritage for a sign indicated the name of each historic building.
Leaving the village we were once more shrouded in trees in Greenscoombe wood. All the traditional broadleaf trees were here and we lost count of the species as we walked on. A good hack back of some of the undergrowth would have made the going easier but the brambles did provide an occasional ripe and juicy berry.
The river was following us on our right and the occasional sound of water suggested the presence of a rocky weir. We only discovered later that walkers are actively discouraged from getting close to the river as it ‘spooks’ the fish. It seems a shame that we cannot all enjoy such a lovely river.
Eventually, we emerged at the village of Luckett from where the going was much more open, as we followed the edge of fields, the river shadowing us a hundred metres or more away.
Passing the historic Lower Hampt farm we reached Horsebridge, a C15 bridge which, like that at Gunnislake, had cutwaters. Here the river showed its contrasting characters: smooth waters with an occasional rapid which, at times of peak flow, would probably disappear under water.
We crossed into Devon which we will have to do on and off on our journey along the Tamar valley. A minor road to the right took us up hill, past Lamerhooe cross where a motte and bailey castle once commanded the bend in the river, and on to a car park at the entrance to Grenoven wood.
Grenoven and Blanchdown wood are managed by Tamar Trails as a publicly accessible area, a mini-country park. In their midst lie the remains of former mining activity. The roads and equipment lying idle were testament to their modern use for logging.
Although the trails are accessible, we found them incredibly difficult to navigate as signage was almost non-existent and, where there was any, it spoke in shorthand. To make matters worse, two consecutive signs pointed to entirely different places. None of them showed distance or time and there were no helpful maps. It is in the nature of the poor map reader to blame his equipment but we were beginning to count our supplies for fear of ending up like Hansel and Gretel, marooned in the wood for the night.
Eventually, passing further evidence of mining in the form of a mine adit, we emerged at the Tamar Trails Centre itself and escaped back to a road. This lead us steeply downhill back to Gunnislake bridge, Cornwall and our car.
We had covered 5 miles to Horsebridge and 4.5 miles back although our gps was more generous and made it 14.2 miles included the detours. It had taken 3.75 hours. Canoeing this stretch is not going to be possible except when the river is in spate and the fishermen are huddled indoors around their fires, between October and February.