According to Wikipedia, the average age of a Tavistock resident is 44 years old. That’s the same age as myself, so in theory the town should have appealed. I’m sure it’s a lovely place to live in but as holidaymakers we were in need of a little more excitement. It was time to head out of Tavistock and find out what else the area had to offer.
Our first stop was Lydford Gorge, the deepest gorge in south west England. We chose to do the 3 mile circular walk which takes in its two main attractions, the White Lady waterfall and the Devil’s Cauldron.
The path through the gorge is well maintained but isn’t suitable for those with mobility difficulties. It’s pretty uneven in places with handrails to help in some parts. Our kids are older so it was fun for them but I’d imagine that families with toddlers would want to choose one of the shorter walks.
The route took us alongside the River Lyd. We visited after rain and the paths were fringed with ferns and mosses, water dripping from them like some primeval rainforest.
Further on, the swirling waters of the Devil’s Cauldron are as impressive as its name sounds. Wooden walkways lead you to the whirlpools which are incredibly noisy and ominous looking. You wouldn’t want to fall in!
At the halfway point we detoured into the local village to visit Lydford Castle. This was built in 1195 to use as a prison, possibly the first purpose built one in England. Over the years it gathered a grim reputation and was the scene of military executions in the English Civil War. Nowadays it’s one of those places where you need to use your imagination and wonder what it would have been like.
After our explorations we headed back into the gorge and walked the other half of the route. This took us high above the river, on a much easier path, back to the start near the White Lady waterfall. At 90 ft this was another impressive sight although a very busy one too.
Brent Tor, Dartmoor
We hadn’t planned to visit Brent Tor but we’d seen it silhouetted on the landscape whilst driving to Lydford Gorge and couldn’t resist a stop on the way back. We parked nearby and took the short walk up.
The church of St Michael de Rupe sits atop of the volcanic outcrop and is still used for some services. It was supposedly built by a merchant who’d been caught in a storm at sea and vowed to build a church on the first land he saw. However there are several variants to this story, including battles with the devil, so who knows?
It was a cloudy day but this didn’t detract from the view. Stretching across Dartmoor in one direction, through to Cornwall in the other it was spectacular. Although the kids were more interested in pretending to fly as it was incredibly windy too!
Tamar trails centre
Our final visit was to the Tamar Trails Centre. This opened in 2013, and is the starting point for many of the walking and cycling trails which have been created as part of the Tamar Valley Mining Heritage project.
The industrial history of the site is fascinating. Copper, tin and arsenic were mined in the 19th Century and there’s plenty of evidence of this, with chimneys, tracks and spoil tips to spot. Display panels in a former mine office building provided more information about the families and work involved.
We picked up a trail map from the information point and walked out to the arsenic calciners via the Mineral Railway trail. I enjoy walking through reclaimed landscapes but it’s scary when you see a skull and crossbones warning you to stick to the paths as the area is heavily contaminated with arsenic!
On the way back we stopped at Blanchdown Adit to look at its bright orange waters. This isn’t caused by pollution, but iron oxide, and makes a rather colourful stopover.
We only had time for a short visit but it’s a place I’d like to return to, perhaps to hire a bike or walk some of the other trails. They also have a high ropes course, canoeing and special events so plenty to keep kids entertained.
- Lydford Gorge is free to National Trust members otherwise admission charges apply. It’s generally open 10am-5pm throughout spring to autumn but closes during the winter so check details before you travel. The path along the gorge is not accessible for wheelchairs or buggies.
- Lydford Castle is open during daylight hours; there is no entrance charge.
- To visit St Michael’s church park stop in the signed car park and head up the path on to Brent Tor. This is not suitable for buggies or wheelchairs. Entrance is free; donations welcome.
- The Tamar Trails Centre is open weekends and during school and Bank holidays from 9am-5pm. Entrance is free; parking costs £1 for 2 hours or £2 all day. The Mineral Railway trail is suitable for buggies although we visited after some heavy downpours and it was muddy in places.