Once again we will be following part of the Discovery Trail but this time as it travels beside the River Tavy, one of the tributaries of the mighty Tamar. Both sides of this river are in Devon with Lopwell Dam linking the Bere Peninsula to the 6,000 acre Maristow Estate, their land rises from the Tavy Estuary to around 600 feet above sea level making it the ideal terrain for game such as Pheasant, Partridge and Grouse to be reared, only to be shot later in the year. Game shooting generally begins in the autumn when 4X4’s fill the car park beside the Old Pump House café, excited dogs run around and oddly-clothed men and women stand about with guns bent across their arms. Apparently there are around 1,000 acres of established woodland on the estate, with mixed oak, beech, chestnut, ash and other softwoods, today we would be walking in an area known as Braxton Wood.
As we approached the Maristow Estate by car this morning there were no arrogant pheasants to be seen strutting along the lane as is so often the case so in no time we had parked up and begun assembling. Almost immediately we noticed that the river level was extremely low, barely flowing over the fish ladder to one side of the dam while the causeway stood prominently at its base. A few Canada Geese were foraging for small insects and fish although they are primarily herbivores. The resident Kingfisher however was nowhere to be seen; often though a sighting is little more than a flash of blue.
A west-country mist hung in the tree tops as we set off behind Juliette while at other times it seemed to envelop us causing us to speak in hushed voices, the mist was of course the result of overnight rain combined with today’s mild temperatures. Before entering the woodland everyone ambled along beside the river for a while where a few Mallards and Shelducks could also be seen on the water. As we chatted it emerged that few of today’s walkers had never been to this particular beauty spot before so as the Bluebells and Wild Garlic which carpet these woods in the spring were either losing their colour or setting seed, it was not their ideal introduction. Incidentally wild garlic plants have medicinal uses and can even be used in cooking but in other parts of Britain, they are manipulated into a stiff type of fabric known as ‘buckram’.
The narrow path was soon following the contours of the land through Braxton Wood where just a single Robin and a couple of Blackbirds were recognised by their melodic tunes but as usual it is the plants that soon have my full attention.
The usual suspects were soon spotted, from Wood-rush and Bilberries to straggly Heathers and Common Cow Wheat. Where trees had been felled and the slopes cleared to let the light in, the cow-wheat was doing particularly well spreading right across great swathes of the land dotted with their dainty yellow trumpets. Further on I was amused to see a row of trees marching down the hillside in single file. On we walked with the sound of bleating sheep causing us to glance to the left where a flock of sheep in a field were staring at us while just beyond them the extensive grounds made the perfect setting for the terracotta-coloured Maristow House.
As before when we have walked here, we had a break beside this crenelated structure before continuing ahead as far as the road but just as we approached two swans flew from right to left honking as loud as they could. By this time the tide had turned and the water was returning rapidly to the river covering the mud flats as we watched while in the distance we could hear a train crossing the rail bridge on its way to Plymouth from Gunnislake. Most of us chose to go back via the road but a handful of walkers, including me decided to retrace our steps through the woodland to return to the car park. Along the way we heard a pitter-patter in the tree-tops announcing another shower but we barely felt a thing, so dense was the cover above.
Once back at the car park I recall that this was once a favourite spot for the volunteers to set up their tables and to check in walkers during the Discovery Trail challenge which once comprised walking the entire route from Tamerton Foliot to Lifton. The next Discovery Trail Challenge takes place on Saturday 6th July 2019 but due to the closure of the ferry service from Ferry Farm across to Calstock, walking the entire length in one go is no longer possible and different sections are now chosen for the challenge each year; this time the walk will begin at Horsebridge and finish at the Tamar Valley Centre, a distance of 11.5 miles. For more information on how to take part, contact the AONB team on 01822 835030 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
For some a dam is a barrier while for others it is a great opportunity and I have witnessed some amusing sights at Lopwell Dam over the years including on two separate occasions, a Cormorant and a Seal standing near the top of the fish ladder watching and waiting for a fish to jump out of the water and into its mouth. On another occasion, a lady was walking across the dam dressed as a butterfly! Then of course the odd car can be spotted driving across the causeway at low tide. But my favourite sighting was of an Osprey flying overhead on its way to Africa from Scotland.