There’s nothing quite like walking along a sun-dappled riverbank to the cheerful throng of woodland birds and the gentle ripple of trout leaping in the eddies. Devon is blessed with some of the most beautiful riverways in the British Isles, home to a wonderful array of wildlife, and waiting to be explored.
Here are ten scenic river walks guaranteed to sooth the senses and nourish the soul…
1. Plym Bridge Woods
The trail at Plym Bridge Woods is a stunning, leafy walk from Laira Bridge to the hamlet of Clearbrook on the edge of Dartmoor. A stretch of the route embraces the Drake’s Trail, part of the National Cycle Network linking the ancient stannary and market town of Tavistock to the maritime city of Plymouth. You’ll be walking along the old railway and tram lines that once rumbled down from Dartmoor laden with granite and slate. As you walk the trail you’ll be able to look down on the wending river and across Cann Quarry where peregrine falcons nest. At Cann Viaduct, follow the steps down to walk alongside the riverbank, particularly lovely during spring when the woods are swept by foxgloves, bluebells and primroses.
2. Bellever Forest, Postbridge, near Yelverton
Bellever Forest offers beautiful, sun-dappled strolls along the banks of the East Dart River with the opportunity to take a bracing hike up Bellever Tor for magnificent views across the wilds of Dartmoor. If you’re feeling energetic, you can follow the Postbridge Trail for a spectacular circular walk along the forest tracks and moorland ways. The forest also has a picnic area and is a popular yomp for dog walkers.
3. Woodleigh Wood, Avon Valley
This gorgeous woodland walk runs alongside the River Avon and follows the path laid by the former Victorian steam railway known as the ‘Primrose Line’, so-called because of the blanket of spring flowers that lined the banks along its route out of Kingsbridge. This secluded stretch of the river runs below steep-sided wooded banks and rolling Devon hills forming the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Springtime walkers are treated to carpets of bluebells and the delicate white-stars of flowering wild garlic beneath canopies of sycamore, oak, sweet chestnut, beech and wild cherry. The river is a habitat to some of South Devon’s most secretive wildlife, such as kingfishers and otters, and there’s also been tales of fairies and river sprites seen amongst the root tangles and inlets.
4. River Yealm, Noss Mayo
Enjoy a peaceful riverside walk along the banks of the River Yealm to pick up the South West Coast Path as it passes the magnificent Wembury Bay. Follow the National Trust path out of the picturesque sailing village of Noss Mayo, through Ferry Wood and Passage Wood to take in the sparkling river views as it meets the brackish estuary waters past Warren Point. Follow the coastal path as it hugs the headland east passing Gara Point, enjoying spectacular views across Wembury Bay towards the Great Mew Stone. Abandon the coast path at Blackstone Point to head back inland from whence you came, stopping off at either of Noss Mayo’s lovely creekside pubs.
5. The River Erme, Ivybridge to Ermington
Rising from near the centre of south Dartmoor, the River Erme flows downstream across the valley beds of the South Hams towards Bigbury Bay. Pick up the riverside path in the historic town of Ivybridge, crossing fields and stone stiles, following the waymarks along what is known as the Erme-Plym Trail. This stretch of the trail weaves its way effortlessly alongside the waterway to the charming village of Ermington. Loop round the fields to then retrace your steps and enjoy more of the stunning South Hams scenery. You might want to stop by Ermington’s Crooked Spire Inn to wet your whistle before your homeward trek.
6. The Dart Valley Trail, Greenway to Kingswear
This blissful walk runs alongside the majestic River Dart as it flows towards Dartmouth Harbour and the open seawaters of Start Bay. The head of the river can be found at Dartmeet where the East Dart and West Dart merge to flow southwards past Buckfast Abbey and towards the medieval town of Totnes. The river’s name is believed to be Celtic in origin and means ‘river where oak trees grow’.
For this particular stretch of the trail, you’re best off parking at The Ham car park in the pretty waterside village of Dittisham and crossing the Dart on the Greenway Ferry. As you follow the trail around Hare Wood you’ll round Greenway, the former holiday home of detective novelist Dame Agatha Christie. Descend down Oakham Hill to Long Wood – home to a variety of woodland birds – walking alongside the river and the Dartmouth Steam Railway track. Passing Noss Quay, continue along the trail to enjoy captivating views of Dartmouth Harbour and the rooftops beyond. Hoodown Wood marks the final leg of your walk, leading you into the characterful village of Kingswear. From here, you can catch a ferry across the river to explore the winding streets of Dartmouth and walk your way back to Dittisham along Old Mill Creek if you’re still in the mood.
7. Teign Gorge
It’s been described as ‘the most famous walk on Dartmoor’. Set out from the impressive grounds at Castle Drogo and depart from the lofty turrets to follow the signs for Hunter’s Path. This stunning circular route takes in a series of dramatic and scenic features, such as Sharp Tor, Fingle Bridge, Whiddon Deer Park, the suspended iron bridge and Drogo Weir. Follow the Teign River on your return leg passing Hannicombe and Whitton woods towards Hunter’s Tor where you’ll see the south façade of Castle Drogo in the distance.
8. Torridge Tarka Trail
Follow the tracks and trails of Tarka the Otter, the charming character from Henry Williamson’s much-loved novel set on the ‘Two Rivers’ of North Devon; the River Taw and the River Torridge.
Begin at Instow’s Quay for a delightful walk beyond the Taw-Torridge estuary and deeper into Tarka territory. Follow the riverside paths along the banks of the River Torridge, through Tapeley Park, and then crossing the bridge to old Bideford station before continuing onwards to Bideford Quay, where you can discover more about this historic port town in the heart of North Devon. Along the beautiful waterway you’ll encounter some of the eddies and inlets described by Williamson as he charts the life and times of the adventurous dog otter known as Tarka (meaning ‘wanderering as water’) during his most famous of books that was first published in 1927 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons and has never been out of print since.
9. The River Meavy & Burrator Dam
This stunning river walk guides you through the rugged uplands of South Dartmoor through ancient woodland and close to the tranquil banks of the River Meavy and the shores of Burrator Reservoir.
Set off from the mighty church oak in the pretty moorland village of Meavy to follow the old drovers’ way and cross Lovaton Brook before heading upwards towards the hillside village of Sheepstor. Follow the path westward through the woodland to the banks of the reservoir and the mighty granite blocks of Burrator Dam. The head of the Meavy rises close to Princetown, following its bed through Walkhampton Common and Norsworthy before joining the reservoir. The entire river runs inside Dartmoor National Park and the origins of its name are found in Old English, the word ‘meavy’ meaning ‘lively stream’. The walk takes in much of the sweeping landscape used during the filming of the epic war drama War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg. The moorland locations used were all in and around the villages of Sheepstor and Meavy, and also Ditsworthy Warren House.
10. The Old Railway Line, River Bovey
This idyllic circular walk takes you along the banks of the River Bovey to follow the old railway line that once linked Newton Abbot to Moretonhampstead. Set off from Hole Bridge to follow the track across the Parke Estate (owned by the National Trust). Cut through sleepy meadows to cross a footbridge and then pick up the ‘Riverside Walk’ for a peaceful, leafy stroll by the water’s edge. Out of another kissing gate, turn leftward following the sign marked ‘Manaton’ to pass between the old railway piers and walk across Wilford Bridge. Stick to the lane to re-enter the Parke Estate and follow the trout tickler’s path through the beech wood, enjoying the lovely views back towards the ancient town of Bovey Tracey as you go. You’ll recognise Parke Bridge which will lead you back on the path of the old railway track to pick up your homeward leg.
Enjoy enchanting Devonshire river walks when you book a stay with Toad Hall Cottages