River Taw

River Taw

The River Taw rises at "Taw Head", a spring on the central northern flanks of Dartmoor. It reaches the Bristol Channel 72km (45 miles) away on the north coast of Devon at a joint estuary mouth which it shares with the River Torridge.


As it heads north, the stream gives its name to the village of South Tawton and to the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes' adopted home town of North Tawton. Slowly picking up headwaters from rivers such as the Mole that rise on Devon's other upland area, Exmoor, the river increases in size and becomes a recreational trout river before becoming tidal at "Newbridge", approximately 19km (12 miles) from the sea. This journey passes through rural Devon, the river being surrounded by pasture and wooded valley sides.

Tidal section

The river shares the large tidal ranges of the Bristol channel and daily changes of water depth of 6m or more are common near its mouth. This effect can also be seen in changes to the tidal-estuarine basin. Over a length of 8 km, the river's channel widens from approximately 20m at 'Newbridge' to 750m by Fremington.

River legacy

The Taw also gives its name to Bishop's Tawton just before passing through the only town on its route, Barnstaple. The Long Bridge here, originally medieval, is the second-lowest bridging point of the Taw. Work has now finished on the long-awaited 'downstream bridge', part of the Barnstaple Western Bypass and now the Taw's lowest crossing point; it was opened in May 2007. Seawards of Barnstaple, the river's journey is blocked by the large dune complex of Braunton Burrows, hence its late diversion south-westward and shared estuary mouth with the River Torridge across "Zulu Bar" sandbanks and out into Barnstaple (or Bideford) Bay.

The second lowest port on the Taw is Fremington. Between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries its tidal quay was the busiest port (tonnage) between Bristol and Lands End, mainly as it was a handy landing point for Welsh coal shipped across the Bristol Channel which could be distributed around the south-west peninsula by train (track finally closed 1987). The lowest port (or at least jetty) can be found at Yelland. The site of a coal-fired power station (closed 1984; demolished 1989), it still is used as a tanker-distribution centre for commercial and domestic petrol and diesel deliveries. The oils storage tanks here are filled from coastal lighters.


The flooding of the Taw in August 1983 and the destruction of the sand dune causeway to "Crow Island" at the southern tip of Braunton Burrows was the inspiration for Ted Hughes' poem to commemorate the christening of Prince William, son of Prince Charles.

Rail links

Local rail and road routes follow the river from Barnstaple through the centre of the county.

The Southern Railway built a series of 4-6-2 steam locomotives named after various places within the West Country. The locomotive that honours the Taw Valley is preserved in its rebuilt form on the Severn Valley Railway carrying its post-nationalisation number 34027.

External links

* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/content/webcams/barnstaple_webcam.shtml Webcam view of River Taw running under Barnstaple's Long Bridge]
* [http://easytide.ukho.gov.uk/Easytide/EasyTide/ShowPrediction.aspx?PortID=0537&PredictionLength=7 Tide times and heights for the Taw's mouth]

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