The River Teign from Moor to Sea, Devon's Lovely Teign Valley
PUBLISHED: 18:11 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013
Peter White follows the river Teign as it flows from wild moorland to a dramatic wooded gorge. The Teign Valley is a beautiful place to discover and enjoy.
From remote moorland the Teign heads east through a dramatic gorge, then south through the beautiful Teign Valley. It meanders across the flat country of the Bovey Basin into a splendid estuary leading down to Teignmouth and the sea. En route are prehistoric remains, pretty villages, a castle, waterfalls and history galore.
The river has two headwaters. The North Teign is longer, rising in the wildest part of Dartmoor not far from Cranmere Pool. It leaves the open moor at Scorhill, and that is the best place from which to explore this remote part of the valley. A stroll takes you to Scorhill stone circle, almost 27m (88ft) across and one of the most atmospheric on Dartmoor. Below the circle are two charming little clapper bridges spanning the Walla Brook and the main river, and just downstream is the Tolmen Stone, a huge boulder in the riverbed with a large, almost perfectly circular hole eroded through it. It is said that if you can pass through the hole you will never suffer from any rheumatic complaint!
So, freed of rheumatism, you are now fit to follow the river into the wilds. Head for Watern Tor on the skyline to the west. It's a strenuous walk, but worth it for the views up the valley and out over lowland Devon. The tor itself is one of those where the granite cooled to look like a pile of thin pancakes. Look for the Thirlstone, an opening in the rock which from most angles looks like an arch, but in fact is not. Kestor Rock, across the valley, is another good viewpoint, and a rather less strenuous walk!
The South Teign, the shorter of the two headwaters, rises just above Fernworthy Reservoir and from the lakeside car park and picnic area there is a scenic walk around the reservoir, a forest trail, and a shorter path suitable for wheelchairs. There are massively constructed hut circles and a well-preserved kistvaen, or prehistoric burial chamber. You can fish for brown trout, watch for birds from the hide at the head of the reservoir, or just sit in the sun with a picnic.
The two rivers join forces at Leigh Bridge and for several miles flow through pleasant countryside with an almost parkland feel to it. The bustling little town of Chagford is close by, and well worth a visit. An ancient stannary town where tin was brought to be assayed and stamped, it has many fine buildings and a beautiful church. It may sound unlikely, but it is probably the best place to shop on Dartmoor! It has two department stores, each of which has been in family ownership for more than 100 years, and each is a Pandora's box of absolutely everything. Add a superb collection of small specialist shops, good pubs, restaurants and teashops, and this is a place not to be missed.
Beyond Chagford the character of the valley changes dramatically. Castle Drogo sits high on a hill dominating the entrance to the Teign Gorge. Often described as the last castle to be built in England, it never actually had a military purpose. It was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens for Julius Drewe, who made his fortune from the Home & Colonial chain of grocery stores. Completed in 1931, it is a fascinating place, owned by the National Trust and open to the public from 1 March. The great granite walls and commanding position make it a forbidding feature, but inside it is homely and full of information about the Drewe family and the construction of the castle.
The landscape in which the castle sits is glorious. Immediately across the valley, and accessible by paths from the castle, is Whiddon Deerpark. Created in the late 16th century, it is enclosed by the most massive granite walls you are ever likely to see - up to 3m high and 1m thick. The original herd of fallow deer is long gone, but if you walk quietly you may well see roe deer, and in the autumn rutting season the roaring of stags will often echo through the woods.
You can walk a circuit in the deerpark on a track which runs south through the meadows at the foot of the steep slopes and then climbs up and back through a fairytale woodland, full of ancient trees and huge granite boulders, to a little stone deer-culling hut with a red, rusted, corrugated-iron roof and the most superb view to the west. A little further on is a high point opposite the castle, and the path turns down towards an avenue of tall beeches. Through a gateway in a granite wall there is a surprise. On either side are the hemispherical halves of a granite boulder, and on the polished flat surfaces intricate patterns have been carved by local sculptor Peter Randall-Page,famous for his work The Seed at the Eden Project.
From here, follow the path steeply down to the footbridge over the river, where you have a choice of two wonderful walks through the wooded gorge to Fingle Bridge. The Fisherman's Path runs past the weir and follows the tumbling river all the way. The Hunter's Path takes the scenic route up past the castle, contouring high above the river and over the rocky top of Sharp Tor. A deviation will take you to the picture-postcard village of Drewsteignton with its famous pub, the Drewe Arms, or you can descend through woods to the lovely medieval Fingle Bridge with its historic riverside inn. A good place to end this part of our journey!