GUIDE TO THE RIVER TAVY
(Hill Bridge to Tavistock)
NAME OF RIVER: Tavy.
WHERE IS IT?: On west Dartmoor, flowing down to the sea past Tavistock.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The normal put-in is at Hill Bridge (SX532803) but an extended trip is possible. Take out at Harford bridge (SX 5056 7675) or in Tavistock where there are all sorts of parking possibilities. Also consider carrying on down the lower River Tavy.
APPROX LENGTH: 5 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours or more.
ACCESS HASSLES: None.
The BCU River Adviser for the Tavy is:
319/320 Faraday Trade Park
Tel 01752 600722
Adam Box (BCU Southwest River Advisor) notes...'The Environment Agency have requested that the Upper Tavy, Hill Bridge to Harford Bridge or Tavistock, should only be attempted at moderate to high water levels due to concern about possible damage to spawning gravels. At high levels this river is dangerous.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It needs to rain to make this worth doing. There is a rapid beside the road below the weir at Hill Bridge, the 'scrapiness' of this gives you an idea of what to expect downstream. I have paddled this in 'barely paddleable' levels and it isn't worth the bother...wait for a reasonable level. Lots of water is obviously needed to do the 'extended' trip. I have (Dec '99) paddled this in high water levels (all sections of the weir at the put-in well covered, including the walls of the fish pass). To quote a friend, this water level involved 'tree dodging horrors' but gave some excellent paddling.
Alan Voss (30/1/01)...'We rattled down this on Saturday with not enough water and were looking for good markers at Hill Bridge. From downstream, a series of white lines can be seen on the right hand bridge pier which probably make a good gauge. There were three lines showing and about halfway down to where the next would be. This corresponded to 1.36m on a gauge station part way down on the right. Our estimate was that anything lower than level with the second line down would be a bump and scrape.'
Bill Mattos (15/2/02)...'The Tavy, is in full flood every damn time it rains these days - up in the trees, very few stable eddies. And that's probably only 1.5 ft higher on the Tavistock gauge than its normal low (unpaddleable) level. I think the Tavy is a more difficult, dangerous and challenging river than Dartmeet when high, partly cos it has many blind drops you'd be insane to run without inspecting, if you'd never done it before.'
Richard Moore...'Paddled the river (Monday 16th Dec.) with the water level marked as 2 on the gauge at the Town weir in Tavistock, river just runnable but a bit of a rock bashing exercise. All weirs in Tavistockare runnable at this level (make your own choice of the route down). Any lower go walking.'
GRADING: It has been referred to as 'Grade 4' in one Guidebook but this doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. The river is continual Grade 3 with perhaps one Grade 4 rapid. In high water levels (see above) the Grading of 4 is more appropriate as the rapids are long and unfortunately, dodging trees becomes a major part of the technical difficulties.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Weirs. Trees in the river. Low branches. Metal stakes in the riverbed. There have been a number of tree related accidents on this section, with at least one fatality.
Tree update, Jan 2004...The river has many trees hazards. The ones which were worst several years back are cleared, following a fatality in 2000. However two trees are currently a big problem...
- The grade 4 fall has a tree blocking most routes upstream of it. Not hard to avoid, but annoying.
- A little way downstream of the grade 4 fall, a large tree blocks much of the river which has barbed wire and fence posts wrapped around it. Very dangerous, take great care approaching this.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Normally this trip would be started at Hill Bridge but if there is plenty of water, an experienced group has the opportunity of starting some way above.
There is a weir directly below Hill bridge which usually has a safe route available, but inspect to find it. A detailed description of the next two miles is impossible/ pointless as the rapids are continuous but basically the section consists of technical paddling around trees, rocks and islands with lots of little drops creating waves and stoppers. It can all be 'read' from the river but be aware of trees which lurk at head height in some channels. You might recognise these features in order, anyway...
The river narrows into a 1 metre straight drop early on.
The most notable fall, perhaps Grade 4, is where the river drops away steeply over a natural(?) weir and then channels into a narrow shoot with a grabby stopper at the bottom. Note that there are a few dubious bits of metal sticking out of the riverbed hereabouts. Directly downstream of this fall most of the river's current goes to the right of an island.
The river now gradually becomes less technical but waves and stoppers increase in size.
The final mile down to Harford Bridge gets progressively easier, and taking out at this bridge is an option. However, the section down to Tavistock is worth carrying on and doing, if you are aware of the weir hazard.
From Harford Bridge...
Below Harford Bridge, occasional Grade 2 and 3 rapids continue, with one notable chute below a metal bridge sometimes producing a playspot.
A mile below this bridge, the water backs up above a Kelly Weir which looks particularly gruesome in high water levels...portage on river right. You are now entering Tavistock town and the river becomes more and more 'man-made' (In other words, all sorts of metal junk lurks on the river bed).
The first bridge after the weir portage is long and 'tunnel-like'. It has another weir above it (which is usually runnable by a tiny chute close to river right - inspect), and a rapid underneath it. All manner of playholes lurk about here in good river levels.
The next bridge is a possible take-out (upstream of it, on river left) if you are desperate to leave and the third bridge needs to be approached with caution because downstream is the rather horrendous Town weir. Take the river left arch and get out immediately below on river left but obviously above the weir. If you are going to carry on into the Lower Tavy then cross the bridge and get back in on river right below the weir.
Bill Mattos suggests (Oct 2002)...'Town Weir - I would hesitate to recommend trying to get out below the bridge in anything but super low water levels. I'm biased, obviously, but in the water levels I like to paddle it, it is much safer to get out into the small park river left, 100yds above the bridge.'
David Johnston (May 2002)...'Do not shoot the weir at Tavistock. It is not very deep! With a short boat you can shoot the fish steps. Avoid the left hand side of the second drop as large metal spicks stick up and could hole the boat!'
OTHER NOTES: This is a great paddle at the Grade, and in medium/ low water levels a good progression from the River Dart loop if you're looking for a more continuous (and quieter!) trip.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark R, Dave Francis, Adam Box, Bill Mattos, David Johnston, Richard Moore and Alan Voss.
I've taken a number of screenshots from my GoPro footage illustrating a number of hazards:
Some of the shots: