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Barnstaple Attractions - The River Taw

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The River Taw takes in some of the most beautiful places in Devon. Starting at Taw Head on Dartmoor, it heads north and reaches the Bristol Channel at the Taw-Torridge estuary at Barnstaple. The River Taw really does have it all, when it comes to scenery! Its trail begins at Taw Head in the Dartmoor National Park, and then flows through Tarka country before reaching the sea at Barnstaple.

Along its estuary is one of the most important nature reserves in England. Braunton Burrows is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation. The amazing area of sand dunes, together with the Taw-Torridge Estuary - where the Taw and the Torridge reach the sea almost side by side - is also a site of special scientific interest. It is one of just two places in Britain where you can find the sandbowl snail, and its has 75% of the British population of water germander - a rare plant.

In fact, almost the entire stretch of the river is important for one reason or another. At the source of the river, on Dartmoor, the area is of archaeological importance. There is evidence of prehistoric human activity, with stone circles at Taw Marsh.

And when we think of the River Taw, we think of Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter. The Tarka Trail is a walking and cycling route alongside the Taw-Torridge estuary.

The river quality isn't as pure as it was in the days of Tarka, but it's still home to lots of species. There are wading birds, wildfowl, salmon - although these days in depleted numbers - and an internationally important population of otters. You used to be able to find the freshwater pearl mussel in the Taw - but the species was last seen in 1994.

The river's catchment area (and that of its three main tributaries) is almost entirely moorland and rural.

Farming dominates the surroundings from South Tawton, up through Chulmleigh and North Dartmoor, and on to the river's main town, Barnstaple. Barnstaple was a key port centuries ago, for the navy and for commerce. Ships sailed out of Barnstaple and the Taw-Torridge estuary to join Drake's fleet to take on the Spanish Armada.

A major wool industry was built up around the town as well, and much of it was transported via the estuary. However, the textile trade switched to northern towns during the industrial revolution, and Barnstaple's port could no longer compete with bigger ports which were developed elsewhere in England. So these days, the river is important for environmental and tourism reasons, rather than for industrial ones.

Like the Torridge in neighbouring Bideford, the Taw regularly bursts its banks, causing flooding on several occasions in recent decades. A flood defence scheme was built after the floods in 1984, but parts of the town can still be at risk because of a combination of the the Taw; one of the river's tributaries, the Yeo; and the rising tide at the estuary.

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Abbeyford Woods, Near Okehampton, Tel: 01409 221692
Big Sheep (The), Abbotsham, Bideford, EX39 5AP Tel: 01237 472366
Bradworthy Transport Msm, Higher Alsworthy Farm Tel: 01409 241597
Braunton & District Museum, Braunton, Tel: 01271 816688
Brocklands Adventure Park, West Street Bude, Tel: 01288 321225
Broomhill Art Hotel & Gardens, Muddiford Tel: 01271 850262
Burton Art Gallery & Msm, Kingsley Road, Tel: 01237 471455
Castle Hill, Filleigh, Barnstaple, EX32 0RQ Tel: 01598 760 336
Clovelly Court Garden, , Clovelly , EX39 5TA Tel: 01237 431
Clovelly Village Visitor Centre, Clovelly, Bideford, Tel: 01237 431781

Cobbaton Combat Collection, Chittlehampton, Tel: 01769 540740
Cheristow Lavender, C Lavender Farm, Hartland, Tel: 01237 440078
Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park, C.Martin, Tel: 01271 882486
Dartington Crystal, Dartington Crystal, Torrington, Tel: 01805 626242
Docton Mill Gardens, Spekes Valley, Hartland, Tel: 01237 441369
Dovetails Gallery, 60 High Street, Ilfracombe, Tel: 01271 864769
Dragon Archery Centre, Westcott Cott, Holsworthy, Tel: 0800 0372466
Eggesford Forest, Eggesford, Tel: 01409 221 692
Eggesford Garden & Country Centre, Eggesford, Tel: 01769 580250
Exmoor Zoo Park, South Stowford B. Fleming, Tel: 01598 763352

Gnome Reserve, West Putford, Nr Bradworthy Tel: 01409 241435
Halsdon Wood, Great Torrington, Okehampton, Tel: 01392 279244
Hartland Abbey & Gardens, Hartland, Nr Bideford, Tel: 01237 441264
Hartland Peninsula, Hartland, North Devon, Tel: 01237 431504
Hartland Pottery, Hartland, Nr Bideford, EX39 6DE Tel: 01237 441693
Heddon Hall Gardens, Parracombe, EX31 4QL Tel: 01598 763541
Holsworthy Community Woods, Holsworthy, Tel: 01409 221692
Ilfracombe Aquarium, Ilfracombe Harbour, Tel: 01271 864533
Lundy Island, The Quay, Bideford, EX39 2LY Tel: 01271 863636
Marwood Hill Gardens, Marwood Hill, EX31 4EB Tel: 01271 342528

Milky Way Adventure Park, Clovelly, Bideford, Tel: 01237 431255
Plough Arts Centre (The), 9-11 Fore St, Torrington, Tel: 01805 624624
Queens Theatre, Boutport Street, Barnstaple, Tel: 01271 324242
Quince Honey Farm, North Road, South Molton, Tel: 01769 572401
RHS Garden Rosemoor, Rosemoor, Torrington, Tel: 01805 624067
Tarka Cruises, 20 Market Street, Appledore, Tel: 01237 476 191
Tarka Garden Tours, Barleycott Blakewell, Barns, Tel: 01271 375002
Tarka Line (The), D & C Rail Pnership, Plymouth, Tel: 01752 233094
Torrington 1646, Castle Hill South St, Torrington, Tel: 01805 626146
Tropiquaria, Washford Cross, Watchet, TA23 0QB Tel: 01984 640 688

Tunnels Beaches, Bath Place, Ilfracombe, Tel: 01271 879123
Watermouth Castle, Ilfracombe, EX34 9SL Tel: 01271 867474
Westcountry Nurseries, Donkey Meadow, Bideford, Tel: 01237 431111

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Serious Shopping: Dartington Crystal, Green Lanes and of course Atlantic Village.

And finally for the active ones: Loads of Golf, Cascades, North Devon Karting and Skern Lodge.

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Going out tonight? Then why not make an evening into a party... Visit Exult for all your fancy dress and costume hire....

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