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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

River Avon Moor to Sea 18

My River Avon Saga is fast approaching it's culmination after a four month gap, during which I was working on other projects. I was missing photos that I needed to complete, this, the next section, and I only managed to get those at the beginning of December.


This section, due to geographical factors, is a fairly simple set of mostly landscape photos, as it covers the stretch of tidal road between Aveton Gifford bridge and the village of Bigbury. The opening photo is a big clue as to how close we are to the sea. This is my first post in the series that features an ocean going vessel. The bridge just upstream makes navigation impossible beyond this point.


In the last episode we ended the journey at the bridge at Aveton Gifford where the tidal road starts. These photos have been taken at two distinctly different times of the year, as I took some back in August 2022 at the start of this project when I was getting a bit ahead of myself, and then the rest about three weeks ago, in December 2023. I have mixed them up according to the route along the river so you will spot the difference between the summer and winter scenes. Of course, they all feature the tide out and not in or I would have needed a boat.


This shot is at the start of the road looking downstream. It is five miles by road to Bigbury on Sea but a lot less on the river, probably half that.


This is the shorter section of road that features marker posts. These marker posts are probably the cause of some of the trapped vehicles because when the water comes in, there is a certain element of "come on through if you dare". The problem for those unfamiliar with the road though is knowing how deep it is here and also further on. In addition if you drive too close to the edge you ground the vehicle in mud. The high tide can also vary by several feet so even if you know the time of high tide, you also need to know what the moon is doing because, on a flat low road like this three feet of water more or less is a lot.


In case you have missed it, there is the road, under the trees on the right and most of it is single carriageway with occasional passing areas.


Western Morning News - Wednesday 21 August 1929


THE CHARMS OF BIGBURY-ON-SEA SANDS, SEA VIEWS, & LEAFY LANES

...........It may be that the approach to this gem of the South Hams has something do with its quietude and charm. No railway serves it, nor can it boast of anything in the nature of a pier at which passengers may land from the sea. One has to travel by road from Plymouth or Kingsbridge, and that in itself is something an experience. For directly the main road is left the traveller finds himself in those luxuriant but tortuous lanes of Devon to traverse, which by motor car calls for no little skill.


Steep gradients and hairpin bends abound, the roads are so narrow that two vehicles, unless of the most modest dimensions, find it impossible to pass. Should they meet, one has to back up until some wider patch into which it can squeeze itself is reached, and allow the other to proceed. Obviously, there has to be give-and-take on the part of drivers........


As you can see below, there is not a lot of room for error.


By road you have to go inland and through the village of Bigbury, before you can wind your way down to the sea. These two paddlers have a far more direct route.


It is a beautiful stretch of the river, and a marked contrast to the narrow rocky ravines this water has passed through on the drop down from Dartmoor.


This view, below, offers a marked difference to the weather experienced in January 1928 before "Climate Change" was invented. This same event today would be reported in a very different way.


Torquay Times, and South Devon Advertiser - Friday 06 January 1928


SWOLLEN DEVON RIVERS. FLOODS FOLLOW THAW. The heavy rain on Sunday night and the rapidly-melting snow caused the Devonshire Avon, which rises on Dartmoor and runs to the sea at Kingsbridge, to rise 5 feet in a few hours on Monday morning............... It was possible to re-open the omnibus services from Kingsbridge to Plymouth, Salcombe, Hope, Thurlestone. Totnes, and Dartmouth, but it was still impossible to run services to Bigbury-on-Sea and Portlemouth owing to the snowdrifts. The first omnibus to run from Totnes got caught in a snowdrift and had to be dug out, while the omnibus to Thurlestone had to make a detour to avoid a blocked road.






Western Morning News - Tuesday 24 April 1894


THE RIVER AVON. Sir,—The mistake in not having formed an association on the above river is already beginning to show Itself. The conservators have only just found out that they have no power to limit the size of trout that may be retained by fishermen, and also that they have no power as to the time when the minnow and worm may not used.


The limit they have until this year put on trout that may be retained is seven inches, and the minnow and worm have been forbidden before the Ist May. An association has both these powers and many more, and now that the railway is in full swing the landowners and farmers will find to their annoyance what an error they have made in not doing as I have several times suggested through your paper, and formed an association.


This limit of seven inches has been one of the causes why larger trout, as rule, are found here than in other Devon rivers. Though not adhered to by all fishermen, it was, I believe, generally obeyed, and now that there is no limit there will very soon be an end of the many half-pounders it has been my luck to see and catch. It is not yet too late for the landowners to retrieve this mistake, and I sincerely hope that they will see the error of their ways before another season begins.


Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Thursday 21 December 1989


Party goers in watery escape TOGGED up partygoers on their way to a firm's Christmas bash made a bigger splash than they expected when the taxi they were in drove off a flooding tidal road. The two couples had to wade through knee high mud and river water in the dark with the tide rising higher, to get to dry land. Then they had to hike almost a mile up-hill and through another section of flooded road to get to a second taxi. Drenched and covered in mud they all had to go home and get changed before heading off to the party again. And by the time they joined the rest of the firm for the Yuletide binge they were more than 90 minutes late.


All four had been on their way to the Pickwick Inn at St Ann's Chapel in the South Hams, for a Bigbury-on-Sea building company's Christmas dinner when the accident happened along the tidal road at Aveton Gifford near Kingsbridge. Said 33 year old Mrs Christine Mitchell, whose husband Steve works for the building firm: "The driver saw something on the road and swerved to miss it and went off the road into the mud" She said the car tilted over sideways with all four wheels in the River Avon estuary mud. "I opened the car door and there was this thick mud right next to me" said Mrs Mitchell of Kingsbridge, All four had to get out and wade through mud and water to get to dry land to telephone for help from a nearby house, because the taxi radio would not work.


Mr Andrew Robey a partner in the Kingsbridge based King Cab firm expects the £12000 Ford Sierra taxi to be a "write off" after it ended up being virtually submerged twice by the tide before it could be towed to safety.


Not all the stranded vehicle incidents end without tragic outcomes.


Western Daily Press - Tuesday 19 October 1982

Image © Reach PLC.


A MALE patient rescued from a stranded ambulance by boat, died yesterday after being admitted to South Hams Hospital, Kingsbridge South Devon. The man aged 57 who lived locally had been ill for some time. A hospital spokesman said: “The transfer by boat had no real effect on the patient.” The ambulance was stranded in three feet of water on the tidal road beside the River Avon between Aveton Gifford and Bigbury on Sunday night. The patient was picked up by a passing fishing boat skippered by Mr Brian Mitchell of Aveton Gifford, who took them to dry land where they transferred to another ambulance to complete the journey


At the wider section of road about half way along it is possible to stop and pull over and there are several natural springs gushing forth, with water that only has a short distance to travel to the sea.


Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Tuesday 05 March 1991


Tide turned in car chase

A POLICE chase through South Devon lanes ended when the pursued car took a wrong turning and ended up sinking in a river. The chase from Modbury to Aveton Gifford came to an abrupt halt when the driver took the tidal road and the tide was in. The Audi gradually took in water and sank. The chase started in Modbury at 8.45 pm. yesterday and lasted for eight miles over a 10-minute period. The spokesman said no high speeds were used and there was no danger to other traffic. A man was helping police with their inquiries at Plymouth today.



Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Friday 23 August 1991


FITTINGS MELT IN CAR FIRE

A STOLEN car which was torched by thieves burned so fiercely that all the aluminium fittings melted in the blaze. The wrecked Lancia Beta car worth around £800 was discovered on the tidal road near Aveton Gifford yesterday. It was so badly burned that police could not find an engine block number to identify it. The owner eventually came forward to complain that the car had been stolen from outside his home on the Trebblepark Estate in Kingsbridge. The car had burned so fiercely that when police arrived they found trails of solidified aluminium leading from the vehicle.





At low tide some of the larger boats end up at alarming angles as their keels get stuck in the mud.


Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Tuesday 24 March 1992


PC hurt in crash. A woman police officer was taken to hospital with whiplash injuries after she was involved in a head on crash in a police panda car. The WPC who has not been named was treated at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth before being released. The accident happened on a blind bend on the tidal road at Aveton Gifford in the South Hams at around 5pm. last night. The police car ended up with a damaged wing in the accident. The male driver of the Ford Capri car involved escaped injury.



Coming to the Bigbury end of the road and there is another longer stretch of marker posts. This is another well known trap for the unwary motorist.


Here is the Yodel delivery van on the 1st August 2022 when these photos were taken.


Here is the Yodel van 13 days later when the tide times got the upper hand. These two photos are taken at the same piece of road but on opposite sides. Devon Live.


At the far end of the stakes, is Stakes Hill.


Totnes Weekly Times - Saturday 05 September 1908


ACCIDENT AT AVETON GIFFORD. On Monday evening, Mr J Lakeman, sub-post-master at Aveton Gifford, accompanied by his son and Mr G Edgecombe, builder, were returning from Bigbury and descending Stakes Hill. In the storm a branch of a tree fell in front of the pony. It took fright, and pitched the occupants into the road. Mr Lakeman, who was driving, fell over the pony, and broke his right arm near the socket, and received several cuts and bruises. The other occupants of the trap received slight bruises and a shaking. The trap and harness were completely smashed.



This is one of the remaining lime kilns that line all the creeks in this part of Devon.



Here at the end of the tidal stretch, the road continues up Stakes Hill to the church in Bigbury Village. The church will feature in the next section as there is a lot to see and to say about it.


150 years ago, and it was a very different world when an event like this could make scandalous news across the South West.


Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser - Wednesday 26 April 1871


ANOTHER ELOPEMENT AT BRISTOL. We learn that the husband of the young woman, Sarah Taylor, who eloped from Bigbury, Devon, with a young man named John Wakenham, and both of whom were captured on Sunday in Bristol, had an interview with his errant spouse on Monday. He took possession of the money which was found upon the truant, about £63 in all (£4000 today), and has since returned home, leaving his wife with her paramour, but almost penniless. We hear that Wakenham contemplates enlisting as a soldier.


Here are a few taster shots of Bigbury Church to end with. This is the ship's bell that once hung aboard the HMS Bigbury Bay.


Here is quite a cute knitted Nativity scene inside the church.


This was my favourite window in the church and I will explain it in the next post in the series, suffice to say, these are two Saints which some of you may recognise.


In my research I found this bizarre piece of news in the Warwickshire Herald from John S Wroth of Bigbury. Surely this must be the same man memorialised in this stained glass.


Warwickshire Herald - Thursday 11 November 1886


PIG SUCKLED BY COWS. WITHIN the last few months the rather unusual relation of several cows allowing a pig of seven months old to suck them has occurred on our farm. My notice was first drawn to the fact by the man who milks the cows finding someone had forestalled him in a very efficient manner, and then it was noticed, when the cows were driven from the meadows to the courtyard to be milked, a certain black pig was always waiting for them, and immediately sat up on his hind legs and commenced sucking. Out of about ten cows, five or six were very agreeable to this, but the remainder did not recognise the young porker as their legitimate offspring, and would not allow this irregular proceeding. Just at the time of the cows being milked the pig would leave those he was with the other part of the day, and be in waiting for the cows to be in the farmyard for his extra meal, and during the fortnight it went on the pig gained in flesh considerably. As this was an expensive way of feeding a seven months' old pig, and a bad example to his brethren, he was put in the stye and fed. If any readers of your paper have had similar cases under their observation, it would, no doubt, be interesting to have them recorded.—John S. Wroth (Coome, Bigbury, Devon).


If you need a little help in Saint identification, here is a close up of the Saint on the right.


The 12th century St Lawrence church at Bigbury. This will be the subject of the next post in the series.


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