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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

River Avon Moor to Sea 2

Didworthy Bridge to South Brent Church

I ended part one of this River Avon route at Shipley Bridge, bridge number three. I have made several excursions along the river over the summer and covered a lot of the things I want to feature, but as I start making the posts and researching the history I realise I have gaps, so today was a trip to fill some gaps. This was the main one preventing me from completing part two.


When I had travelled previously to the Avon Dam further up river I had spotted this bridge but had run out of time and also thought that there was nowhere safe to pull over as the roads are extremely narrow.


This is Didworthy Bridge which leads to a dead end. There are some houses, a small hamlet, and Didworthy Farm and that is it. The road as it is, becomes an undrivable green lane. So this bridge is a modern construction in appearance, not even having proper stone parapets. But it is bridge number four so I wanted to include it.

This upper reach of the Avon is very wooded and very remote, but I am so glad I ended up going back to see it now as the leaves are turning and the valley is all the more beautiful. In addition, when I came here before after a very long heatwave and drought the river was nowhere near as spectacular as it was today.


Here the valley is steep sided and the river has had to squeeze its way through granite boulders, which being under the tree canopy are coated in vivid green moss, now speckled with amber gems.


This one boulder was about the same size as my car, just to give you some idea of scale. There was one short stretch of road where the river and road came together, enabling me to stop and take some snatched photos, blocking the single track road, and hoping no other vehicle would appear.


There is one other small hamlet on the way down, before arriving at the beautiful Lydia Bridge. This was originally the main crossing point in this upper stretch of the river and an important packhorse bridge. Geographically, The Avon is the Great Wall of The South Hams. Starting on Dartmoor and ending at Bantham Bay it cuts all communication between east and west and all communication between Devon's two most important cities Exeter and Plymouth.


This means all the early bridges had huge importance and economic significance because without bridges, communication relied on the sea. In fact even with the earliest packhorse bridges, transport was slow and treacherous as the roads were hugely unreliable too, so shipping goods by sea was often safer and quicker. Often the roads such as they were, were potholed or flooded and even where paved, a surface of large cobbles made slow progress. In a later post you will see one of these original trackways, a forgotten remainder recently rediscovered and restored to its former glory which will give an impression of what road travel was like.

Lydia Bridge is Grade 2 listed by English Heritage. It is not known how long this bridge has been here but there is a record of 1669 stating that it is in a bad state of decay. It has evidence of being widened on the upstream side. More than likely this was as a result of growth in wheeled traffic.


The official description is "Stone rubble. Single round arch. Large stone slabs forming string with parapets above with large granite coping stones."

This house adjoins the bridge and is also listed by English Heritage. It is described as The Rock Including Gateway Adjoining South. Grade 2 listed.


House. Circa 1830-40. Stuccoed. Slate roof with gabled ends, with shaped

barge-boards and deep eaves with lion masks to gutters. Two storeys. Set back at right hand end a small two-centred arch window. Gateway adjoining south has C19 granite jambs with reused C15 or C16 moulded four - centred stone arch with quatrefoils above and mask at the apex.


The quatrefoils are the carved flower shaped elements and the mask appears to be a Green Man. If you look closely there are sprigs of various plants emerging from his mouth.


The Green Man is a legendary being, primarily interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, representing the cycle of new growth that occurs every spring. The Green Man is most commonly depicted in a sculpture, or other representation of a face which is made of, or completely surrounded by, leaves.


The Green Man motif has many variations. Branches or vines may sprout from the mouth, nostrils, or other parts of the face, and these shoots may bear flowers or fruit. Found in many cultures from many ages around the world, the Green Man is often related to natural vegetation deities. Often used as decorative architectural ornaments, Green Men are frequently found in carvings on both secular and ecclesiastical buildings.

The bridge parapets have been strengthened with iron staples. Below the bridge there is a beautiful stepped waterfall.


There are not many of these notices left, I know of only one other in Southpool. These were added at a later date with the advent of Steam Traction Engines, or Locomotives as they were originally called. These were mobile steam engines used in farming and were extremely heavy, hence the warning.


These were taken in August and you can see the difference in water volume with those above at Didworthy taken today at the end of October.

On the opposite side of the bridge there is a small group of properties with interesting architectural features centred around the old Lydia Mill. Lydia Mill had an overshot waterwheel fed by a leat. Rebuilt in 1699 after the previous mill was destroyed by a flood, it started as a flourmill and later became a wheelwright’s shop and forge. Lydia Mill is private so I could not gain access. There is by all accounts still a water wheel there.


Opposite the Green Man arch is this footpath stile with stone slab to climb over. It leads to a riverside walk to the nearby village of South Brent, and St Petroc's Church.

It's anyone's guess as to how long these granite steps have led down to the river.

Back in August the river was quite slow and steady. The leaf fall back then was not autumnal but heat and drought related.


Here is bridge number five, a much later addition as it was built for the railway. This bridge also appears to have been widened at some point and is in two separate halves that abut each other.

A small stream joining the river runs below these solid granite slabs.


This is the half of the bridge that was constructed first in around 1848. It forms an interesting design of receding arches. This was the original South Devon Railway designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel as a single track, broad gauge line.


The second phase in this photo below, was constructed around 1893 when the Great Western Railway, which by then had absorbed the SDR, created a double track line. It was at this time that many of Brunel's original timber single track viaducts were rebuilt in stone as double track. geograph.org

This riverside path becomes a lane which emerges into the village of South Brent right by the Lych Gate that leads into the churchyard of St Petroc's Church.

St. Petroc’s is distinguishable by its large Norman tower at the churches west end. The remaining building was possibly rebuilt around the 14th century and later features added in the 15th century. Local records suggest that the earliest church was founded by Saint Petroc himself, however it is more likely to have originated when the manor of South Brent was granted by King Canute to the newly founded Abbey of Buckfast in 1018.


The river runs around the back of the church on a lower level and you can hear the water as it passes by, invisible below the trees.

I will cover the interesting and historic interior of the church and its contents in part three. There is foul play and a mysterious murder to recount.

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6 Comments


Unknown member
Oct 26, 2022

I am in total agreement with the two posts before me. Love that narrow walk down the side of the house, but my favorite photo is #4 those boulders look very interesting with the moss around them. BTW I had to enlarge the photo of the half bridge because I just could not figure out how you had taken the shot. Then I scrolled and noticed the "peep hole". Very clever 😉

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Oct 26, 2022
Replying to

Thanks Camellia, yes those moss covered boulders were my favourite find yesterday.

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Chucks Digital Photography
Chucks Digital Photography
Oct 26, 2022

A photographer's paradise, so many places to explore. I love that country landscape.

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Oct 26, 2022
Replying to

Yes, I need to do more landscape, I have been doing mostly towns and villages recently.

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John Durham
John Durham
Oct 25, 2022

What a beautiful place to wander and photograph - and you've done a marvelous job of it. So nice to have a place like this close that you can easily visit.

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Oct 25, 2022
Replying to

It is beautiful if a little hair raising. I had a few reversing moments in the lanes and a tight squeeze with an Amazon van. The autumn colours are late this year though, just coming through now.

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