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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

River Avon Moor to Sea 6

Water Treatment Works to Cobbly Walk

Leaving South Brent behind in Part 5 the river now heads south east towards Diptford before turning south. This is a rural section of the journey. This next stretch proves to be a beautiful wide wooded river valley landscape and in this part I am covering the area from around the water works at the A38 flyover down to the Avon Inn in Avonwick.

Before I get to the A38 flyover, I wanted to mention the unmentionable, without which we would all be in a lot of trouble. I am leaving South Brent on my journey but so is a lot of other stuff and this is where it takes a break before carrying on it's journey. I take the rough with the smooth, and so holding my nerve and my nose, and in an attempt to get a photo of the A38 flyover, I drove down a long lane and found myself here at the South Brent Sewage Works.

The gate was open and although there was no welcome sign the lane was so narrow I had to actually drive in to turn around in the car park. There was only one person there, in high vis, who was very curious about my arrival. If you don't ask you don't get, so I politely asked if I could quickly take a few photos for my project. After we agreed that neither of us had met and that neither of us had had a conversation and being clear that I wasn't really there because that was not allowed, I proceeded to spend about five minutes snapping away while I didn't really exist. So just to be clear, these are not photos, they are an artist's impression of what it would probably look like had I been allowed in by somebody very nice.

As for getting a photo of the next bridge over the Avon, I can confirm that this is all anyone can see of it from anywhere accessible, either legitimately or illegitimately. This is a massive close up of the tops of the trees and those faint lines are the railings on top of the viaduct.

In following the river from Dartmoor to this point I have tried to feature each of the bridges in all their diversity of design and period. It is therefore ironic that the largest of them all was the most difficult to photograph.

In desperation, I travelled north yesterday so that I was able to drive back down the A38, crossing over it instead of under. So here it is in all its glory. I had driven along with my camera at the ready, not really sure how I was going to get my photo, watching the Sat Nav screen as I drove, so that I knew exactly when it was coming up. Seeing it approaching fast I suddenly spotted a parking lay-by perfectly positioned to overlook the viaduct. This is the Avon valley where it is crossed by the A38.

The A38 is the longest two digit A road in England at 292 miles. Now that is a claim to fame. It runs from Cornwall to Nottinghamshire and in this part of Devon where the M5 Motorway never made it, is referred to as The Devon Expressway, essentially being the main link between Exeter and Plymouth. The South Brent bypass opened in 1974. When first designated in 1922, the A38 ran from the centre of Plymouth to Derby. Before the opening of the M5 motorway in the 1960s and 1970s, the A38 formed the main "holiday route" from the Midlands to Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

The reason that the A38 runs through here is geographical and the same reason that South Brent first developed here. This is the edge of Dartmoor and the easiest route for traffic has always followed the lower edge of the moor for over a thousand years. The earliest packhorse bridge followed by the 1920's replacement to the 1970's flyover are only a few hundred yds/mtrs apart.

Below I have shown in one collage, the three stages of this main Exeter to Plymouth route through the ages. Lydia Bridge which I featured in part 2 was the main route and originally only used by packhorses, there is a record of this bridge being here at least as far back as 1669. Lydia Bridge was later widened on the north side. In 1927 it was replaced as the main route by the New Brent Mill Bridge covered in part 5 and then this was replaced as the main route by the South Brent bypass in 1974.

An anomaly of the Devon Expressway is that not every junction allows you to get on and off in both directions, so now I had to drive past the Avonwick junction to the next one and double back, and then drive under the flyover. This was how I got to Turtley Corn Mill.

Turtley Corn Mill is situated at the meeting point of the River Glazebrook and The Avon. The water for the mill was provided by the Glazebrook by means of a large mill pool or lake in the grounds before joining the Avon.

Turtley Corn Mill has had a varied history, originally built as a Mill, then converted into a famous chicken hatchery, finally becoming a pub in the 1970's. The setting of Turtley is idyllic; located in the beautiful and varied area of Avonwick, South Hams the original Mill is set in six acres of grounds.

No longer a working mill, the present owners have installed a decorative mill wheel that turns without water while giving an impression of what things may have looked like. This building is one of only two mill buildings left that I could access along the route, the other being at Avon Mill Garden Centre which will appear in a later post.

The grounds which are extensive are inhabited by various exotic birds that are well used to visitors. The interior is better described as Country House Hotel than Pub, which I think is underselling it. You can stay here too, in luxury rooms or lakeside lodges.

Various displays of old farming equipment are scattered about and visitors are free to roam.

This is an original grind stone. Two stones like this would have laid one on top of the other. Grain was fed into the centre and the carved channels moved the grain outwards as the top wheel turned and it was ground into flour.

Ernest Vickery Twose was an Agricultural Implement Maker. The company was founded around 1830.

Twose, formally known as Twose of Tiverton, was founded in 1830 in Halberton – just 3 miles from where Twose’s Head Office is based today. After establishing itself as a small blacksmith providing a small number of horse-drawn agricultural products, Twose has continued to evolve and change the agricultural market. For over 180 years, Twose has been dedicated to designing and creating high-performance agricultural and green maintenance for farmers and contractors.

All Twose products are manufactured in the UK and benefit from the combination of Twose’s history and the skills and experience of McConnel design, production and experienced after-sales support teams.

Born in Devon. Built in Britain. Proven Worldwide.

One problem taking pictures at this time of year is extraneous objects like life sized LED snowmen appearing in unexpected places. I try to avoid seasonal decorations where possible because they are too specific and irrelevant to the story I am writing, but in this case I quite liked the surreal juxtaposition of the water wheel and snowman together.

This is the mill pool surrounded by woods.

Here is the river just out of sight following the edge of the property.

Not far down river from Turtley Corn Mill is this small bridge accessing a farm and going nowhere else. In fact I almost drove past and missed it but if nothing else I am being thorough. I am glad I did stop because the river was a beautiful sight just here.

Upstream of the bridge and a small waterfall is formed by a tributary on the left.

Downstream are some rapids and some lovely autumnal colours.

My research on the next bridge downriver reveals only the name, Old Bridge, and it really is old. How do I know? Because my Japanese micro car only just fitted between the walls. (which is why I have a Japanese micro car by the way)

In fact to take a photo of my car on the bridge I had to hold the camera out of the window because it was not possible to open the door.

It is another packhorse bridge, which means that this has been an important river crossing for a long time.

Old Bridge and the also old New Bridge are in the village of Avonwick which has an interesting recent history. Avonwick lies in the Parish of North Huish. North Huish is a tiny hamlet with a large church, so why is the parish called North Huish while Avonwick is by far the bigger place?

North Huish existed long before Avonwick and had the only church within the parish boundary. Avonwick was only named in 1870, and parts of the village were in different parishes until the 1970s, when the boundaries were altered to move the shop, church and nearby properties into North Huish parish. (You understand they didn't actually moved the buildings I hope, just the lines on the map)

North Huish, (which I will cover in a later post) being the former centre of the parish, has a number of ancient estates and houses. The village itself is tiny - unlike Avonwick, it has not been significantly enlarged - but it does have the parish's only street lamp.

Here in Avonwick we can see the local children's traditional pastime of finding somewhere highly dangerous to play.

Having examined some maps from the 1880's I can say that back then this was a normal road, below, shown in exactly the same way all of the other local roads were shown. At some point though New Bridge was built which precluded the need to travel down this stretch of lane. As a consequence this lane fell into disuse and never got updated, resurfaced or modernised, in fact it was eventually closed to wheeled transport completely. The Old bridge and New bridge are only about 400 yds/mts apart.

This is the Cobbly Walk.

Better known as the Cobbly Walk (we are firmly told that it has never been the 'Cobbly Way'!), this bridleway is a very old and very rare stretch of cobbled road running between Avonwick's old and new bridges. Believed to be the oldest surviving road surface in Devon, possibly in Britain, it was originally the main road, before being bypassed by the 'new' road from the 'new' bridge.The cobbled track was restored in the 1990s, adjusted to deter motorists in the 2000s and repaired in 2022. If you look closely, you can see the ruts left by centuries of cart traffic.

This very unusual green lane was cobbled so that heavy loads of slate could be moved from local quarries, downstream at Diptford. The track was also used by early farmers who walked their cattle to and from dartmoor for summer grazing.

This is the only property accessed via the Cobbly Walk, a Georgian house called The Rock. Behind the house in the grounds lies the disused former route of the Primrose Line, the railway from South Brent to Kingsbridge. This follows the river all of the way to Avon Mill at Loddiswell, where the railway and river part company, as the railway rises up higher to tunnel through the hillside at Sorley before emerging in Kingsbridge, while the river falls down lower, now eager to reach the sea, as most of its journey at that point is done.

This is the New Bridge, at the other end of the Cobbly Walk (on the right). This is the Toll House where the toll would have been paid to use the new road and bridge. The blank window would originally have held a board with the price list for different forms of transport.

Construction of the New Bridge is not dissimilar to that of the Old Bridge with slate walls and stone parapets. This is a repaired part of the wall, I don't want to think about why this bit had to be repaired, I wouldn't want to drive through it into the river below.

Only a few hundred yards south is the Avon Inn which lies on the opposite bank of the river to the Cobbly Walk.

The coat of arms on the Inn sign is that of the Cornish-Bowden family, the local landowners who had a major hand in the growth of Avonwick during the 19th century. There will be more about their influence in the next part which covers the village history.

The inn is marked on maps from the 1880's. As far as I can find out it has always been called the Avon Inn. It appears to be Victorian in date.

This is a good place to end this post before we look at Avonwick and North Huish and explore some of the history. There will be two very different churches and some sporting history too.

If you have missed the previous sections you can start at the beginning here with Part One.

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Unknown member
Nov 29, 2022

What a peaceful and calming tour. You always find the strange things...those swings??? No thank you! Loved the colroful/designed birds and the snowman/wheel...quite a catch.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Nov 30, 2022
Replying to

It was a quiet bit of river. The next bit will have some unusual history.


John Durham
John Durham
Nov 28, 2022

Love the bridges and the Cobbly Walk - so wonderful to see things built so well that they have survived for so long.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Nov 29, 2022
Replying to

Yes, although I wonder how many people using these bridges every day realise how old they are. When I stand there I visualise all who might have crossed over in years gone by. So much history.

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