The Taw Estuary

Taw Estuary

The ten miles from Bideford Bay up the Taw estuary to the old bridge in Barnstaple is pretty tedious. Arguably the most unappealing paddle in the whole of southwest England. It is flanked by flat land on either side and punctuated by Yelland oil terminal, Ashford sewage works, and Chivenor air base. It is exposed to any wind and there is a strong tidal current.

However, such is the magic of water that on very rare days it can look absolutely stunning. When it is glass calm. October 10th was just such a day. Normally I would take the opportunity of a windless slot to head out into the open sea but on this particular day I just couldn’t be bothered.

And it’s a great place for birds. The Taw estuary is a favourite haunt for wintering waterbirds with its huge area of mud and sand exposed at low tide. And a couple of reserves to give them a chance of disturbance -free rest.


I set off from the slipway in Appledore and started off with a short jaunt out towards the sea against the incoming tide. It was a bit of a surprise to encounter a couple of Eider ducks that are not common around here, but there’s plenty of mussels for them to gorge on.

Eider Duck

I then turned about and was swung past Crow point with the current and off up towards Barnstaple. It was dead still and the air was full of the trill of Curlews and piping of Redshank and the occasional triple-pipe of a Greenshank.

A very busy tight pack of about a hundred Sanderling were probing a sandbank just before it got swamped by the tide. I drifted pretty close allowing excellent views. They have always been one of my favourite waders.

Pack of Sanderlings

I stopped for a cup of coffee on a sandbank in mid stream.

Taw Coffee Spot

The Taw Bridge in Barnstaple is not something that would immediately strike you as a a good subject for a photograph but it was looking at its best today.

Taw Bridge

I loafed around in mid river with the old shopping trolleys in the centre of Barnsaple waiting for the tide to ebb. A few kingfishers about. Then headed back.

The wind had started to pick up and the glassy magic had gone. At least both the breeze and current were in my favour. And still the waterbirds to provide a bit of interest fot the two hour paddle back to Appledore. Like this Bar-tailed Godwit with its unfeasibly long beak that surely makes having a scratch a bit of a logistics problem.

Bar-tailed Godwit

And superb Grey Plovers waiting on the kelp for the mud to expose a bit of lunch.

Grey Plover