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Torridge Valley

The River Torridge flows in a series of looping meanders through dramatic gorges with dark forested sides; through open pastoral valley floors with valley sides cloaked in ancient woodland, and through tidal mudflats echoing to the call of seabirds. The river is home to otters, which dart about in its clear waters, and is overlooked by ancient defences and historic villages perched high above on the valley sides. This is an intricate, complex and varied landscape, with unexpected views suddenly revealed as landform and vegetation open out.

  • Context

    dca61-torridge-valleyThe River Torridge and its tributaries flow generally northwards, emerging in the Taw-Torridge Estuary at Bideford. The longer (south-eastern) branch of the valley lies between the High Culm Ridges and the West Torridge Upland Farmland, extending south as far as the High Taw Farmland. The shorter western tributary valleys of the Yeo and Duntz lie between the Bideford Bay Coast, the Western Culm Plateau and the West Torridge Upland Moorland.

  • Constituent Landscape Character Types

    Constituent LCTs: 3A: Upper Farmed and Wooded Valley Slopes, 3G: River Valley Slopes and Combes, 3H: Secluded Valleys
    Part of NCA: 149: The Culm

  • Distinctive Characteristics

    • Underlying Culm geology of mudstones, sandstones and siltstones incised by River Torridge and tributaries.
    • Steep valley sides enclosing a wide main valley floor with narrower tributary valley floors.
    • Main River Torridge deep and fast flowing, with a convoluted course and tightly meandering channel; tidal as far as Landcross, with mud flats exposed at low tide.
    • Small tributary valley south of Bideford dominated by Jennetts Reservoir.
    • Valley sides well-clothed in deciduous woodland which dominates skylines; some conifer plantations, particularly in the middle and upper reaches of the main valley; traditional orchards around villages.
    • Alluvial soils on valley floor generally used for pastoral agriculture, with a mixture of pastoral and arable agriculture on higher land.
    • Fields generally semi-regular in shape comprising a mixture of medieval, post-medieval and modern enclosures based on earlier medieval fields; mainly enclosed by hedgerows or hedgebanks, but some loss of field boundaries in arable areas.
    • Extensive semi-natural habitats including ancient broadleaved woodland on valley sides; water meadows and riparian habitats on valley floors; tidal mud-flats and salt marshes near the estuary; and unimproved grassland commons around Great Torrington.
    • Numerous historic features associated with the river, including weirs, mills, bridges, disused canal and railway line (now the ‘Tarka Trail’).
    • Numerous, prominent archaeological sites – including Iron Age defences at Castle Hill, Hembury Castle and Berry Castle, and the medieval ruins of Frithelstock Priory.
    • Estate parkland on valley floor that adds to landscape’s serenity and sense of time-depth.
    • Limited settlement within the valley floor, most farms and villages being situated on the valley sides, where village church towers may form prominent and distinctive features.
    • Great Torrington in a commanding position overlooking a crossing point of the River Torridge.
    • Farmhouses that often of white rendered cob/ stone with thatched or slate roofs.
    • Major roads and transport routes (e.g. A386 and the former Okehampton-Bideford railway line) generally follow the main valley floor, while upper reaches and tributary valleys have winding hedge-banked lanes with narrow stone bridges.
    • Strong contrasts between enclosed wooded valleys and higher open farmland on either side which offers commanding views (e.g. from Great Torrington).


  • Special Qualities and Features:

    • High scenic quality associated with the area’s dramatic landform and strong sense of place.
    • Sense of peace and seclusion, with pockets of high tranquillity, particularly in tributary valleys.
    • Dark skies in the southern part of the area (beyond influence of Bideford and Great Torrington).
    • Concentration of sheltered sites for orchards, gardens and designed landscapes, including the RHS Rosemoor and estate parklands on the valley floor.
    • Hunshaw Wood SSSI (relic ancient semi-natural oak woodland with diverse ground flora) and Halsdon SSSI (combination of river, flood-plain meadows and oak woodland); numerous CWSs covering both riverside and woodland habitats.
    • Several RIGSs covering geological exposures within the Torridge valley around Torrington.
    • Important otter habitat and strong cultural associations with Henry Williamson’s book Tarka the Otter, which was inspired by the river setting at Weare Gifford and later filmed on location.
    • Entire area part of the designated North Devon Biosphere Reserve.
    • Variety of SMs covering many phases of the area’s history, including Iron Age defences, medieval priory and bridge, and later industrial sites such as lime kilns.
    • Conservation Areas within historic cores of valley-side villages e.g. Great Torrington, Dolton, Kingscott.
    • Site of the last great battle of the Civil War at Torrington (1646), after which Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army occupied the town.
    • Popular Tarka Trail recreational route following the disused railway line along the valley floor; common land around Great Torrington is a popular open-access area.

Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:

  • Past and Current

    • Past loss of water quality as a result of agricultural intensification such as increased use of fertilizers.
    • Changing farming practices, including increased mechanisation and loss of traditionally-managed grasslands.
    • Lack of woodland management resulting in loss of species diversity and age structure.
    • Past replanting of ancient broadleaved woodland with conifers, changing valley character.
    • Invasive water-borne weeds such as Himalayan Balsam and Japanese knotweed affecting native riparian vegetation and wildlife habitats.
    • Loss of traditional orchards.
    • Electricity pylons along the Duntz Valley which are visually-intrusive in this intimate landscape.
    • Development on settlement fringes viewed from across or above the valley (e.g. Bideford, Great Torrington); linear expansion on the edges of Weare Gifford.
    • Golf course at Great Torrington changing the character of the valley side.
    • Visual and audible impacts of main roads affecting tranquillity.
    • Light spill from Bideford and (to a lesser extent) Great Torrington affecting dark night skies.

  • Future

    • Potential changes in sea level (resulting from climate change) affecting river processes and habitats, particularly in the lower river reaches.
    • Changes to woodland species composition as a result of climate change, affecting weather patterns and growing seasons, and allowing new pests and diseases (such as Phytophthora) to spread.
    • Continued development of larger settlements visible from the valley floor affecting the valley’s rural character.
    • Renewable energy schemes, including small-scale hydro-electric power schemes on the River Torridge and its tributaries, and wind turbines on higher ground potentially visible on the skyline from within the valley.


  • Overall Strategy:

    To protect the landscape’s scenic quality, biodiversity and strong sense of place. Visually-intrusive development in settlements and on skylines beyond the character area is avoided. The area’s woodlands, wetlands and riverbanks are managed to maximise their biodiversity and promote indigenous species such as otters. Archaeological sites and historic features are protected and well managed. Enjoyment of the landscape (for example through the Tarka Trail) is encouraged, but an appropriate balance between recreation and conservation is achieved.


  • Protect

    • Protect the natural form and features of the river and the dynamic processes that form them e.g. meanders, shingle banks and tidal mud flats.
    • Protect the open character of the valley floor.
    • Protect framed vistas and views across the valley.
    • Protect and restore/ manage historic features such as lime kilns, bridges, canal and railway features.
    • Protect skylines above the valleys from intrusive development.
    • Protect local vernacular building styles, ensuring that any new development is sympathetic in form and style (whilst incorporating sustainable design).

  • Manage

    • Manage (and extend where practical) tidal habitats such as salt-marshes.
    • Manage and link waterside habitats to increase biodiversity and provide suitable habitats for otters.
    • Manage broadleaved woodland on valley sides (including use of traditional techniques such as coppicing), and promote woodland planting which extends and strengthens the existing woodland network.
    • Manage and maintain hedgerows and hedgebanks to conserve amenity and wildlife interest.  Avoid unsympathetic highways works on narrow, high-banked lanes.
    • Manage in accordance with North Devon Biosphere Reserve guidelines.
    • Manage parkland estates, including the replacement of mature trees to ensure their continued presence in the landscape.
    • Manage and eradicate invasive water-borne weeds such as Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam.
    • Manage recreation and conservation in an integrated manner to avoid potential conflicts such as the disturbance of otters.
    • Manage archaeological sites, including appropriate clearance and interpretation where necessary.

  • Plan

    • Plan to restore coniferous plantation to broadleaved woodland.
    • Plan to restore traditional orchards and encourage the development of new ones, possibly as community schemes.
    • Plan to reduce light spill from Bideford and Great Torrington to enhance the quality of dark night skies.