Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Sunday 28 February 2021

RYA dinghy trails

 A new initiative from the RYA and you can also enter a competition to have your own dinghy trail published

A really good idea from the RYA and well done to all those who helped develop this idea. 

Friday 26 February 2021

A fascination with tidal river dinghy cruising

 I have always been fascinated with rivers. It comes of being a geographer I suspect. River geomorphology (and Hydrology) was one of my ‘A’ Level teaching specialisms and as a child I spent many a happy day pootling around local streams catching and releasing all manner of river organisms and small fish.

Rivers often reflect the character of the countryside through which they flow and influence greatly peoples’ daily lives along their riverbanks. They can even influence the design of the vessels that trade along their waterways; and so it is with the Tamar where many of the local boats took on a character and form best suited transporting the river’s agricultural and mining resources.

Catching up with the barge Lynher a couple of years ago 
just to the east of Drakes Island in Plymouth Sound 

Rising far away in the bogs of Eastcott Moor, near Morwenstow, two miles from the Bristol Channel coast, the Tamar is one of those geological freaks of nature that I have written about before, for it flowed southwards instead of the short journey north. Now it forms the administrative border between Devon and Cornwall for almost its entire length.  Not having its source on Dartmoor, the Tamar is less subject to the sudden run-off surges of storm water; it’s a geographical oddity that has had an important bearing on its history and use as a trading waterway.

On a mooring at Henn Point where the Lynher and Tamar join.
Photo taken by a friend's husband who works on the MOD Police boats 

The Tamar and her navigable tributaries have played over a 1000-year role in the local agrarian and industrial economy and communities. The rough, hilly but very fertile terrain on both sides of the river have been worked for tin, from the times of Edward 1st. Ancient footpaths and bridleways criss-cross the landscape leading down to the river’s shores, the only outlet for much of the resources gained from this area over the intervening centuries.

The upper reaches up to Weir Head
Copyright: Admiralty Charts

From Weirhead, just below Gunnislake down to Devils point at Plymouth, the river is tidal and navigable. The 14th century salmon weir at Weir Head prevents further passage up river although records show that prior to the weir’s construction, the Vikings sailed much further upriver to attack the village of Lydford. For much of its history, two ports dominated the river’s commercial life, Morwellham on the Devon banks in the upper river reaches and Saltash, just above the entrance to the tributary river, the Lynher.


Morwellham’s growth was rapid. Mentioned as a quay in 1240 and part of the Manor of Morwell, rich alluvial tin deposits in this area supplied most of Europe, leading to the establishment of a Benedictine Abbey and the growth of the stannary town of Tavistock.  Vessels plied up and down the river to Morwellham Quay, where in its heyday in the 19th century, it could accommodate vessels of some 300 tonnes burthen. At this time, extensive deposits of copper and arsenic were discovered and mining flourished in the surrounding hillsides. Sadly, it was a short lived mining boom, over by the end of the century.

Morwellham Quay today 
Copyright: Morwellham Quay Museum

 Saltash was already far more prominent some 200 years before Morwellham. In 1069 it was held by Reginald de Valletort for William the Conquereror and Saltash borough gained jurisdiction over the rivers Tamar and Lynher from her ‘Seigneurs,’ who in 1270 were recorded as maintaining a ferry at Saltash. By 1337 the Burgesses of Saltash were paying the Black Prince £10 per year for a ferry across Saltash Passage.

Those Burgesses new a thing or two about turning a profit.  Sand dredged from the Tamar off Saltash was always much in demand and the burgesses levied 12d annually on every barge carrying sand; the same fee was levied on every boat carrying a fishing net as well.  However, by 1616, the Duke of Cornwall grew wise to the profits that were being made and so took action to recover the royalties owed him. By the reign of George IV, Saltash burgesses were paying an annual rent of £18 to the Duchy, along with 100 oysters to the King’s local auditor.

Within the ancient charters rewritten over time, the boundaries of the Tamar remained clearly defined. The Tamar’s waters, attached to the borough of Saltash, ran seaward to an imaginary line drawn across Plymouth Sound from Penlee Point on the west to the Shagstone on the East; thence to Prince Rock and Liara, to Old Man’s Beard in the Tavy and to Ogle (Okel) tor rock above Calstock in the Tamar. They ran from Guddenbeak Point on the St German’s or Lynher river to Crumble Tor rock in the Lynher and included all the intervening bays, creeks and places as far as high-water mark.

The clever Saltash Burgesses hadn’t missed a trick. Saltash was due one schilling from every vessel dropping anchor in the Port of Plymouth in the area defined above; the fees to be collected as they passed Drakes Island at the narrow entrance to the estuary.


Copyright Admiralty charts
One of this years trips will be to go up beyond Calstock - either in Arwen or in Angharad, my Stickleback Canoe. the aim to explore the hidden quays, marshlands and abandoned brickworks of the tidal upper Tamar 

A good description of Victorian life on the Tamar can be gleaned from the writing of Mr G P Hearder in his ‘Guide to the Tamar’. In 1841, he engaged two watermen to row him the length of the Tamar in a single day and he recorded what he saw on his trip. Saltash beaches were full of ships and ship-building yards; the women of the town out on the sands raking up cockles. ‘The absence of clothing on their nether regions is a grotesque appearance’ wrote Hearder.

Above Cargreen, he witnessed men in anchored boats using rakes three feet long to separate the oysters from their gravelly beds, whilst further upriver near Weir Quay, he watched a huge chimney belching enormous volumes of smoke from the furnaces below it.  An extensive silver and lead refining plant was once established there and Hearder wrote that his ears were assaulted by the noise of water wheels and the creaking of engines that drained the mines. At the quayside, he witnessed three brigs and assorted barges offloading limestone, coal and other commodities for the surrounding countryside before loading back up with metalliferous ores.

Today, the smelting/mine office is a bungalow, the quayside a small boatyard and the surrounding hillsides are disfigured by huge spoil heaps and desolate decaying mine buildings.  An industrial archaeologist’s paradise and playground, Hearder’s description of a thriving busy shipping lane and industrial landscape has all but disappeared. The water borne folk who once battled daily with erratic tides, merciless currents, fickle winds and thick squelching mud have long gone.

The boat yards and quaysides that lined the road downriver from Calstock. Somewhere along here was the famous Goss boat yard as well. 
Copyright; Calstock archives 

It comes as a surprise that records show that in the 1850’s, a greater number of vessels carrying a higher tonnage of cargoes were being handled along the Tamar than on the Mersey and into the Port of Liverpool. But this was, to all intents and purposes, a short-lived boom. Stealthy, unannounced globalisation was already rearing its head. Alluvial tin from Malaya, copper from America, Australia and South Africa; all could be mined more cheaply, more quickly and in greater quantities. The shallow limited deposits of the Tamar valley were doomed to be left in the ground; only recovered by a very short-lived revival in trade, when demand for sand, bricks and other building materials for the extensions to the Devonport Dockyard soared in 1896. By 1907, when the Keynham extension to the dockyards were open, this trade to cased to exist.

One of the old brick works high in the upper reaches of the Tamar beyond Calstock

Monday 22 February 2021

My first ever astrophotography effort

 It is hard work and a very steep learning curve, this astrophotography malarkey. 

Still, here is my very first effort a waxing gibbous moon, taken a bit early in the evening.

Camera details were: 

  • ISO 100
  • F/9
  • 1/125 
  • 200mm lens
  • manual focus
  • RAW
Post editing was in Affinity Photo which I was using for the very first time. I have never used Photoshop or Lightroom so all this is new to me.

As I said....steep learning curve.....but immense fun 😁

Friday 19 February 2021

Exploring the industrial archaeology of the river Tamar

 Exploring the industrial archaeology of the river Tamar

I have over the years made many voyages up the river Tamar and also the Lynher. However, more often than not, I have sailed up both rivers as far as I can and in doing so, I have passed by many nooks and crannies’ that are worthy of fuller exploration.

I had two articles recently published in the Dinghy Cruising Journal outlining one such three-day trip back in 2019 and you can access those articles here, if you are interested:

I also wrote another article for another magazine on what I had learned as a novice sailor about dinghy cruising up tidal rivers, an article aimed at beginners like me:

If you prefer visual, then my playlist of Tamar and Lynher cruises can be found here:

Use the 'search' box on the right hand menu to find other posts about the Tamar and the Lynher - use the terms 'Tamar' and 'Lynher'. 

So, with all that material available to encourage you to bring your boat down this way for a cruise, why do any more about sailing the Tamar?

Well, it’s the valleys unique industrial archaeology. The Tamar valley and its associated tributaries are an UNESCO World Heritage site. Everything from brick works to arsenic mines and much more besides. And during a conversation up at Cotehele, with some local filmmakers about something else entirely, I suddenly realised I had been missing opportunities when voyaging the area to really explore this hidden and/or long forgotten history.

The Bealeswood Brickworks
Copyright: Tamar Valley Industrial archaeology website

If you believe in co-incidences, then you will like this one. A week after this conversation, a blog and vlog subscriber got in touch with me as well to offer me an old copy of a book about the maritime culture of the Tamar Valley. I could have it, if I promised to go and explore the salt marsh areas opposite Cargreen.

We have been so used to learning about the maritime history associated with the river Tamar, about boats like ‘Shamrock’ and the people who sailed her or some of the famous boatyards such as that of ‘Goss’ up at Calstock, that as Ian D Merry put it in his lovely Maritime Monograph and Report ‘The shipping and trade of the river Tamar’ (Part 1 – No. 46, 1980)

 “much information was also being uncovered not only about the barges and other sailing craft using the river……..but above all about the river’s influence on the pattern of life and shipping along its banks.”

“..the close interweaving of land and shipping activities in the lives of the population along its tidal reaches had a significance and interest setting them apart from other south England riverside communities”.

I’m now part way through this lovely book/pamphlet and I have to say it is a fascinating read and its helping crystallise some ideas in my head.

The 'Garlandstone' tied up at Morwellham Quay
Copyright: The Morwellham Museum

The Tamar with its variable winds and tides, mudflats and fringing marshlands, is a rich, complex river system where through history, a mariner’s world and that of local farmers often combined. Many farmers were part time bargemen or active shareholders in the barges that took their produce down river to market. Often farmers had their own little boats to go off in search of sand or seaweed for manure on their fields and many farms had their own little quaysides. Some even acted as ferry points across the river from Devon to Cornwall and back again. Whatever the case, as Merry observed “the possession of a boat and the skill to use it was as essential to the Tamar Valley farmer as knowing where his best field lay for the growing of wheat”.

It is these little quays that attract my interest. I’ve managed to ground myself on the ancient remains of one of them already; trapping Arwen’s rudder between some old Cornish boulders and rotting timber baulks that edged an original old stone quay, on the way up to Treluggan. A sharp lesson  learned about always keeping your eye out for navigation hazards and not closing too close with a river shoreline!  

Then, I haven't been up the Tavy yet to Bere Ferrers and Lopwell Dam; I haven't explored Millbrook and I still fancy seeing how far I can get up the rivers Polbathic and Tiddy. Then there are the  Kingsmill, Wivelscombe and Forder Lakes as well. 

With its steep valley sides, frequent reedy river margins and lack of roads down to the water’s edge, there was always gong to be a close relationship between farmer and sailor in the Tamar Valley.  The river was always the easiest way of getting into and out of the area. And then of course, there was the 19th C discovery of metalliferous mines. As Merry says, the Tamar valley, already a notable Middle Ages centre for lead and silver mining, became a major centre of copper and arsenic production as well. And from that point on, local sailing transport dominated the river right up to the end of WW2.

As is the way, one industry attracts another, the good old geographical ‘multiplier effect’. Agriculture and mining led to shipbuilding; the need for quaysides led to quarrying. A demand for local housing generated by all these industries led to local brickmaking.  With primitive quays and rocky, sloping hards, local boats had to be rugged and thus Tamar barges were massively timbered boats. By the 19th C two types of boat for the Tamar were being built – the Tamar barges – heavy and stout and capable of coastal voyages; and then lighter boats for ’inside the river’ work.


The old Goss's boatyard up at Calstock
Copyright: The Morwellham Museum

With all this in mind, an idea has begun to take shape. An exploration series of mini voyages; piloting Arwen up the many muddy creeks and tidal inlets to find the hidden brickworks, the crumbling farm quaysides, the old arsenic mines and the ancient limekilns. Journeys, pushing through small creeks in fringing reedbeds and up the tiny streams into the old ‘Lakes’.

Arwen’s centreboard is going to bounce on the sandbanks; her rudder may get stuck in the mud. I’m going to miscalculate and find myself ‘high and dry’ until the next tide. I will have to learn to work the spring tides effectively. I’d better sort out the rowing position, because there is going to be a fair amount of that. I may even need to fashion some form of ‘punt pole’.  I need to learn how to tow ‘Angharad’ my tiny ‘Stickleback’ canoe behind Arwen.

But, the glimpses of reed wildlife, the ruins of Victorian industrial archaeology, opportunities for some stunning landscape astrophotography with the milky way behind old chimney stacks; and meeting people who still rely on the river for their economic survival. What great experiences these will be. What a set of mini voyages. All those sailing skills to be learned and mastered.


Arwen, on a recent voyage up the Tamar and the Lynher
Tied up at 'The Treluggan Boatyard' pontoon

Over the next few weeks, I will study the maps, the charts and old photographs, to work out an itinerary of places to visit by boat, canoe and on foot. I’ll share these plans as they unfold. To be sure, it isn’t going to be a one-year project. My initial guess is this will take a couple of sailing seasons at least and my first inclination is to head up river to Calstock and from there right up to Morwellham quay. From there, I will then slowly work down the river in sections.  It may be over ambitious; I may give up part way through because I tire of it and there are, let’s face it, other places to sail and adventures to be had (I’m still working on my ‘grand voyage’ one sailing season – a complete voyage from Penzance back around to Topsham, up the river Exe – stopping off at various places and sailing up some river systems like the Fal and the Fowey).

Time will tell. But right now, this Tamar project has caught my interest and its worth pursuing a little further.


Boats up at Calstock in the 19th C
copyright: Calstock Parish Council 

Some interesting pictures of the old quayside of New Port on the upper Tamar can be found here:

Monday 15 February 2021

Astronomy up the creeks

 I am awaiting my new telescope. A new hobby I'm taking up. It will travel with me when we go motorhoming in Bryony

But, and I know it sounds stupid, but what if it could accompany me upriver....the Arwen

There are some lovely spots with minimal light pollution and some big open skies; some framed with stupendous viaducts; others with mill houses. There are some little marsh creeks, where there is sufficient hard ground or a hidden crumbling quayside where I could stand a tripod mounted scope securely. Certainly plenty of good spots for some landscape astrophotography at the very least.  

Anyway, to this end, here are some posts I've written about my tentative footsteps into the world of astronomy. I will post blogs at a later date about my tentative steps into the world of marine landscape astrophotography when I have got my head around it. For now, most of my reading time is focused on getting to grips with the night sky constellations, lists of deep space objects and working out how to use a computerized GOTO mount system. 

I also rashly signed up to some OU courses on astronomy as well! 

You can find my first blogs about beginning with a telescope here at

In the meantime, aside of reading 'Turn Left at Orion', I have also been reading a fascinating book about the history of the Tamar valley. It's made me think a deeper exploration of my local river system is required. I normally sail straight up the rivers to their headwaters, bypassing lots of interesting places.

So this year when lock down is lifted I intend exploring the marshes, lakes, creeks, tributaries, nooks and crannies of the river Tamar. Along the way I will stop off  and take time to explore the history of this extraordinary place. 

More in future posts but you can access videos of my recent cruises up the Tamar and Lynher here 

Start with this short appetiser 😉😁 Here's to getting back out of lock down and back onto the water. Fair winds everyone. 

Saturday 13 February 2021

A talk by John Welsford

 I have just had the privilege of listening to John do a zoom talk to the Dinghy Cruising Association. It was about boat design and John took us through the steps and considerations he goes through when designing his boats.

It was a extraordinary talk and just showed what a greater thinker and designer he is. From the comments it was clearly very well received. 

I love the navigator design. I just wish I could do justice to the design and sail Arwen better.

 I think the talk was recorded and it will be available at some stage, probably on the DCA website.

If you are interested in boat design or John's designs, this is a talk worth listening to. 

When lock down is lifted, I will get back in Arwen and endeavour to sail her better this year. It's understanding sail trimming that lets me down each time.  The navigator is an excellent boat, if only her skipper could do better 🙄