Avon Estuary Heritage

Avon estuary, Bigbury, Bigbury-on-Sea, Aveton Gifford, St Anne's Chapel

From : South Devon AONB

Our five estuaries form one of the most special features of the South Devon AONB. They each have a rich and distinctive history of their own. In June 2010 the AONB unit held an open evening for people interested in estuary heritage. Here are some of the memories and thoughts shared about the Avon Estuary.

Bigbury church is often mentioned as an important navigation point - where you line up points and know where you are at sea

Fishing always features very importantly in Bigbury history but the number of fishermen recorded is actually very small. Others would have joined in at seasonal peaks.

Cockles, salmon and grain

Cockles were very important at New Quay up the river where there is a lime kiln. The cockle man would take his cart onto the mud shovel them in, clean them and take them for sale in Plymouth. We still have the oyster farm, which is doing well.

The Avon had a big salmon fishery too, and was used for bait digging.

Grain boats used to come up the estuary and unload at the Duke of Cleveland’s Bigbury Mill. They would skiff up the river using poles on the tide. The stones of the mill are still there.


The first wheels were only used in Bigbury in the 19th century. It still takes so long to get to Plymouth by bus even today.

Aveton Gifford is the first road crossing on the Avon.

Some people have no concept of tides. We have had people say “We came here to Bigbury at Easter last year and there was a huge beach. Why isn’t it like that this year?”

Bigbury History Society

Bigbury History Society hold some of the River Avon historic records from 1750 in their archive. They have a range of practical documents which might interest researchers, for example a handwritten 1900’s salmon fishing ledger. One of their members wrote a publication on the salmon trap at Aveton Gifford.


Thanks to Ann Lidstone, Geoff Foal, Roger Grimley and Barbara Grimley for their thoughts and memories.

Do you have something to share about the heritage of the Avon estuary? We’d love to hear from you.

At the same meeting we discussed the other local estuaries. Use these links to read more: Yealm, ErmeDart, Salcombe-Kingsbridge


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Avon Estuary Heritage

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