29 April 2013

River Torridge - Research Notes (2)

Research Notes for Ripples In the Sand
The River Torridge - Devon

I've written the scene where Jesamiah has to get across from one side of the river Torridge estuary, in Devon, to the other (will await my editor's red pen with fingers crossed). 
( addendum 2018 - all written and published! )

The River Torridge at Northam (below Knapp House)
 looking across to the Instow side

Jesamiah is at Northam (next door to Appledore) he is trying to speak to Squire John Benson about selling his cargo of tobacco, but Sir John isn't at home, he is at his daughter's - across the river at Instow.
What I've been trying to find out is how wide is the river channel at low tide - 5 yards, 10 yards, 50 yards? 
Could Jesamiah just walk across, or would he need to use a boat? 
I've seen the river at low tide, but I can't bloomin' remember how wide it was (and anyway I'm hopeless with distances) 
I also have to take into account that the river Torridge was very different back in 1719. Bideford (upriver by about 3 miles) was a busy port (the third largest tobacco port in England) There was also a thriving lime and pottery industry as well as fishing. The river was nowhere near as silted up as it is now, with, presumably quite a deep channel, even at low tide, back then. At low tide boats would not hgave been able to sail upriver - but could smaller vessels be warped (towed) up I wonder?

You can see the river channel clearer here
(behind the larger boats)
I tweeted asking if anyone from the Bideford, Appledore, Instow or Nth Devon Area could help. 
Thank you to those who responded.
One lady (Amanda) said she had walked across, but I've now managed to get hold of my Editor (who lives at Instow) she says:

"I’ve never tried to get across, my guess would be 2m wide at the narrowest point – but in the 18th Cent. the rivers were not as silted up as they are now. There is also the hazard of soft, sinking sand/mud and some who have tried to get across from time to time have got stuck and had to be rescued. Even the amphibious vehicle they used to ferry tourists across a couple of years ago (one of those things like the army has, with wheels but it floats) sank in the mud and was stranded until high tide when it had to be winched out! It stopped running thereafter – went out of business!
However, having said all that, I am fairly sure Jesamiah would be able to wade across the channel at very low tide, maybe up to his knees, and that it might be easier than lugging a boat across the mud to the channel, but he would certainly  get wet and sink in the soft mud on the Instow side!
 It is deceptive; at low tide: it looks as if you could get across in one leap, but I don’t think you can or far more people would. You might find the following link useful. "

The Taw-Torridge Estuaries: 
Geomorphology and Management  Report 

(anyone interested in Geomorpholgy or the way rivers/esturies etc change will find the above interesting. I've had a quick read - totally bewildered by all the technical jargon, but interesting!

I agree with my editor that it wouldn't be worth lugging a boat out across the mud to get across (especially this particular boat!)

but I'm certain they would have had a ferry on permanent use by a waterman (as did most rivers) Otherwise its about 3 miles upstream to get to the first bridge (at Bideford) then three miles back again on the Instow side. I can't see a fishing/sailing community not using a ferry!

I'm also fairly certain they laid boards across the mud from the shore to the water channel where the ferry waited, moving the boards and the boat as the tide rose and fell.

Looking across to Instow
 The large white building (top left) would not
have been there in Jesamiah's day.
Appledore is literally just round the corner.

So now I'll get back to work. Jesamiah has still got that tobacco to sell....

There are some more photos of the real places used in the Sea Witch Voyages here...

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