River Otter

River Otter

Infobox River
river_name = River Otter

image_size =
caption = The tidal estuary of the Otter. The river flows left to right, in front of the distinctive hill. The marsh (foreground) is separated from the sea by a steep pebble bar (right).
origin = Blackdown Hills, Somerset, England
mouth =
length = 32 km
elevation = 278 metres
mouth_elevation =
discharge =
watershed =

The River Otter rises in the Blackdown Hills just inside the county of Somerset, near Otterford, then flows south for some 32 km through East Devon to the English Channel at the western end of Lyme Bay. The Permian and Triassic sandstone aquifer in the Otter Valley is one of Devon's largest groundwater sources, supplying drinking water to 200,000 people.

The river's source is north of Otterford, where a stream feeds the Otterhead lakes: gbmappingsmall|ST225152

The river flows through a predominantly rural area, with small cattle, sheep and dairy farms. The largest town in the Otter Valley is Honiton. Tourism and leisure play important roles in the economy; hundreds of private cottages and farms offer B&B and rented holiday accommodation.

The river passes through or by Upottery, Rawridge, Monkton, Honiton (then below the A30 trunk road), Alfington, Ottery St Mary, Tipton St John, Newton Poppleford, Otterton and reaches the coast to the east of Budleigh Salterton, after flowing through the 57-acre Otter Estuary Nature Reserve - a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - consisting of tidal mudflats and saltmarsh. There is no public access to the estuary itself but footpaths lead alongside with two viewing platforms on the west and a hide on the east. The wintering population of wildfowl and waders includes redshank, greenshank, dunlin, common sandpiper, ringed plover, grey plover, curlew, snipe, water rail, wigeon, teal, shelduck, brent goose, red-breasted merganser and little grebe. Reed warbler, reed bunting and sedge warbler breed on the reserve.

The point at which the river reaches the coast (gbmappingsmall|SY073820) is part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site.

A small tributary is the River Tale, with the confluence NW of Ottery St Mary. This small town (associated with Coleridge, Sir Walter Raleigh, and an annual tar barrel rolling event) is the site of an unusual circular weir, known as the Tumbling Weir.

At one time there were as many as fifty watermill powered by the River Otter. One remaining working mill, thought to date from the 17th century, is [http://www.traceymill.co.uk Tracey Mill] near Honiton. In the 1970s, fish ponds were dug around the mill, fed by the leat; over a million gallons of fresh water flow though these ponds every day, helping the commercial production of trout 'without the need for antibiotics or added oxygen'.

One mill, at Dotton, is known to have operated from around 1100 to 1960, after which the building was demolished. The site was excavated by Channel 4's Time Team, the programme "The Domesday Mill" being broadcast in 2007. This mill is mentioned in the Domesday Book. A weir diverted water to the mill's leat, supplying the vertical breast-shot wheel. Dotton (now liitle more than one farm) is 4.5 miles from the mouth of the Otter, and about one mile north of the village of Colaton Raleigh.

At the picturesque village of Otterton (once a seaport on a larger Otter Estuary) there is a working [http://www.eastdevon.net/map/otterton watermill] in this case over 1,000 years old; it was one of the three largest mills in Devon as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. It is powered by water diverted through a leat. Immediately north of the leat, a fish pass (aka ladder/staircase) has been constructed beside a river-wide weir, restoring migratory fish runs to the river after a break of over 100 years.


The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), who was born in Ottery St Mary, wrote this poem entitled "Sonnet to the River Otter.":Dear native brook! wild streamlet to the West!::How many various-fated years have past,::What happy, and what mournful hours since last:I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,:Numbering its light leaps! yet so deep imprest:Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes::I never shut amid the sunny ray,:But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,::Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,:And bedded sand that, veined with various dyes,:Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way,::Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled: Lone manhood's cares, yet waking fondest sighs::Ah! that once more I were a careless child!

External links

* [http://www.ova.org.uk Otter Valley Association]
* [http://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/index.php?section=places:reserves&reserveid=27 Otter Estuary Nature Reserve]
* [http://www.otterytourism.org.uk Ottery St Mary Tourist Information Centre]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/discovering/rivers/otter.shtml BBC - Devon's rivers: The Otter]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/outdoors/walks/river_otter.shtml BBC - Devon - Walks: The River Otter and Heritage Coast]
* [http://genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/Otterton GENUKI: Otterton]
* [http://www.fairlynchmuseum.org.uk/index.html Fairlynch Museum (see 'Collections')]

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