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Laira heritage trail

There is a wealth of interesting history associated to the area surrounding Blagdon's Meadow and the River Plym. The Laira is part of the Plym Estuary. It extends north from Laira Bridge to the A38 dual carriageway at Marsh Mills.

A series of 13 bronze plaques have been installed along a section of the Laira shore to provide a heritage trail. There are three trail plaques to be found either side of Laira Bridge. The main series runs along the Embankment, from the new road at Embankment Lane (city end) and along Embankment Road (A374), past Blagdon's Meadow, to the railway under bridge at Laira Green.

The plaques

The trail route starts on the eastern side of Laira Bridge and finishes about a kilometre north of the entrance to Blagdon's Meadow. We've labelled the map and plaques here to help you plan your route and discover all the plaque on your way. Of course, there's no right or wrong way to explore the Laira Trail - just look out for the plaques when you are walking or cycling by.

Each A4 sized plaque gives a short description of its location - marking the historic connection, describing a landscape feature or explaining a surviving structure. The idea is, simply, to help people better understand the local landscape - and to highlight a little bit of local history on the way. For children, make sure to bring some paper, wax crayons or chalks. Each Laira trail plaque includes a simple picture suitable for 'brass rubbing'.

Historical summary

Over the last 200 years the shores of the Laira have changed dramatically. With the building of The Embankment and The Ride, at Chelson, the large tidal creeks at Tothill Bay, Lipson Lake and Chelson Creek were gradually reclaimed. Several small riverside quays disappeared and the historic fords across the river fell into disuse. Point Quay, the site of the Rowing Club, survives, and there are the remains of another quay near the beach at Saltram Point.  

In the 1640s, during the Civil War and the Siege of Plymouth, Parliamentarian positions at Lipson and Laira were attacked by Royalist forces. The enemy had crossed Lipson Creek at low tide. On retreat, the tide had come and the soldiers were trapped.

In the early 1800s, the Embankment provided a new level toll-road to Plymouth from Ivybridge, Plympton and Crabtree - avoiding Lipson Hill. The rails of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway and Brunel's South Devon Railway followed, serving Coxside and Laira Wharf. Later, both the London and South Western Railway and the Great Western Railway had branch lines crossing Embankment Road and heading east, across the River Plym, via Plymstock to Turnchapel and Yealmpton respectively.

The original Embankment shoreline is still marked by a post and rail fence for most of its length. The main road runs along the top. Blagdon's Meadow was reclaimed and created much later – it was originally called the Embankment Public Open Space.

On the opposite shore, Lord Morley of Saltram built The Ride and provided the first road bridges across the River at Laira - both were toll bridges. The Laira Flying Bridge was a hand winched chain ferry - a forerunner of the floating bridges that still operate between Devonport and Torpoint. The elegant cast iron spans of the original Laira Bridge, completed in 1827, were designed by the Devon born, Plymouth based, civil engineer James Meadows Rendel. The eastern abutment to the 'Old Iron Bridge'’ still stands. The rail bridge, with its functional lattice steel work, was completed in 1887. The new road bridge was opened to traffic in 1962.

The Laira heritage trail was completed in association with the landscaping and wildlife habitat improvements that were carried out at Blagdon’s Meadow between 2003 and 2007. This work was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Plymouth Single Regeneration Partnership.