This tale goes back to the long forgotten times when giants and other fantastic creatures lived on Dartmoor. Amongst them was a water nymph called Tamara who dwelt with her parents in a subterranean home on the border of the moors. She was beautiful, kind, very headstrong and detested living in the dark, damp, cold caverns that her parents called home. Tamara loved to be out in the sunshine and would often roam the rocky tors and verdant valleys of the moor. This concerned her parents but no matter what they said they could not persuade her of the many dangers that lurked in the land of giants. Whenever she got the chance she would sneak up through the underground passages and skip and dance unseen amongst the heathers and streams. However, on one hot balmy day whilst she was picking flowers, two giants happened to spot her. They were called Tavy and Torridge, as soon as the two giants saw her beauty they immediately fell in love with Tamara.
For many years Tavy and Torridge had been best friends but now they were becoming rivals for the love of Tamara. Every day the giants would try to make excuses in order to get a chance to meet the young nymph alone. Tavy would say he had urgent business and needed to go south. Torridge would say he had lost some sheep to the north and had to go in search of them. Accordingly as soon as the sun rose they would each go their differing ways in search of Tamara. She was no fool and soon became aware that the two giants were looking for her and would mischievously lead them on a game of ‘hide and seek’. At the very moment either Tavy or Torridge thought they had cornered her she would simply vanish only to re-appear near the other giant. This game went on for months but still the two suitors stolidly pursued Tamara from one end of the moor to the other.
One day the little nymph was sat on the edge of a mire watching some sundews catching flies. She was so engrossed with the little plants that she never noticed Tavy creeping up behind her and Torridge sneaking towards her. By the time she spotted them there was no escape apart from going through the impenetrable bog which clearly she was not going to do. Both the giants assured Tamara that they meant her no harm and then proceeded to declare their undying love. Tavy was saying how he could give her everything she ever wished for and Torridge was pleading that he could make her the queen of Devon. For hours they pleaded, begged, implored, cajoled and sweet talked the girl into choosing one of them. But Tamara couldn’t decide for both had equally tempting proposals.
Whilst all this was going on her father had become concerned that she was late returning home and went in search of her. The booming voices of the giants soon led him to where he saw his daughter being brow beaten by Tavy and Torridge. This angered him greatly and so he cast a spell that sent the giants into a deep sleep. As soon as their ear shattering snores were rasping out across moor he went down to the bog to rescue his daughter. Tamara was furious, how dare he interfere with her life and sneak about eavesdropping on her conversations. She ranted and raved, stamped and stomped until finally Tamara came to the conclusion that there was no way she was going back to live in a dark, damp smelly old cave. The little nymph said how from now on she was going to live up on the ‘above world’ where she could be happy and free. This was the last straw and so in a fit of anger her father cast a spell that turned Tamara into a stream. “Now you can spend all your days flowing across the ‘above world’,” he yelled. In an instance the little nymph vanished and from where she stood sprang a cool, clear stream. The stream gurgled and giggled south across the Devon hillsides and down through the deep valleys until it eventually flowed out into Plymouth Sound. This mighty river became known as the Tamar and soon marked the dividing line between the peoples of Devon and Cornwall.
Old postcard showing Tavy Cleeve.
Meanwhile, Tavy eventually awoke from his enforced sleep and discovered that Tamara had vanished. Leaving Torridge snoring and grunting he went in search of some paternal advice. He related the sad story to his father who after some consideration realised that his son would never be happy until he had found Tamara and so turned him into a river. No sooner had the spell been cast than Tavy disappeared and a fast flowing stream sprang from where the young giant had stood. It gurgled southwards across the peat and gashed its way down across the moor, cutting a deep cleave as it went. In its desperate search for Tamara, the Tavy flooded off the moorlands and gashed a deep gorge at Lydford it then raced on towards Tavistock. From here the river twisted and turned until it eventually found the Tamar and joined it at Plymouth Sound. From that day on Tavy and Tamara were united forever as the confluence of the rivers Tavy and Tamar.
Eventually poor old Torridge awoke to find that both Tavy and Torridge had vanished. In desperation he searched high moor and low land for both his friend and his sweetheart, sadly to no avail. Finally he too sought the advice of his father who related the whole story to him. Torridge pleaded and begged for his father to turn him into a river so he too could go in search of Tamara and Tavy. A spell was cast and Torridge was transformed into a river that gushed off frantically to find his friends. Sadly, poor Torridge was not too good at directions and instead of flowing south where Tamar and Tavy had gone he went Northwards and ended up flowing into the sea near Bideford, never to see either Tamara or Tavy again.