Wildlife haven was once bustling heart of ball clay industry

Torbay Weekly

Walkabout Torbay with Keith Perry:

Hard to imagine today but the peaceful, wetland wildlife haven of Hackney Marshes at Kingsteignton was once the bustling heart of South Devon’s ball clay industry.

From the 17th century pack horses carted the clay from the north of Kingsteignton to the clay cellars in the hamlet of Hackney at the top of the Teign estuary, where bargemen or lightermen loaded it into barges bound for the port of Teignmouth.

Life became a little easier for the workforce in 1843 when Lord Clifford ordered the digging of the Hackney Canal which linked Hackney Quay with the clay pit area - but loading the barges with shovel and barrow was still back-breaking work!

Trading along the canal ceased in 1928 and all that remains of Hackney are the ruins of some fishermen’s cottages.

The canal was filled in long ago although the end lock survives as part of the flood defences.

Today, this designated local nature reserve in the heart of relatively built-up area is ideal for quiet recreation such as dog walking and enjoyment of the wildlife which includes a wide variety of bird life as well as mice and vole species and larger animals such as badgers.

The entrance to the marshes is off Greenhill Way in Kingsteignton.

Turn left at the traffic lights before Seymour Horwell and you’ll find a small, free car park almost immediately on your left.

The level paths, the main circuits of which are surfaced, make it an easy walk, ideal for dog walking and suitable for pushchairs and wheelchair users with benches, picnic tables and information boards at regular intervals.

It is possible to explore areas off the main path but dogs should be kept on a lead in long undergrowth.

The pathway takes you through the marshes and on down past the remains of Hackney hamlet to the Passage House Inn, a favourite with the clay workers, bargemen and lightermen back in the day and now a modern hotel complex.

You can return to the car park by turning left under the railway bridge and following the path along the back of Newton Abbot Racecourse. This section is closed on race days.