GUIDE TO THE RIVER EXE
(Bickleigh to Exeter)
NAME OF RIVER: Exe.
WHERE IS IT?: The River Exe runs from northern Exmoor (Devon) south to Exeter, flowing through a large estuary to Exmouth.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Start at Bickleigh Bridge (GR 937075) where there is a decent pub where you can ask permission to park. Another alternative is to paddle the section above. A good shorter trip with lots of 'playing', is to park at the Stoke Woods carpark just outside Exeter on the A 396 Tiverton Road (where Four Pynes Weir can just be seen) and carry your boats up the road and along a track to put in just upstream of the Railway Bridge there. Obviously, cross this farmland discreetly. Take out is possible in numerous places, but this section is described as far as Exeter Quay in the centre of Exeter; park near AS Watersports (and buy something, to keep the economy healthy).
APPROX LENGTH: 13 miles.
TIME NEEDED: Three hours at least.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: This is perhaps not a high water trip unless you are very experienced...some of the weirs become truly lethal. However, it can be paddled at all levels from very low upwards. Park at 'The Mill on the Exe' in Exeter (half a mile upstream of the takeout) beside Flowerpots Weir and take a look. If the weir is showing some dry patches on the weir face, the Exe is very low but it can probably be paddled. If the chute nearest to you (river left) is forming a stopper at the bottom, then you have a reasonable medium level. If this same chute has no stopper at the bottom, and is washed out into a wave, then the Exe is high and you need to consider your experience and your group's ability...
GRADING: Generally flat water but with large weirs and rapids below weirs forming entertainment.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Trees and weirs which may require prior inspection. Low bridge.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Put on upstream of Bickleigh Bridge.
The weir below Bickleigh bridge is generally a fun slide, but obviously in high water the stopper may not be 'fun' at all. This is obviously true for ALL the following weirs, I am describing them for low and medium water levels.
Four miles below is Thorverton Weir, a big diagonal sloping affair which you'll need to inspect. I once spent several minutes side-surfing the stopper here in a WW Racer during the Exe Descent, whilst the rescue crew sat on the bank and appeared to be falling about laughing. Downstream of the bridge here is a 'mini-weir' drop as well.
Four long windy and winding flat miles below this, hidden around a righthand bend is a railway bridge which is a hazard in high water as it's rather low. I've limboed under this during the Exe Descent and had the pleasure of my bouyancy aid snagging on the underside of the bridge...in these conditions the only safe thing to do is to get out on river left and portage, exercising caution in crossing the railway.
A hundred metres below the bridge is Four Pynes Weir, a huge sloping face for you to inspect. It makes the mother of all stoppers when the Exe is high. Exe Descent carnage again...I slid down the weir beside six marathon K2s, everything went white and when I surfaced, only I was left with an intact boat! In medium or low water however, it's a great playspot for learning whitewater moves. In low water, the diagonal 'rib' across the weir makes a great powerful 'chute' to slide down or play in at the bottom. In medium levels, this 'chute' takes you into a formidable closed in stopper, and is best avoided. But there is still a good play stopper on river left, seen in the photo.
A mile below, the river splits into two channels...
If you head RIGHT, the river meanders for a mile or so before rejoining the main channel, with a comparatively safe looking sloping weir to negotiate about half way. Note that I have not personally been this way.
If you head LEFT, directly below is Cowley Steps, which you should really have inspected beforehand from Cowley road-bridge downstream. You can just get out and inspect/ portage on river left using an old tunnel, but this may not be an option if the water level is high. The weir consists of three channels, with the main centre channel flowing over a series of steps each with it's own individual stopper. The three channels then reconverge and there are two more steps (ie. river-wide stoppers) which will certainly require you to move out of first gear. The steps are dangerous, but are quite playable in low to medium water levels IF YOU HAVE THE EXPERIENCE. If you don't, portage or consider the other river channel.
Downstream of Cowley Bridge, the two channels reconverge and the river enters Exeter, passing some huge flood defence works en route. Two miles below, you reach Flowerpots Weir, a two step affair. I think the first step is known as Head Weir. It is another slope, inspectable on river right (inspect both weirs at once). The river right route usually supplies a good surf wave. In very high water the whole thing can become a surf wave! The second Weir, much bigger, is just below. This is the weir described above in the 'WATER LEVEL INDICATORS' section. It certainly needs inspecting. Heading river right looks pretty lethal in medium or high levels, judge for yourself. I understand that fatalities have occurred here. river left, beside the 'Mill on the Exe', is the safer option. At the bottom of this chute is a nice play stopper in medium levels (cartwheelable by some), and a haystack wave in higher levels. Expect to see people playing here in silly shaped boats if the stopper is working!
All that remains now is to paddle through Exeter under the main road bridges until you reach Exeter Quay, getting out on river right. If you're feeling energetic, you might want to carry on downstream...
OTHER NOTES: This is a great trip for beginners (with appropriate guidance) and offers white water throughout the winter, seemingly even when the entire of Dartmoor is bone dry or frozen up.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.