(Exeter to the Estuary)


WHERE IS IT?: The River Exe runs from northern Exmoor (Somerset) south to Exeter (Devon), flowing through a large estuary to Exmouth.

PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Start anywhere in Exeter, a good spot is Exeter Quay where you can have some retail therapy first at AS Watersports. It's possible to do a round trip and finish here also. Otherwise you could consider finishing at Topsham, just below the M5 bridge, or I can recommend lunch at the below mentioned pub on the Exeter canal.

APPROX LENGTH: It's described here as far as the M5 bridge, about three miles. You have the option of a return trip also, see below.

TIME NEEDED: 1 hour.

ACCESS HASSLES: The entire lower section, from the Flowerpots Weir to the sea, is a public navigation.

WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Probably possible year-round; but the weirs may be dangerous in high water. You need to understand tidal flow to some degree...this trip is best started at high water to use the ebb tide; if this means nothing to you, obviously you need to do some homework first...

GRADING: Generally flat water but with weirs and rapids below weirs forming entertainment.

MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Trees and weirs. Tidal considerations. The estuary is wide, windy and exposed.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From Exeter Quay, the river is very straight and canalised for about 200 metres, with few opportunities to get out...and then it slides over Trews Weir. The best way to inspect this weir safely is to get out on river left well above (cross the river and get out right at the start?) and check it out. The weir is generally straight forward, but don't take my word for it!

Half a mile below is Salmon Pool weir which can be inspected/ portaged on either side, best on river right. In high water the stopper is grabby and this may need portaging. I heard of a BCU Coach assessment where the Course Assessors entered the stopper to demonstrate side surfing to their group...and then ended up being rescued by said group!

Below the weir you are now in tidal water, and if you've timed this right it will be flowing DOWNSTREAM! The next landmark is a stone roadbridge, then look out for the M5 can't miss it, it's the large motorway like object towering high above the river. After passing underneath, the river is becoming pretty wide now and you have the choice of heading river left and finishing at Topsham, heading river right and finding a way to portage across to the Exeter Canal...or carrying on to the sea at Exmouth, but I have no experience of this last section.

See also Steve Balcombe's comments below. If you take the Exeter Canal option, be sure to head right (inland) if you are intending on getting back to Exeter Quay. As noted above, there is a pub (The 'Double Locks') with decent food beside some locks about halfway. I'm aware that the word 'Canal' scares the living daylights out of certain whitewater paddlers, but why not? It's a pleasant and varied trip and you might just enjoy yourself...

OTHER NOTES: Probably a good novice trip (with appropriate safety considerations at the weirs) under supervision. I first did it as part of a BCU Coach assessment, my enjoyment was a bit impaired by having to jump in and out of the water every few minutes...

Steve Balcombe adds... 'There are several round trip options:

  • Below Trew's Weir get out at the stone steps river right and carry across to the canal. This is a very short trip but it's handy sometimes.
  • Below Salmon Pool Weir get out river right and up the steep muddy bank; carry around the left of the football field to the canal. Good length half day trip for youngsters, or you can easily spin it out to a full day as there are many opportunities for play and teaching.
  • I had heard of the longer round trip you describe although I've never done it myself so I can't offer anything on exactly where to portage.
  • Longest round trip is to stay on the right in the estuary and head for the Turf Locks pub - highly recommended. You can't miss it as it stands out clearly in the otherwise flat estuary. The canal exits into the estuary here so the way back is kind of obvious, and of course there's no portage. However this is a much longer trip, about 12 miles.'

CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.