Paddle the Exeter Canal

Our wildish act today for #30DaysWild no. 2 was to paddle the Exeter Ship Canal, hiring a Canadian style canoe from Kayak Hub at the canal basin.

Exeter is a lovely city, and makes a good day out from Wheatland Farm’s eco lodges, especially if you’re missing urban style coffees and bars etc. You can get there on the bus from Winkleigh or via train from Eggesford, or of course you can drive.

Lots of the greener bits of Exeter are managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust, which also has its headquarters at Cricklepit Mill, near the historic quayside. So if half of your group wants high streets and shops but they other doesn’t, you’ll be well served. We love the quay, which is about 10 minutes walk from the centre of town. You can browse the funky shops under the arches, and on the other side of the river there’s a great vibe around the canal basin, with the Topsham Brewery bar, and the Boatyard Bakery (a firm favourite with us).

Today’s adventure was to hire a canoe from Kayak Hub. It’s a small business and rents out kayaks and canoes from the canal basin. You can book by phone, pay a deposit to secure your slot via a link in a text message, and then just turn up. You get instruction (including top tips about which swans are likely to be ‘pecky’, and where they are on the canal) plus paddles, buoyancy aids and dry bags.

There’s another hire shop too, called saddles and paddles (the saddles reference bikes for hire, and we recommend the Exe Estuary Trail for a full day out). You’ll find this hire shop on the main Exeter quayside.

The Exeter canal is a lovely placid introduction to kayaking. You can’t go far wrong. Paddle gently down to Salmon Pool where you’ll have to duck to go under Blue Bridge, then mosey on down to Double Locks. If you want to go further you’ll have to carry the canoe around the lock gates, but they’re not heavy and it’s all part of the fun.

Further down the river you pass under the road bridge at Countess Weir and go past the University boat sheds (there’s a pontoon there if you need to land). If you keep going, you paddle under the motorway bridge, and end up at the lock keeper’s cottage near Topsham. Again, there’s a place where you can clamber out if you need to stretch your legs. Eventually, the canal takes you all the way to the Turf Pub, where the canal ends with another lock gate before meeting the estuary.

We didn’t get that far though – we turned back at around the University Boathouse because the beer garden at the Double Locks pub was calling to us. Double Locks is a Youngs pub with a huge outdoor seating area, so it’s a solid bet in these covid times. You are strongly encouraged to download the Youngs On Tap app, which has the menu and lets you order from your table, but it is also possible to make yourselves known to the staff on a covid reception desk, who will take an order. Do try to think ahead though – if it’s going to be a beautiful day, especially at the weekend, you might want to book space the evening before.

But on a slightly overcast day in the summer half term holiday we had no trouble, and enjoyed beers, food, and the spectacle of the bar staff attempting a bit of gentle swan wrangling before we paddled back to the canal basin. Three hours canoe hire cost £30 (summer 2021).

Previously on #30DaysWild

This time last year, the damselflies were laying eggs in the pond at Wheatland Farm. Not so this year – after a wet May, things are a bit delayed. But that will give us something to report on later in the month.

#30DaysWild in 2019: We found a water stick insect at the Wheatland Farm wildlife pond

#30DaysWild in 2018: Specked Wood Butterflies around the eco lodges

#30DaysWild in 2017: A Crab Spider Lays in Wait