How to make the most of a day out on Devon's rivers
PUBLISHED: 10:42 13 August 2019
Messing about on the river is the perfect way to spend a lazy summer's day. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more about life on our wonderful waterways
Paddling through beautifully still, inky black water as the sun slowly sets is one of the best ways to see the River Dart, according to seasoned canoeist Nick Taylor.
He's been running trips along this picturesque stretch of water for more than 10 years and never tires of seeing people becoming at one with the river.
"Everyone's voices drop to a different level and they take in the ambience," says Nick, describing one of his popular evening trips, which includes wildlife watching and storytelling around an open fire.
"You see people taking in the natural surroundings, listening to the birdsong and watching the bat life."
Devon's major rivers - including the Dart, Otter, Exe, Taw, Teign and Torridge - are incredible places to explore.
Described as 'arteries of life' our well-maintained waterways have shaped the local landscape and heritage, providing routes for the quarrying, textile and agricultural industries.
They are also home to a wide variety of wildlife, with many key stretches declared sites of special scientific interest (SSSI).
Nick, based in Ashburton, says being out on the river has an almost restorative quality: "I've been canoeing for more than 20 years and if ever I've had stress in my life or got a lot going on, I get out in my canoe on the river and it all just goes away for a bit. It's so beautiful out on the water."
Downstream, Susie Robinson and her family own an idyllic holiday cottage, right on the River Dart in Dittisham.
Susie agrees that river life has so much to offer. "It gives kids back a 'traditional' childhood - rowing and sailing, crabbing, skimming stones and pottering about in the mud. It is so terrific to watch," she says, adding that the house is often 'marooned' at high tide, so there is nothing to do except enjoy the peace and tranquillity.
"There is always some activity or other to watch," she says.
"The pleasure boats coming and going, especially the beautiful paddle steamer, yachties catching (or failing to catch!) their buoy to moor and the birdlife going about their daily business. You can sit for hours and just watch it all going by."
In North Devon, Paul Carter is out on the River Taw and River Torridge day and night, making sure these special landscapes are well looked after.
As Environment Agency fisheries enforcement officer, Paul's job is to implement angling rules and regulations but he also spends his days monitoring the local salmon population, water quality and generally keeping an eye on his extensive patch. Not that he minds too much.
"I'll be stood on the estuary, talking to somebody about the river and think: this is my office," he says. "Being able to work in this environment, well, it's such a lovely place. I think the fact I've been doing it for 33 years is quite telling! I like the idea that I'm actually helping to protect the river."
Paul says we can all do our bit to help by calling the 24-hour Environment Agency hotline (0800 807060) if you spot any signs of pollution or poaching. People can also help to gather information about local river wildlife.
"We need people to be our eyes and ears," says Paul. "The more of us that get involved, the more chance we have of keeping our rivers pristine."
WILDLIFE TO LOOK OUT FOR
Steve Hussey from the Devon Wildlife Trust says summer is a great time of year to spot kingfishers. "You've got a really good chance of seeing the adults feeding the young ones," he says, adding that birdwatchers should also look out for the males feeding the females, part of the courtship ritual.
Little egrets and dippers are also regular sights on our riverbanks. Also, keep an eye out for a thriving beaver population on the River Otter (where there are also otters). There should be some youngsters - called kits - around at this time of year.
Over on the Exe, Ian Stuart, one of the skippers at Stuart Line Cruises, says he loves a duck.
"My favourites are the Shelducks," he says. "It's great when you see them out with their babies and the little ones are learning to swim."
The Teign is noted for its salmon, brown trout and sea trout. Drewe's Weir is a good place to spot them leaping out of the water.
Taking a river cruise or boat trip is the perfect way to see the sights and find out more about these unique environments.
Stuart Line Cruises offers a gentle meander along the River Exe, past Powderham Castle and up to the estuary at Exmouth.
Dartmouth River Cruise: This circular boat trip takes in Bayards Cove, Kingswear and Dartmouth Castles, Britannia Royal Naval College and Dame Agatha Christie's estate.
You can charter a 31-foot skippered yacht with Appledore Sails and explore the Torridge Taw Estuary.
Devon Kayaks has bases in Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth. The firm offers a range of guided tours and lessons to help people enjoy the River Otter and Exe.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
River Exe Café is a popular floating restaurant, offering stunning views of the estuary while you eat.
Fremington Quay Café overlooks the River Taw and The Tarka Trail. The family run business offers wholesome food, much of which is made on the premises or supplied by local bakers, butchers and growers.
The Maltsters Arms in Tuckenhay is situated in Bow Creek on the River Dart. Enjoy great pub food with a top view.
The Fisherman's Cot in Bickleigh, near Tiverton, sits pretty on the banks of the River Exe. Pub classics, as well as Korean barbecue and fish dishes are on the menu.