River Exe – November 2021

Finally – our first whitewater trip since Feb 2020!  Originally intending to paddle the River Barle, our usual autumn trip, the long dry spell meant the Barle would be too much of a scrape.  So we headed instead to the River Exe.  ‘Storm Arwen’ caught up with us on Friday night, so we knew there was a chance of new trees down, and the temperatures were just above freezing – all in all, a challenging weekend weather wise! 

Saturday 27 Nov:

Paddling crew:  Fi, Mark, Stephen, Rob, Gavin, Clare, Naomi (first whitewater trip!) and Alex (welcome to the club!)

Paddled:  River Exe, Bolham to Tiverton (5k)

Get-on:  Lay-by, river left, about 100 yards above Bolham Weir

Get-out:  River right, just after 2nd Tiverton weir, by a ramp, park in housing estate across the road

A quick warm-up, then straight into Bolham Weir, which is in two stages – the main weir face (which we portaged due to the river wide stopper, as advised by English Whitewater guidebook), then a ferry glide across the river to run the second section, which is more of a fun rapid.  Some good playing & practising opportunities here.  This was the spot of Naomi’s only swim of the trip (very impressive for your first WW experience), and only because she was encouraged to try a challenging break-in (I think a blatant attempt to win a rescue beer!)

After half a mile of small rapids, we came to the bridge by Worth House, and due to some very helpful intel from the River Barle/Exe Discussion Forum, we avoided the 2nd from right arch which was blocked by a (pre-existing) tree.  A little surfing and ferry gliding practice below the bridge.

The next feature was Salmon Ponds Weir – with a choice of the salmon steps river left, or the long shallow sloping (safe but scrapey) weir face.  The steps looked a bit ‘grabby’, so we opted for the weir face … though the faces of some of the paddlers on the way down suggested they weren’t that happy with the choice!

Some lovely scenery, lots of little rapids, the odd playwave … then onto Tiverton town weir.  We took the main ‘channel’ on the left, breaking out on the right half way down (thus avoiding the magnetic pull towards the wall on the left!)  Closely followed by ‘Tiverton weir 2’, which is more of a rapid/drop, offering a last opportunity for some surfing, before egressing river right, and heading for some warm clothes!

Back to the Lion Hotel in Dulverton for a debrief over some hot chocolate and beers – the hotel was a great find, with roaring log fires, good value for money, and a touch of ‘quirkyness’!  

Sunday 28 Nov:

Paddling:  Fi, Stephen, Rob, Clare, Naomi, and Alex.  Missing Mark (doesn’t like being cold, but excellent shuttle bunny) and Gavin (not feeling great L)

Paddled:  River Exe, Bolham to Bickleigh (9k) 

Get-on:  Lay-by, river left, about 100 yards above Bolham Weir

Get-out:  River left, small shingle beach just below Bickleigh Bridge, park in Bickleigh Mill overflow carpark

From Bolham down to Tiverton, much the same as yesterday, with two exceptions.  First, we spent less time playing, as we had a longer stretch to cover (9k instead of 5k), and wanted to allow time to navigate any new trees in the river.  And second, we decided to be brave and run the steps at Salmon Ponds weir!  Actually, we got out to inspect, and saw another large group run it, beginners and all, so we weren’t really being brave!  All successfully down J

Beyond Tiverton, there was a couple of miles of gentle grade 1/2 in pretty scenery, and even some sunshine!  Then Broken Weir (the name says it all), with some metal spikes sticking up, so we carefully selected a clear chute down.  Immediately followed by a river-wide tree (again, had prior knowledge from the Discussion Forum).  We did some eddy hopping to get better sighting.  It was submerged enough that we could safely paddle over, a bit like a speed bump.

Another half mile, then our last hurrah at Bickleigh Bridge weir, again avoiding a known tree currently blocking 2nd from left arch.  Great final chance to surf some waves, with space for all, and Naomi getting braver by the second.

Given the unpromising weather and lack of water, it turned out to be a great weekend – thanks everyone for all the shuttling, picking up boats and people, and making it a fun and safe trip!  Looking forward to the next one! J