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Kayaking in Devon

Kayaking and Canoeing

Kayaking and Canoeing are sports for everyone, from children, families to adults.  It doesn't matter what your age is, you ca enjoy a gentle paddle or a rapid exciting descent of a Devon River.  As well as lakes and reservoirs, some rivers are suitable for kayaking and canoeing, and there are many estuaries where you can complete a route using the river, through the estuary and back up another river/canal.  Local kayak/canoeing places include River Dart, River Exe, River Tavy, River Teign, River Torridge as well as many other small rivers where there are access rights. Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) welcomes canoeists to Dartmoor who take part in a responsible manner and continues to actively work with the British Canoe Union, riparian owners and fishing associations to facilitate access arrangements for canoeists.  However DNPA follows the widely accepted and adopted position that there is no legal right to canoe on non tidal waters which is also the view held by the Environment Agency.  

River Dart

The best known sections of the river are:
Upper Dart from Dartmeet to Newbridge (Grade 4, advanced run).
The Loop from New Bridge to Holne Bridge (Grade 2/3, beginner/intermediate run).
Grade 2 for most of the river with few rapids at Grade 3. Main hazards are trees following across the river. Sections have some wonderful names, such as lovers leap, triple falls and spin dryer. A full description is given in the Uk Rivers Guidebook, last amended by Mark Rainsley (BCU Access Officer) in February 2012.  The run is 4 miles and take about an hour.

The Lower from Holne Bridge to Buckfastleigh (Grade 2, beginner section).
At low water levels, Grade 2 for most of the river with a few weirs posing difficulties. However, at high water it is assumed that the weirs will be very dangerous.  The run is 3 miles and take about an hour and half.

The lower reaches of the Dart, including the estuary are suitable for flat water touring.

A posting on Wikipedia suggests that the fluctuating river levels on the River Dart is the source of much folklore on Dartmoor, as the waters have a tendency to rise without notice following heavy rainfall on the moors above, adding to the dangers of its rapids and powerful currents. This gave rise to the couplet:

"River of Dart, Oh River of Dart!
Every year thou claimest a heart."

In the upper parts of the river system near Princetown
Black Brook (Grade 3)

Only possible when river levels are very high. There are fences across the river that need to be avoided, as well as one point where you need to portage. Princetown to West Dart Confluence.  Mark Rainsley, in the UK River Guide notes that it is possible to paddle from Black Brook into the West Dart, making for a great long trip, but be aware that he says when Black Brook is running, the Upper Dart will be massive and scary.

River Exe
The Exe offers lots of sections of reliable white water  of a lower grade compared to more the more westerly drainages. The upper Exe reaches are shallower grade 2 trips through wildlife rich countryside and steep wooded valleys. According to AS Sports, the most popular section through the town of Tiverton to the north of Exeter is still enjoyed by many as a club trip or for introducing paddlers to the joys of white water.  Adventure Okehampton use the lower reaches of the River Exe for several of their courses.

River Tavy
According to AS Sports the Tavy is more attractive to those still learning to handle a kayak in white water. The River Tavy below Hill bridge (the normal get out for the upper section) is an excellent to Grade 2/3 white water and the weirs on the river all have portable routes, should you not feel confident enough to attempt them. From Tavistock downstream the river is usually runnable, even when the upper stretches are too low. Adventure Okehampton use the stretches of the river below Tavistock down to Plymouth on occasion, passing such places as Morewellham Quay, Cotehele and Calstock.

British Canoe Union

The BCU is made up of three regional Canoe Associations, Canoe England/Canoe Wales/Canoe Scotland. They offer a range of certificated courses and Adventure Okehampton are one of the approved delivery centres in South West England.  We offer Paddlesport and Paddlepower awards. The Paddlesport Start Award is designed to provide a framework for a paddlers first session. It is an adult version of Paddlepower start.

The BCU One Star is a flat water award that demonstrates an individual has basic boat control and foundation skills.The one star can be taken in any kind of paddlesport craft (e.g. sit-on-top, slalom C2, polo boat, sea kayak, racing canoe etc.)

The BCU Two Star is an improvement award that helps paddlers develop fundamental paddlesport skills on flat water. The emphasis is on gaining a breadth of experience, creating the desired movement of the boat and developing an understanding into how the paddle, boat and water interact.

There are also recommended BCU trails which we use for some of our training days.

Exeter Canoe Loops (See our Discovery Break Canoe Expedition)
Teign Estuary Canoe Trail

Kayak Fishing
Kayak fishing is fishing from a kayak or from a canoe, which are used as platforms to fish from. These techniques have long been used by man, so it's rather like going back to more ancient fishing techniques, as the kayak/canoe leaves no trace of its passing not even ripples thus is an ideal craft from which to fish due to its quiet approach to fishing grounds etc. Many of the techniques used in kayak fishing are essentially the same as those used on other fishing boats however the handling of a kayak/canoe requires various different skills especially when landing a catch.

BCU membership
Join the BCU, as membership of Canoe England/Canoe Wales/Canoe Scotland, provides with a membership card which also serves as the waterways licence. A lanyard is also provided for ease of display.  To join Canoe England

What does membership give you?
• Licenses to canoe on 4,500km of Britain's waterways
See www.canoe-england.org.uk/membership/waterways-licences/                 
including the River Thames.
• 3rd Party Liability Insurance (up to £10 million)
• Canoe Focus magazine delivered bi-monthly
• Great rates on boat insurance
• 10% discount at selected canoe and kayak retailerrs
• 15% discount on all Cotswold Outdoor products
(with £5 of every £100 spent going back to the Young People's canoeing
• Save £7.45 (over 20%) when subscribing to 12 issues of Canoe & Kayak UK magazine
• 20% discount on Science in Sport products

Safety Advice for paddling Dartmoor rivers (from DNPA web-site)


  • never paddle on your own
  • paddle in small groups, keep together and look out for each other
  • make sure someone knows where you are and what time you are due back
  • ensure someone in your group is available call / meet police if a member of your party is overdue
  • canoe in daylight hours only (aim to be off the water at least 1 hour before dusk)
  • wear a buoyancy aid at all times
  • wear a helmet
  • keep away from weirs and sluices
  • make sure you are properly equipped for the water and weather conditions
  • be aware that rivers on Dartmoor can rise quickly after periods of rainfall
  • cover minor cuts and scratches with waterproof plasters before setting out
  • ensure that any abrasions received on or beside the water are washed under running tap water and covered with a waterproof dressing as soon as possible
  • avoid capsizing and try not to swallow river water
  • wear trainers or wet suit boots to avoid cutting your feet
  • wash hands before eating, drinking or smoking
  • do not drop litter or discard unwanted food – take your rubbish home with you
  • be aware of symptoms relating to waterborne illnesses such as Weil’s Diseases (Leptopsirosis) a bacterial infection carried in rat urine which contaminates water and river banks and leads to meningitis, jaundice and sometimes death.  If you do feel ill, particularly if you experience flu-like symptoms, tell your doctor that you have been canoeing

Local Kit Suppliers

AS Sports: Haven Road, Exeter. Near the Canal. Tel 01392 219600

Monday 10.30 - 5.30
Tuesday - Friday 9.30 - 5.30
Saturday 9.30 - 5.00