There are many historical features to enjoy around the Exe Estuary, below are just a few examples

A PDF copy of the Exe Heritage leaflet produced by Exe Estuary Management Partnership is available here

See "Timeline Of A Changing Coast". A poster produced by LiCCo showing the development of the Exe from the Permian Period 280 million years ago to the present day and predictions of the future.yytCCCLiposter produced by LiCCTim 


The following link leads to a 1951 short film called Seascape. This film was made by husband and wife team Betty and Cyril Ramsden of Leeds  and shows their holiday on the Exe Estuary. Exe Estuary Forum Vice Chair and Local Resident, Lynn Trout, recalls some of the people featured in the film, saying that "The 2 gentlemen on Topsham Quay were John Turnham (Owner of the boat) and his brother in law, Nick Clark.  John had Dan completely rebuilt the boat out there on the end of the Quay, even when it snowed!   Then John and his wife Kath lived on the boat for some years alongside Topsham quay"

Watch Seascape 1951



Click The 2 gentlemen on Topsham Quay were John Turnham (Owner of the boat) and his brother in law, Nick Clark.  John had Dan completely rebuild the boat out there on the end of the Quay, even when it snowed!   Then John and his wife Kath lived on the boat for some years alongside Topsha

Powderham Castle

Built in 1391 by Sir Philip Courtenay it has remained in the same family to this day, currently home to the 18th Earl of Devon. Having survived a great deal of damage during the Civil War, the Castle was restored and altered in later centuries. These days, visitors can marvel at the breathtaking medieval grand staircase and the stunning eighteenth century music room. The original Victorian Kitchen has recently been opened to the public, so visitors can now have a glimpse of life below stairs in the Earl's household and appreciate how the 19th century kitchen would have been run.

Regular guided tours offer a fascinating walk through the Castle's majestic rooms, where you can admire the most amazing architecture, hear some remarkable stories and learn about the family history. Their experienced guides are able to adapt the tour according to their audience to ensure our visitors enjoy an informative yet entertaining tour.

Visit: to find out more

The Brunel Pumphouse

The Brunel Tower at Starcross is the best surviving remnant of Isambard Brunel's famous Atmospheric railway, which was quickly abandoned after its completion in 1845.  Today the Italianate pump house is home to the Starcross Fishing and Cruising Club, however Brunel's endeavour is still commemorated by the Atmospheric Railway Inn, located opposite to the pumphouse.

Below is a leaflet of the pumphouse from when it was a museum, it shows the inner workings of the building and provides information on its history.

Brunel Pumphouse 1

Brunel Pumphouse 2


Exeter Canal and Locks

At the start of Exeter's history, the River Exe was tidal and navigable up to the city walls enabling it to be a busy port. In the 1270s or 80s, the Countess of Devon, Isabella de Fortibus, built a weir across the river to power her mills (this weir is remembered in the name of the nearby suburb Countess Wear).  This had the effect of cutting off Exeter's port from the sea and damaging its salmon fisheries. In 1290, trade with Exeter's port was restored, only to be blocked by a new weir built in 1317 by Hugh de Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon (Isabella's cousin), who also built a quay at Topsham.  Because of the blockages on the river, boats were forced to unload at Topsham and the earls were able to exact large tolls to transport goods to Exeter.  For the next 250 years the city petitioned the King to have the waterway reopened, to no avail, until 1550 when Edward VI finally granted permission. However it was by then too late because the river channel had silted up.

In 1563, Exeter traders employed John Trew of Glamorgan to build a canal to bypass the weirs and rejoin the River Exe in the centre of the city where a quay would be built. Work began in February 1564, and was completed in 1567.  The canal had three locks with vertical gates – the first pound locks to be built in Britain. They accommodated boats up to 16 tonnes.  The original cut was 3 feet (0.91 m) deep and 16 feet (4.9 m) wide (0.9 m by 5 m). It ran one and three quarter miles (2.8 km) from just below the Countess Weir to the centre of Exeter. This navigation was not very effective; it could not be entered at all states of the tide, and the double transfer of cargo over such a short distance made it uncompetitive with road transport.  The weir that maintains the water level in the quay is still named "Trew's Weir" after the canal's builder.

In 1677 the canal was extended and the entrance was moved downstream to Topsham. In 1701 the canal was deepened and widened to allow the passage of ocean-going ships. At the same time the number of locks on the canal was reduced to one. Floodgates were also fitted to the canal entrance. These improvements lead to the canal being highly successful until demand for access declined with the end of the wool trade in the early nineteenth century and later with the rise of the railways.

There were many notable failures to connect Exeter and the South West to the national canal and rail networks: The Grand Western Canal linking Exeter to Bristol (1796) was never completed; The Bristol & Exeter Railway link to the canal basin was postponed in 1832 and 1844; The South Devon Railway ran services to the canal from 1867, but by this time the canal was too small to attract the sizeable ocean-going vessels and the canal was taken over by its creditors for sixteen years. Use of the canal has declined gradually ever since.

The last commercial use of the canal was in 1972 when the Esso Jersey left the canal basin, carrying oil to its terminal, although the government-owned water board ran a sludge tanker, the Countess Weir, until 1997 by which time it was privately owned.

The fall of commercial traffic in the 1960s coincided with the rise of leisure use of the canal. After some recent difficulties the future of the canal looks good with the city basin being included in part of a £24 million redevelopment. The quay area has been subject to redevelopment over recent years and is continuing to be converted to wider recreational use. The canal basin itself is popular for a range of water sports.

Taken from:

Also see: Exeter City Council's leaflet on the history of the canal - Available here


 World War Two Features

These have received particular attention in the last decade or so due to commerations of the events that caused their construction and growing awareness of their significance. They are increasingly rare and neglected reminders of one of the most important periods in recent British history. In the Exe Estuary there are two groups of sites that hold particular interest.

GCI Radar TowerFirstly, in Exminster Marshes there are the surviving builidings of a GCI Radar Station, which were crucial to the air-defences of Britain throughout the war.

Secondly, at Dawlish Warren there are a number of coastal defence pillboxes built in 1940 to counter potential beach landings. There were also substantial defences at Exmouth. Scaffolding barriers were placed along the beach front and at the harbour a number of pillboxes were erected. In addition, there was an anti-aircraft rocket battery on the pier and nearby was an "Alan Williams" Steel Turret, which housed a machine gun for both antiaircraft and coastal defence purposes. This is a particularly rare feature that has been re-erected in Exmouth as a monument.


Abandoned Boats

The Exe Estuary contains a significant collection of abandoned vessels in relation to other estuaries in the South West, and it is home to the largest known concentration of the remains of Brixham trawlers. It is estimated that there are over 20 historical vessels slowly decomposing around the Exe, most from the late 19th and early 20th century. The largest concentration of abandoned boats is located opposite Topsham in a "ship graveyard" and the majority of these vessels have been identified as sailing trawlers or ketches.

Many of these boats are visible from the Exe Estuary Trail, however it is advised that these boats are not approached or touched. 




Further Reading

Devon-based writer Ralph Rochester is writing a daily blog about his adventures with Poppy (his Scaffie) on the Exe Estuary in Devon. It's a lovely gentle read but also has a lot of insightful local history of the Estuary.  Follow his blog at: