Exeter City Council The historic Exeter Ship Canal first opened to shipping in 1566 and was the first canal to be built in Britain since Roman times. The Canal runs through an area of outstanding and protected natural beauty and is a fantastic site to tie-up for a few days.

You can visit the Exeter canal and base your boat there for a few days, or all year round.


The canal basin and quay are an historic gateway to the city and provides ample parking with easy access to sports, recreation and shops.

This area is a mix of old and new building and provides moorings for a wide range of vessels.

A walk or cycle along the tow path brings you to the Double Locks pub, or the Turf Hotel at the furthest reach of the canal.


River and Canal office, Exeter City Council, Haven Road, Exeter. EX2 8DU

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Exeter City Council Canal Walks Discover Exeter's historic canal with three different walks.

  • Walk 1 Canal Basin to Double Locks Pub Distance: 1½ Miles Duration: 30 minutes Highlights: Exe Bridges, Exeter Ship Canal, Paper Mill - Countess Wear, Double Locks Pub
  • Walk 2 Double Locks Pub to Topsham Lock Keepers Cottage Distance: 2¼ Miles Duration: 50 minutes Highlights: Double Locks Wetland, Devon Wildlife Trust Reserve, River Exe, Historic Topsham
  • Walk 3 Lock Keepers Cottage to Turf Hotel Distance: 1½ Miles Duration: 35 minutes Highlights: Estuary Mud Flats, Turf Lock Hotel, Exminster Marshes




Exeter Ship Canal at Countess Wear. Photo: Stephen Pointer https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1228233 


Visit Exeter Exeter Canal Cycle Route Distance: 15 miles (23 km) maximum Difficulty: Easy / Moderate

An Exeter based cycle route which is wonderfully level and almost entirely traffic free. The route takes in the National Cycle Network route 2 on both sides of the head of the Exe estuary, passing RSPB reserves and several well known locks.



Exeter Memories When the Romans arrived in Exeter, they used Topsham as a port, even though the Exe was navigable as far as Exeter. However, there is evidence that a natural sandstone ledge was used to load and unload boats beneath the Roman wall. The city received trade at the quay from this time, and even suffered Viking raiders who could navigate up to Exeter.

In the 1284, the Countess Isabella de Fortibus, an early member of the Courtenay family built a weir across the river above Topsham, leaving a 30 ft gap in the middle. This was to run her mills on each side of the river. In 1311, Hugh de Courtenay blocked the central section, preventing boats from sailing up to Exeter, stopping the tidal movement up to the city and forcing the boat owners to unload in Topsham. 

In 1563 it was decided that a canal should be built, linking Countess Wear with the city. It was 2,850 m long, 5 m wide, 1 metre deep and had a new, Trews weir to raise the water level at the city end. This was the first pound lock canal in the country - at last Exeter could develop its quay for trade. In the 16th century the quay, or 'keye' was much shorter than today so work commenced to lengthen it and install the Watergate in the city wall, probably on the site of an earlier 'Watergate', to facilitate access between the quay and the city. 



Stuart Line Cruises Cruise along the oldest working shipping canal in Europe! Join us travelling at a relaxing pace as we sail along Exeter Canal, sit back and soak up the scenery, watch the locks come to life, the swing bridge majestically open, before enjoying the seaside town of Exmouth or Exeter’s Historic Quayside.

This is a one-way trip where you can either board from Exmouth to travel up to Exeter or depart from Exeter to travel to Exmouth. For your return journey there are ample public transport links within a few minutes flat walk at both Exmouth and Exeter and our crew will be happy to point the way!



Exeter Quay. Photo: Des Blenkinsopp https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5170711 





Inland Waterways The Exeter Ship Canal runs for 5 miles from Exeter Canal Basin to Turf Lock on the River Exe. Its origin dates back to 1566, since when the canal has been owned continuously by Exeter City Council, which is currently formulating plans for the canal’s future development, along with the River Exe and the Exe Estuary. The canal boasts two locks, including a tidal lock and a connection from the River Exe adjacent to the Canal Basin. It is heavily used by walkers and cyclists but there is only a modest amount of boating traffic due to the difficulties caused by the low swing bridge and lifting bridge on the A379 Exeter bypass and the costs involved in operating these.

The Friends of Exeter Ship Canal was formed in 2016 and is lobbying for improvements to the canal and undertaking volunteer work parties along the canal to help assist the Council’s canal maintenance team.



Go Paddling A canal ahead of its time, the Exeter Ship Canal was one of the first artificially built canals in the UK. It dates back to 1566 and links the River Exe at Turf Lock to the Exeter Quay. It was built to bypass weirs that had been erected on the River Exe and so enable goods to reach the port of Exeter, This was originally in barges, or later in ocean-going ships. Following successive enlargements and extensions it reached its present form in the 1830s. This was when the canal basin was also built.

As with canals elsewhere, its commercial viability was undermined when the railways arrived. The Friends of this historic canal are determined that it should continue as an active, functioning waterway. It is also a recreational focal point for Exeter’s citizens and visitors. 

This pretty and quaint little canal is five miles long with 2 locks. It is a popular route for walkers, cyclists and paddlers alike. Being so close to the sea and estuary, the canal is a brilliant way to observe a variety of wildlife, including wading and sea-fairing birds. The Exeter Ship Canal features in quite a few of our Paddle Trails too, so if you’re stuck for inspiration on where to go on your trip, check out the Paddle Trails! 



Wkiipedia The Exeter Ship Canal, also known as the Exeter Canal is a canal leading from (and beside) the River Exe to Exeter Quay in the city of Exeter, Devon, England. It was first constructed in the 1560s[1][2] predating the "canal mania" period and is one of the oldest artificial waterways in the UK.


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