Kayakers arriving at the Double Locks pub in Exeter

The Exe Estuary Trail: a walking pub-crawl of Exeter’s canal paths

When spring and summer finally roll around the temptation can be to head straight to the beach or the moor. But summer fun can be found in our cities too and there are few summer pleasures as blissful as a meandering walk along the Exe Estuary Trail. For beautiful views with cracking beer stops en route, the canal and riverways of Exeter are hard to beat. Here’s one of our favourite pub-crawl walks, from The Mill on the Exe to the Turf Hotel along the Exe Estuary Trail.

The Exe Estuary Trail

Our route follows part of the Exe Estuary Trail, made up of Sustrans cycle routes 34 and 2. There are route maps on the Sustrans website and also a nice Exe Explorer PDF guide from Devon County Council with a map and information about the trail. However, the route throughout is straightforward and follows first the River and then the canal so it’s easy to find your way.

Round 1: Mill on the Exe to Exeter Quay

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But if an amble of about six miles is more your thing, we recommend ditching the Chinese proverbs and starting your pub-crawl with a single pint or two instead.

The Mill on the Exe is a short stumble along Bonhay Road from Exeter St David’s railway station. But if you’re really looking to squeeze in as many beer gardens as you can then you could make a quick detour to The Imperial en-route. With its huge beer garden and impressive glass orangery, this former hotel is a popular student pit-stop. Or if your journey begins from Exeter Central, then a meandering route down the hill could see you stopping at The City Gate, which also boasts a large patio beer garden out back.

River Exe

But back to The Mill on the Exe…which unsurprisingly is a former mill, located on the River Exe. With a large patio and sprawling garden that slopes into the river, it’s a great starting spot for your pub-crawl. Whilst the beer garden is a prime summer spot, in winter the volume of water coursing through the weir can be pretty epic and has led to some fairly major basement flooding in the past.

As it’s a St Austell Brewery pub there’s a distinctly Cornish offering when it comes to drinks, with Korev, Tribute and the legendary Cornish Rattler on tap.

From the Mill on the Exe, your journey continues with a short yomp along Bonhay Road before dropping down to the river, just before Exe Bridges roundabout. Between the Mill and the quay, there’s a changing array of graffiti art on the overpasses to look out for.

Graffiti on Exeter's river walks

Round 2: Exeter Quay

The first sign you’ve reached the quay is the sudden appearance of an army of swans, ducks and other waterfowl on your path. From there it’s a short hop into the main shopping, dining and activity heart of the quay. Having walked a hefty half-mile or so from your first pub it would be rude not to continue with the drinking theme in one of the many quayside pubs and restaurants.

Most venues are on the city-side of the quay and this is where most of the drinkers can be found on a sunny day, either on the terraces of Puerto Lounge and Samuel Jones or at the outside tables of The Prospect Inn or On the Waterfront. On busier days you’ll also find people spilling out on to the quay itself, sat with legs dangling over the side of the river. On the opposite bank is Venezia, also with a large beer garden.

There’s so much in the quay that you could easily while away an afternoon there between shopping for antiques and homewares in the cellar shops, eating in one of the cafes or restaurants and trying out activities at Haven Banks. However, there’s the little matter of the remaining 5 ½ miles of the pub crawl walk ahead….

Round 3: Exeter Quay to the Double Locks

You can leave the quay on either side of the river. On the city side, you walk past the cellar shops and The Port Royal pub (yep more en-route temptation) before crossing over the river at Belle Isle Park. Or, you can start on the opposite side and walk past the Haven Banks climbing tower and shipyard.

From the quay it’s a scenic 1 ½ mile canal side walk to the Double Locks pub. On a sunny day it’s likely you’ll find you’re sharing your journey with plenty of walkers cyclists, kayakers and canoeists. It’s a popular route and before long it feels as if you’re a long way from Exeter.

The Double Locks is something of an Exeter institution and has such a large beer garden it’s hard to tell where it begins and ends. There’s also a decked area that backs straight on to the canal. With a BBQ tent, marquee and outside seating aplenty it’s very much a summer pub and popular with students and families alike.

One of the charms of the Double Locks is that as many people seem to arrive at it by the water as they do on foot or by car and it makes for great people-watching as kayakers attempt to get in and out of the water.

There’s a fairly regular programme of events through the summer with the Bank Holiday cider & sausage festival being a local favourite.

Round 4: Double Locks to The Turf Hotel

The Exe Estuary Trail continues from the edge of the Double Locks garden, meaning that there’s no excuse for getting lost, however many drinks have been consumed! The final stage of the walk is the longest but also the most picturesque and begins with a short jaunt to the crossing at Bridge Road.

Exeter canal

It’s on the other side of Bridge Road that the prettiest section of the walk lies. The canal widens and the landscape opens out into the Exminster marshes; a haven for birdlife. There are plenty of options for detours in this section of the Exe Estuary Trail with Exminster a short walk away and Topsham accessible by ferry.

For the final stretch of the walk, the canal runs alongside the River Exe, with only a narrow strip of land between them. The Turf Hotel sits at the end of the Exeter Canal on a small strip of land jutting out into the estuary. With water on three sides, it’s a stunning location and only accessible by foot, bike or boat as the nearest car parking is at Exminster Marshes.

Exeter canal with building

There are plenty of tables inside and outside, but in the summer most opt to sprawl out on the grass and you’ll see a fair few cyclists and walkers enjoying a break. A summer BBQ station serves up food for the hungry traveller.

The views from The Turf are hard to beat and having walked the six miles from The Mill on The Exe it always feels like a good last stop to us. The return journey can be made on foot the way you came or there’s a regular ferry from The Turf over to Topsham where more pubs (and a train back to Exeter) await.

If you’re feeling more adventurous then the Exe Estuary Trail continues to Starcross, Cockwood, Dawlish Warren and eventually Dawlish. There are train stations with services back to Exeter at all of these places with the exception of Cockwood.

Exploring Exeter’s canals and the Exe estuary

Whilst we love walking this stretch of the Exe Estuary Trail there are so many different options and the Exe Explorer leaflet contains information about canoe, kayak & cycle hire as well as ferry and boat trips.