River Exe

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River Exe
Exe estuary from balloon.jpg
The Exe Estuary from a balloon over Exeter. The M5 motorway is in the foreground, Topsham on the left bank just beyond, and Exmouth at the river mouth opposite Dawlish Warren.
Country England
Counties Devon, Somerset
 - left River Haddeo, River Culm, River Clyst
 - right River Barle, River Creedy
City Exeter
Source Exe Head
 - location near Simonsbath, Somerset, England
 - elevation 440 m (1,444 ft)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Mouth Lyme Bay
 - location English Channel
 - elevation 0 m (0 ft)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Discharge for Thorverton
 - average 15.89 m3/s (561 cu ft/s)
 - max 492.6 m3/s (17,396 cu ft/s) 4 December 1960
 - min 0.44 m3/s (16 cu ft/s) 27 August 1976
Discharge elsewhere (average)
 - Stoodleigh 12.41 m3/s (438 cu ft/s)
 - Pixton 4.47 m3/s (158 cu ft/s)
River Exe is located in Devon
Exe mouth
Exe mouth
Exe head
Exe head
Map showing the location of Source and Mouth within Somerset and Devon
The Exe Estuary with Powderham Castle in the background.

The River Exe (/ˈɛks/ EKS) in England rises at Exe Head, near the village of Simonsbath, on Exmoor in Somerset, 8.4 kilometres (5 mi) from the Bristol Channel coast, but flows more or less directly due south, so that most of its length lies in Devon. It reaches the sea at a substantial ria, the Exe Estuary, on the south (English Channel) coast of Devon. Historically, its lowest bridging point was at Exeter, though there is now a viaduct for the M5 motorway about 3 kilometres (2 mi) south of the city centre.


The river's name is an anglicisation of the Latin isca, itself a modified form of a Brittonic root meaning "water"[1] or, more exactly, "abounding in fish". (The same root separately developed into the English Axe and Esk, the Welsh Usk, and the Scottish whisky.) It seems to be a cognate of pysg (pl. of pysgod), the Welsh word for 'fish'.[2] The river gave the name of Exeter ("fortress on the Exe") and many other settlements along its course, including Exford, Up Exe, Nether Exe, Exwick, Exton, Exminster, and Exebridge,[3] where it is joined by the River Barle. The seaside town of Exmouth is at the east side of the estuary mouth, and Dawlish Warren is at the west, with its long sand spit extending across the mouth.

The river fuelled Exeter's growth and relative importance in medieval times, and the city's first industrial area was developed at Exe Island, created by a series of leats to the west of the city. The island was home to numerous watermills producing paper and textiles; it also created valuable land through drainage of the marshlands.[4]

Tides on the river are limited at Countess Wear, the site of a weir commissioned by the Countess of Devon in the 13th century.[5] The Exeter Canal bypasses this weir to enable ships to reach Exeter Quay. At high tide, the estuary forms a large body of water that is heavily used for water sports especially sailing, windsurfing and water skiing.

Railways run along both sides of the estuary. The Avocet Line from Exeter to Exmouth on the eastern side, and the South Devon main line on the western. The latter is on a causeway, the South Devon Railway sea wall from Powderham to Dawlish Warren. The Exmouth to Starcross Ferry carries passengers across the mouth of the estuary during the summer months, linking the harbour at Exmouth with a pier adjacent to Starcross railway station on the South Devon main line.


At low tide, extensive mud flats are exposed, and these are an important feeding source for wading birds. Along with other rias in South West England, the Exe estuary is an important site for wintering waders. Dawlish Warren is a favoured site for birdwatching. The river is acidic and populated with wild brown trout and some grayling, the average size being 8–10 ounces (230–280 g). Unlike many West Country rivers there are no seatrout, but there is a run of Atlantic salmon. Just 150 metres (490 ft) below the union of the River Barle is Black Pool, which is one of the best, and highest salmon pools on the river.

2008 cleansing operation

In 2008 the Environment Agency embarked on a project to clean the river from vegetation forming. In order to do so the water level decreased to its lowest level – less water remained than the droughts the city has suffered.[6]

See also


  1. Eilert Ekwall (1981). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names. Oxford [Eng.]: OUP. p. 171. ISBN 0-19-869103-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Owen, H.W. & Morgan, R. 2007 Dictionary of the Place-names of Wales Gomer Press, Ceredigion; Gwasg Gomer / Gomer Press; page 484.
  3. A.D. Mills (2003). A Dictionary of British Place-Names. Oxford Paperbook Reference. ISBN 978-0198527589.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Exeter Memories - the Leats of Exeter". www.exetermemories.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-03-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Exeter Memories - Countess Wear". www.exetermemories.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-03-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "River Exe runs dry to make way for Flood Defence Work". www.thisisexeter.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-03-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lawrence, Rod: The Exe: A River for Wildlife Bradford-on-Avon 1999

External links