Estuaries and Ferries
Getting across the water
The route of the South West Coast Path meets a lot of rivers and streams as it skirts the coastline and 16 of these are crossed by ferries. Using one of these can make your day out even more memorable.
The frequency of ferry sailings varies through the year, with some closing during the winter, so be sure to check timetables before you set out. In bad weather, ferry services can be disrupted. A couple of the estuaries can only be crossed at low tide by paddling across a ford or a via tidal footbridge, so for these you’ll need to consult tide tables.
Below are listed in path order each of the river crossings you’ll encounter and you can also find them on the relevant walk description pages.
Instow to Appledore (Torridge Estuary)
In 2011, after being absent for many years, a ferry service was established between Instow and Appledore, which cuts out the section of Coast Path running around the estuary via Bideford. The ferry runs daily from early April to late October, 2 hours either side of high tide. You can find out more from the Instow to Appledore ferry website or by phoning 07710 836317 (daytime only).
Rock to Padstow (The Camel Estuary)
A ferry runs across the estuary from Rock to Padstow, 7 days a week, all year. On the Padstow side the ferry normally lands on the harbour wall, but during low tides it instead lands on the slipway near St Saviour's Point, a few hundred metres downstream. It runs roughly every 20 minutes from 8am onwards, with the time of the last sailing varying through the year between 4.50pm and 7.50pm (from Padstow). You can find more details on the Padstow Harbour website, or by phoning 01841 532239 / 07773 081574.
In the evenings from Easter to the end of October, and between Christmas and the New Year (subject to weather and tides) you can catch a water taxi across the estuary. See the Rock Water taxi website or phone 01208 862815 / 07778 105297 for more information.
Newquay to Crantock (The Gannel Estuary)
The ways you can cross the Gannel depend on the time of year and state of the tide. These are:
- Penpol tidal footbridge: The route of the SW Coast Path uses a tidal footbridge near Penpol Creek, which is passable for 3 - 4 hours either side of low water.
- Fern Pit Ferry Crossing: A shorter option is to cross by Fern Pit, which operates from the end of May to the end of September. At low tide, you can cross via a footbridge, whilst at high tide there is a ferry. You can find more details on the Fern Pit cafe and ferry website or by phoning 01637 873181.
- Trenance footbridge: About 1 mile upstream from Penpol, where the estuary turns into a river (Grid Ref SW 813 607) is another footbridge that is passable at almost all states of the tide. From here a bridleway via Trevemper takes you back to Penpol. on the rare occsions when this bridge is impassable, you can always cross using the A3075 road bridge a further ½mile upstream.
The BBC website has a tide table for Newquay covering the next 7 days.
Compared to the other estuaries, the Hayle estuary only extends a short way inland, and as there is no ferry, the Coast Path runs around the edge. Although suburban in places, it is a pleasant stroll which will take about an hour. At low tide it looks deceptively easy to wade across the mouth of the estuary - but this is VERY DANGEROUS and should NEVER be attempted due to the strong currents, deceptively deep water, very steep bank on the Lelant side and quicksand river bed.
Gillan to St Anthony (Gillan Creek)
The main Coast Path route runs around Gillan Creek, but for an hour either side of low tide (tide table), you can ford the creek (it should be no more than knee deep), which cuts about 2 miles off the route. Between April 1st & October 31st a ferry is sometimes available - phone Antony Jenkin on 01326 231357 to check.
Helford to Helford Passage (Helford River)
The ferry operates from Good Friday or 1st April to October 31st. The ferry will run on demand between 9:30 am and 5.30 pm, with later crossings by request. From late June until the end of August the ferry will run from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm. You can find out more from the Helford Riverboats website or by phoning 01326 250770.
Falmouth to Place via St Mawes (Fal Estuary)
To cross the Fal Estuary you take a ferry from the bustling port of Falmouth across to the village of St Mawes, and then change to a smaller ferry that links to the other arm of the estuary at Place. The ferry between Falmouth and St Mawes runs every day throughout the year, whereas the onward ferry to Place only operates every day from Good Friday through to October. You can find timetables for both ferries on the Fal River Links website or by phoning 01872 863132.
Fowey to Polruan (River Fowey)
A ferry runs every about every 10 minutes every day apart from Christmas Day. The first and last sailings vary through the year from 7am to 9am start, and 5pm to 11pm finish. You can find more details on the Fowey to Polruan ferry website or by phoning 01726 870232.
Mount Edgcumbe to Plymouth (River Tamar)
A passenger ferry runs about every 30 minutes, every day with the exception of Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day. The first and last sailings vary through the year from 6.45am to 9am start, and 6pm to 11pm finish. You can find more details on the Cremyll ferry website or by phoning 01752 822105.
Plymouth Barbican to Mount Batten Park (River Plym)
Although the main route of the Coast Path crosses the River Plym via Laira Bridge, you can take a 5 mile short cut by catching a ferry from the Barbican across to Mount Batten park. The ferry runs daily thoughout the year every 30 minutes with starting times ranging from 7.15am summer weekdays to 8.45am winter weekends and the last ferry ranging from 6.15pm to 11pm. You can find more details on the Mount Batten ferry website or by phoning 01752 408590.
Wembury Point to Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo
A small ferry takes walkers across the mouth of the Yealm, seven days a week from April (Note: delayed in 2013 until 3rd May 2013 due to repairs being undertaken to landing stage) until the end of September. The core hours each day are 10 - 12 am and 3 - 4pm each day, with the ferry running a continuous service on demand. During busier times such as school holidays, the hours of operation are extended to run continuously between 10am and 4pm daily - but please phone the ferryman, Bill Gregor, beforehand to check on 07817 132757 / 01752 880079.
Mothercombe to Wonwell (River Erme)
This estuary has to be forded. At each side of the estuary, there are information panels with aerial photos showing the best route across - this is roughly between the old coastguard cottages on teh Mothercombe side and the Wonwell slipway. If you cross within an hour of low tide (tide table), the water should be no more than knee deep, and underfoot are a mix of sand and pebbles. Occasionally, if there are gale force winds blowing sea water back up into the estuary, or if flood water is heading down stream, the ford may not be passable even at low tide - if it gets more than knee deep, you should check you are on the right route, or turn back. If you misjudge the tide, and don't want to wait, it is about an 8 mile walk around the estuary - mainly on minor lanes.
Bigbury to Bantham (River Avon)
A seasonal ferry runs from Cockleridge ham across the river Avon to Bantham Ham. It operates between 10 and 11am and 3 - 4pm, daily apart from Sundays from the 29th April to the 21st September. To check ring the ferryman Mr Dawes on 07837 361306 / 01752 880079. As the water in the main river channel is deep at all states of the tide it is not safe to try and ford the river. However as an alternative there is the attractive 8 mile waymarked Avon Estuary Walk that will take you take you up and back to the first bridging point at Aveton Gifford.
Salcombe to East Portlemouth (Kingsbridge Estuary)
This ferry runs all year round, every half hour between 8am and 5.30pm, 7 days a week, with a continuous service during the summer holidays. On the Salcombe side the ferry runs from the steps next to the the Ferry Hotel, and on the East Portlemouth side form the pontoon next to the Venus beach cafe.
Dartmouth to Kingswear (River Dart)
A passenger ferry operates about every 10 minutes, between 7.30 am (9am on Sundays) and 11pm everyday throughout the year . If you are lucky you may be joined by dolphins who are quite regularly seen playing in the bow wave.
Shaldon to Teignmouth (River Teign)
This is England's longest running passenger ferry, with written records of the ferry dating back to 1296. It now runs on demand throughout the day, every day (apart from a restricted service in December & January), although the start and finish times vary through the year. For more details see the Teign Ferry timetable. If the ferry is not running, there is a bridge across the river about 1/2 mile upstream.
Starcross to Exmouth (River Exe)
A passenger ferry runs across the Exe from Starcross Pier to Exmouth harbour once an hour, everyday from the begining of April to the end of October. For more details see the Exmouth to Starcross ferry timetable. If the ferry is not running, the Exe Estuary Trail, is an off road cycle route that goes up to theTopsham ferry (also seasonal), and to the first bridge across the Exe at Countess Weir. Alternatively you can catch a train or bus into Exeter and back to Exmouth. See Traveline for timetable information.
Dawlish Warren to Exmouth (River Exe)
Although the official route of the SW Coast Path crosses the Exe at Starcross, between early April and teh beginning of September you can save 3 miles of road walking (an off-road route is under development) by catching a water taxi from Dawlish Warren Point to Exmouth. To reach Dawlish Warren Point you pass through Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve, and so to avoid disturbance
to nesting birds and other wildlife, please keep out of fenced areas and no dogs are allowed on the ferry or the eastern half of the Nature Reserve. For more details see the Exeplorer water taxi website, or phone 07970 918418.
Studland to Sandbanks (Poole Harbour)
After finishing the path, most people continue across the Sandbanks ferry onwards into Bournemouth to pick up trains or coaches home. This ferry runs every 20 minutes from 7am to 11pm, every day. However note that every other year the ferry is taken out for a refit, usually in October or November. See the Sandbanks ferry website for more details.