North and South Sands canoe trail, Salcombe

Salcombe Estuary, Salcombe, Devon

Route details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Views from North Sands to Rickham Common © Simon Hill

Views from North Sands to Rickham Common

Paddle carefully to avoid damaging the marine seagrass © Nigel Mortimer

Paddle carefully to avoid damaging the marine seagrass

The ruins of Fort Charles protect the entrance to the Salcombe estuary © Simon Hill

The ruins of Fort Charles protect the entrance to the Salcombe estuary

Cable Cottage overlooks the bay © Simon Hill

Cable Cottage overlooks the bay

Route overview

If you're new to canoeing and the Salcombe estuary then the relatively sheltered bays of North Sands and South Sands offer the perfect location to improve your skills and confidence before paddling further out into the estuary. However, even in this compact area there are still some great sights to explore as you develop your water wings. Paddlers should be aware of the rules of the road at sea and be able to identify the main channel.

Access points

See this step-by-step route marked on a map

JPG of OS map with canoe trail marked
  • Directions
  • Route
  • Bus stop
  • Parking
  • Toilet
  • Viewpoint

Start: North Sands, grid ref: SX731383

  1. Before launching please check the local weather forecast, your equipment and make sure you have an emergency exit strategy planned. Launching from North Sands, spend a little time in this sheltered bay, which deepens gradually, practising your paddling and canoe control. As your confidence improves then follow the coastline around to the next bay at South Sands. Spare a moment though to cast your gaze across to the east and the spectacular National Trust headland of Rickham Common and Portlemouth Down, stretching out on the other side of the estuary.

    Show/HideNational Trust land around the estuary

    We look after more than 2500 acres (1000ha) of land around the mouth of the Salcombe estuary. From the sandy beach of Sunny Cove directly opposite North Sands through to the coastal slopes of Rickham Common and the dramatic sea cliffs of Bolt Head. This coastal scrub habitat is extremely important for the great variation in insect and birdlife which it supports.

    Views from North Sands to Rickham Common © Simon Hill
  2. As you enter South Sands bay, watch out for the small ferry as it meets up with the sea tractor to swap passengers before it heads off to Salcombe again. Cross the bay and explore the rocky shore, small sea-caves and hidden beach of Splat Cove. Peer into the waters beneath your canoe and you'll see delicate and protected seagrass beds Salcombes own underwater garden.

    Show/HideSeagrass meadows

    These rich and diverse underwater jungles support a rich and diverse sealife, providing valuable nursery areas for fish as well as supporting both species of our native seahorse. Seagrass is not a seaweed but a flowering plant complete with roots, flowers and leaves. In Salcombe, these leaves can reach almost 6.5ft (2m) in places, but it's extremely vulnerable to damage from boat anchors and propellors, so paddle carefully as you investigate the underwater world below.

    Paddle carefully to avoid damaging the marine seagrass © Nigel Mortimer
  3. Now it's time for a little concerted effort as you trun north and head across both South Sands and North Sands bays towards Salcombe Castle - you can see it sitting on a prominent outcrop on the edge of the town. As you paddle across the bays keep the red and white pole, which is a deep water channel marker, to your right. This should keep you away from much of the boat traffic entering Salcombe but you should still keep an eye out for any other boat movements.

    Show/HideSalcombe Castle

    This artillery fort was constructed in the 1540s on a natural rock island near the mouth of the estuary, probably as part of Henry VIII's coastal defence works. In 1643-5 it was re-fortified and re-named 'Fort Charles' in honour of the King. Despite three sieges in 1646 and centuries of coastal erosion, the castle still stands firm today.

    The ruins of Fort Charles protect the entrance to the Salcombe estuary © Simon Hill
  4. Nearly back on dry land now, head west from Salcombe Castle past the rockpools of Castle Bay (well worth exploring) back towards the shore of North Sands, where in front of you sits Cable Cottage. See if you can catch a wave on your way in!

    Show/HideCable Cottage

    Cable Cottage sits at the head of North Sands overlooking the bay. The orginal cottage was purpose built in 1870 as an instrument house, where it had a key role in the development of global communication. It was from here that a submarine cable was laid between Salcombe and Brest in France from where it reached out across the Atlantic.

    Cable Cottage overlooks the bay © Simon Hill
  5. The Salcombe Estuary canoe trail has been produced through a partnership between the National Trust and the following organisations: Maritime Archaeological Sea Trust; South Devon AONB; Salcombe Harbour and Dave Halsall of Singing Paddles. For £2 you can pick up a National Trust waterproof canoe guide for the estuary from the Salcombe Information Centre.

    Show/HideSalcombe Estuary Canoe Trail Partners

    National Trust; Maritime Archaeological Sea Trust; South Devon AONB; Salcombe Harbour and Dave Halsall of Singing Paddles.

End: North Sands, grid ref: SX731383

 © Simon Hill
  • Trail: Canoeing
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Water Type: Estuary
  • Distance: 1 mile (1.5km)
  • Time: About 1 hour
  • OS Map: Explorer OL20, Admiralty Chart 28
  • Launch and Recovery:

    Park in North Sands car park, charges apply (not suitable for trailers). Take care crossing the road to the beach. The beach is completely covered at high tide. Canoes can attract harbour dues to be paid before you set off; please contact the Salcombe Harbour office on 01548 843791. Before payment they may ask to see evidence of insurance, which is available as part of membership of the British Canoe Union.

  • Safety:
  • How to get here:

    By car: Follow A381, Kingsbridge to Salcombe. As you approach top of town, follow brown signs to North Sands, turning right and heading down a series of hairpin turns to North Sands beach to a large long-stay car park. Further (limited) parking at South Sands. Charges apply at both car parks.

  • Facilities:

    • Public toilets and café adjacent to North Sands
    • Beach café and sit-on top kayak hire at South Sands
    • In Salcombe itself – toilets, cafes, canoe hire, Tourist Information Centre and Salcombe Harbour Office.

  • Contact us