Leisure, Recreation & Culture

Accessible open spaces and natural environments, which are often referred to as ‘greenspaces’ or ‘green infrastructure’, have an extremely important role in maintaining the health, well‐being and quality of life of the population.

They provide somewhere for people to engage in recreation and social activity, provide access to natural environments and can play a central role in the ecological, economic and social regeneration of our rural and urban communities.

Rivers have a huge amount to offer in terms of our enjoyment of the natural environment, and our access to recreational activities and clubs and cultural activities. It has been proven that access to ‘green spaces’ boosts health and wellbeing, and in the South West our numerous rivers and estuaries provide a wealth of leisure and recreational activities, many free!

Walking, jogging and cycling

Rivers provide a natural environment for walking, jogging and cycling, with designated footpaths and cycle paths along most. Possibly the most famous and notable in the South West in the Camel Trail. Eighteen miles long and virtually traffic tree, the Camel Trail uses the route of an old disused railway between Wenfordbridge, Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow, and runs next to the River Camel for most of its route. It is popular with walkers, joggers, cyclists, and also horse-riders and wheelchair users, who enjoy the level well maintained surfaces and the beautiful natural surroundings.

Similarly, there is the Exe Estuary Trail. Still being developed, it will be around 26 miles long when completed and will cover the entire length of the estuary. It is popular with cyclists and pedestrians and takes in the wonderful views of the estuary.

You don’t need a purpose made footpath or cycle path to enjoy a river by foot or bike however – most rivers in the South West can be accessed along large parts very easily and many are used by rambling, running, and cycling clubs, giving the added enjoyment of socialising while you exercise!


Canoeing and Kayaking are popular on most rivers in the South West and most have numerous clubs that utilise the calmer upper reaches and, for more experienced canoers and kayakers, the tidal waters of the estuaries. A notable example is the Exeter Canoe Loops. These are a series of self-guided circular canoeing/kayaking trails, linking the River Exe and Exeter Ship Canal. There is at least seven canoeing and kayaking clubs that regularly use the Canoe Loops and the estuary.


Widely reported to be Britain’s most popular sport in terms of participant numbers, recreational fishing is hugely popular on South West rivers due to the great number and variety of fish present. For example –

  • West Dart is notable ground for salmon spawning, and some of the best trout and salmon fishing in the UK can be found on the River Dart.
  • Salmon can also be found at various locations along the River Teign, with Drewe’s Weir being a good place to spot them leaping out of the water. Brown trout and sea trout are also found in large numbers, and the upper reaches of the river is a noted game fishing area.
  • Fishing is popular on the Hayle Estuary, with bass, flounder, and mullet found in large quantities.


  • Although a sea bass conservation area between April and October, the Exe Estuary is still popular with recreational fishers, keen to catch some of the many other species found there such as wrasse, pollock, rays, and mullet.


Other sports and leisure activities that utilise South West rivers and estuaries include sailing, windsurfing, diving, and birdwatching.


Fal River Festival

The festival, now in it’s tenth year, was first held in 2006 to celebrate the places, people, history, culture, industry, and sport that are all connected by the Cornish river. More than 100,000 people attend the ten day festival every year and enjoy over 150 events ranging from music and drama, the arts, and sports such as gig racing, swimming, walking and lots more. It is a not-for-profit community event and every year around £75,000 has been raised for charity, with the visitors clearly enjoying themselves, consuming around 3000 pints of ale, lager, and cider!