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River Erme

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Overview





The River Erme is located near the head of Bigbury Bay about seven miles eastward of the approaches to Plymouth on England's south coast. The sandy river mouth largely dries at low water and anchoring is only permitted at the entrance, either in the deep water outside or in the drying or shallow waters closer in.

The Erme River is an exposed anchorage that is completely open to the southwest. It is only available in very settled conditions with northerly component winds. Access requires attentive navigation as there are some covered rocks and a reef fronting the entrance.



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Keyfacts for River Erme
Facilities
Marked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the area


Nature
Remote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: may be subject to a sand bar

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

Approaches
3 stars: Attentive navigation; daylight access with dangers that need attention.
Shelter
3 stars: Tolerable; in suitable conditions a vessel may be left unwatched and an overnight stay.



Last modified
January 9th 2019

Summary* Restrictions apply

A tolerable location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
Marked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the area


Nature
Remote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: may be subject to a sand bar



Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 18.322' N, 003° 57.315' W

This is in deep water northward of West Mary's Rock.

What is the initial fix?

The following Erme River Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
50° 17.885' N, 003° 58.123' W
This is about ½ a mile southwest Battisborough Island which marks the western side of the entrance. Steer a course of about 048° T towards the head of the inlet leads in clear of Edwards Rock and between Battisborough Island and West Mary's Rock.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern England’s coastal overview from Start Point to Lizard Point Route location

  • Keep to the west side about 100 metres off the western shoreline.

  • Anchor in the river mouth as the estuary is privately owned and no anchoring is permitted above the entrance.



Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to River Erme for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. River Avon - 2.2 miles ESE
  2. River Yealm - 2.4 miles W
  3. Hope Cove - 3.2 miles SE
  4. Kingsbridge - 4.4 miles ESE
  5. Plymouth Harbour - 4.8 miles WNW
  6. Salcombe - 5.1 miles SE
  7. Starehole Bay - 5.3 miles SE
  8. River Tamar & Tributaries - 5.5 miles WNW
  9. Hallsands - 7.6 miles ESE
  10. Dittisham & The River Dart - 9.1 miles ENE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. River Avon - 2.2 miles ESE
  2. River Yealm - 2.4 miles W
  3. Hope Cove - 3.2 miles SE
  4. Kingsbridge - 4.4 miles ESE
  5. Plymouth Harbour - 4.8 miles WNW
  6. Salcombe - 5.1 miles SE
  7. Starehole Bay - 5.3 miles SE
  8. River Tamar & Tributaries - 5.5 miles WNW
  9. Hallsands - 7.6 miles ESE
  10. Dittisham & The River Dart - 9.1 miles ENE
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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Chart
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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What's the story here?
River Erme
Image: Michael Harpur


The River Erme rises in Dartmoor from which it flows 13 miles southward to Holbeton where it becomes a ria for the last couple of miles before emptying into the Bigbury Bay between the rivers Yealm and Avon. Although it presents what appears to be a significant body of water at high tide, it dries entirely above its entrance at low water exposing extensive areas of salt marsh and mud.

Historically, when the water was smooth over the bar, vessels carrying up to 3 metres that could take to the mud ascended the river for a little over ½ a mile. Visiting boats today are however discouraged as the riverbed of the estuary and the surrounding 5,000 acres are owned by the Flete Estate who do not permit anchoring.

Anchoring is permitted in the deep waters at the mouth, or in the drying areas off its beaches. But the Erme affords a safe anchorage only with offshore winds and settled conditions as the swell roles right in unabated.


How to get in?
Mary's Rock and East Mary's Rock and the reef as seen from the eastern side of
the entrance

Image: Andrew


Convergance Point Use southwestern England’s coastal overview from Start Point to Lizard Point Route location for seaward approaches. Admiralty chart 1613 ‘Eddystone Rocks to Berry Head’ at a scale of 1:75,000 is the best available survey so a high degree of eyeball pilotage will be required.

The primary dangers of the mouth of the River Erme are in order that they are encountered:
  • (i) The covered Edwards Rock, with 1.2 metres of water over it CD, that lies nearly ¾ of a mile outside of the inner entrance.

  • (ii) The drying West Mary's Rock and East Mary's Rock that lie 400 metres north by northeast of Edwards Rock, which together forms the mostly submerged bar to the estuary. They dry to 1.1 and 1.5 metres respectively.

  • (iii) The adjoining reef that extends for nearly a ½ mile across the entrance from Fernycombe Point on the eastern shore.

These may all be avoided by making an approach into the river mouth close to the western shore.


The mouth of the River Erme as seen from the southwest
Image: Michael Harpur


Initial fix location The initial fix sets an approach from the southwest clear of Edwards Rock and then along the western shore to pass between Battisborough Island and West Mary's Rock. Steer a course of about 048° T towards the head of the inlet, where an old limekiln may be just discernable, to pass between Battisborough Island and West Mary's Rock.

Battisborough Island is a tiny islet that appears to be part of the cliffs of the western side of the entrance. A clear channel about 200 metres wide will be found between the islet and West Mary's Rock. When West Mary’s Rock is covered enter the estuary by passing about 50 to 100 metres from Battisborough Island. If West Mary’s Rock is uncovered it is simply a matter of steering between it and Battisborough Island. Keep a sharp eye on the sounder all the way in.


Approaches to River Erme
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Anchor according to draft in depths that progressively decrease from about 5 metres to 1 metre. All is clear sand with good holding but keep clear of two historic wrecks, one on West Mary's Rock and one close to the anchoring area.

Yacht anchored southwest of Owen’s Hill
Image: Michael Harpur


The most popular position is south by southwest of Owen’s Hill, a pine-clad hill immediately east of the small Mothecombe beach on the west side of the estuary. Take soundings before committing, as the shape of the channel can change from year to year depending on the previous winter gales.

Land by tender on Mothecombe Beach or Wonwell Beach.


Why visit here?
The Origins of the River Erme’s name is unknown. It was thought to be a back-formation from the village of Ermington. But it has been known by the alternate name of the River Arme in the past, and the mouth of the River Erme as Armouth. It is also thought possible that it is a Celtic river name.


The South West Coast Path provides beautiful views over the river mouth
Image: Michael Harpur


History of human activity runs deep along this coast as it is thought that Bigbury Bay had a coastal complex of Iron Age forts. The southern extremity of Bolt Tail has the extensive Iron Age promontory fort of ‘Bolt Tail Camp’ located to the west of Hope Cove. Above this the estuaries of the Erme and the Avon, that offered safe haven to vessels, also had coastal fort sites at their mouths, at Mothecombe overlooking the mouth of the Erme, and Bantham Ham overlooking the entrance to the Avon.


Meadowsfoot Beach fronting Mothecombe
Image: Michael Harpur


The Mothecombe fort was the northernmost element of the Bigbury Bay complex. It was sited on the eastern cliff of the isolated promontory Owen's Point where it overlooked the mouth of the Erme and the sweep of Bigbury Bay. A linear earthwork bank runs along the western crest of the point, approximately southwest-northeast. This defensive structure isolated or restricted access to the highest part of Owens Hill and the best vantage point. This site was much more than defensive and it is believed that it was an area of prehistoric trade. Meadowsfoot Beach, then as now, sheltered by high cliffs on either side offers a sheltered cove with a functional beaching site. With the beach, estuary, and marine approach all watched over from Owen's Point it provided the ideal location for trade.


Peak season at Mothecombe on a beautiful summers' day
Image: Michael Harpur


Tin mining was in existence on Dartmoor from an early date. Evidence of the trade was to be found to the north of West Mary's Rock by divers in 1991-2. They recovered 40 tin ingots from the seabed which dated from between 500 BC and 600 AD. It is believed they came from Dartmoor and were directly accessed along the Erme route. It has been speculated that the ingots represented the cargo of a wrecked boat bound for Mothecombe or within the Erme Estuary suggesting the vessel may have been making to or from the coast before foundering on the rock. There would be no other requirement for a vessel to be so close to the shore at that point.


Coastguard's Beach inside the River Erme Estuary
Image: Michael Harpur


Further up the inlet, to the northwest, there is another large Iron Age hill fort at Holbury, near Holbeton, overlooking the estuary from the west, and evidence of a very early Roman, and later 11th century, fort and settlement just a little way inland at Oldaport. The Oldaport fort lies on a spur of land that rises to 46 metres on either side of which runs a small creek. At the tip of the spur, the two creeks join with a short arm of the Erme forming a natural harbour 1½ miles from the sea. The site suggests that the estuary was in the past much more navigable and used for trade.


The Estuary of the River Erme at low water
Image: Andrew


But it always had its bar and it was not only prehistoric ships that ran up on its restrictive reef. Many ships have been lost in the area over the centuries leading to the Erme Estuary being designated a wreck site. It comprises an assemblage of cannon and other artefacts ranging in date from the 15th-18th centuries which serve to indicate the location of the shipwrecks. The primary wreck is that of HMS Pigmy that ran up on the jagged East Mary rocks in December of 1793. The vessel's pilot stated in the court-martial that he believed that he was entering Plymouth Sound. The cannons and timbers are periodically exposed by shifting sediment levels today.

The estuary is now designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The care and management of the Erme Estuary is coordinated through the Erme Estuary Conservation Group.

Hikers crossing the River Erme at low water
Image: Andrew


From a boating perspective, you get a beautiful untouched landscape. Wonwell on the eastern side and Mothecombe on the western sides of the estuary are private and undeveloped. Because they both require long walks from the road, they are the quietest beaches to be had in the area. Perfect shelter can also be found on the shore inside the estuary. This makes it ideal for children to go rock-pooling and for safe swimming.


The inner estuary and river can be explored by tender
Image: Michael Harpur


Walking is wonderful here with the South West Coastal Path crossing between the slipways of either beach. But walkers may only cross at low tide when it is knee deep. Though it is not possible to anchor above the river mouth it is possible to explore the River Erme as far as the weir at Flete, 3½ miles inland, on the rise.


What facilities are available?
The mouth of the estuary is completely open and wild with no facilities whatsoever. A pathway that circles around either side of Owen's Hill leads to a road from Mothecombe beach. Likewise following the shore from Wonwell Beach opposite, leads to a road to Kingston, a mile inland, where the Dolphin Inn serves food.


With thanks to:
eOceanic


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Please zoom out to see the 'initial fix' for this location.
The above plots are not precise and indicative only.




River Erme, Devon, England
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


Peak season at Mothecombe on a beautiful summers' day
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


Mothecombe on a beautiful summers' day
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


The inner estuary as seen from Owen's Hill
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


Coastguard's Beach inside the River Erme Estuary
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur




Erme Estuary




Enjoying a visit to the Erme Estuary by boat



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