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The River Avon is located near the centre of Bigbury Bay on England's south coast and about ten miles eastward of the approaches to Plymouth. The sandy river and its estuary entirely dry at low water and it offers an anchorage to vessels that can make an approach at high water and then take to the bottom when the water is away.

The River Avon is located near the centre of Bigbury Bay on England's south coast and about ten miles eastward of the approaches to Plymouth. The sandy river and its estuary entirely dry at low water and it offers an anchorage to vessels that can make an approach at high water and then take to the bottom when the water is away.

The Avon River offers complete protection once in. However, the river mouth is completely open to the southwest and cannot be entered, or exited, when there is any swell. Hence it is only available in very settled conditions or with light northerly component winds and is best addressed at near water. Access requires attentive navigation and daylight as there are drying rocks on both sides of the entrance and the approach is via an unmarked and circuitous channel.

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Keyfacts for River Avon
Shop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the area

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderSailing Club baseScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Dangerous to enter when it is Beaufort force 2 or more from ESE, SE, SSE, S, SSW, SW and WSW.Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pierRestriction: rising tide required for access

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
-1.8 metres (-5.91 feet).

3 stars: Attentive navigation; daylight access with dangers that need attention.
5 stars: Complete protection; all-round shelter in all reasonable conditions.

Last modified
January 10th 2019

Summary* Restrictions apply

A completely protected location with attentive navigation required for access.

Shop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the area

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderSailing Club baseScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Dangerous to enter when it is Beaufort force 2 or more from ESE, SE, SSE, S, SSW, SW and WSW.Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pierRestriction: rising tide required for access

Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 16.781' N, 003° 52.215' W

This is off Bantham where most boats dry out on hard sand.

What is the initial fix?

The following River Avon Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
50° 15.575' N, 003° 54.687' W
This is on the 10-metre contour about ½ a mile southward of Murray\'s Rock beacon (unlit).

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

  • The river can only be entered in settled or moderate offshore conditions and, ideally, an hour before HW.

  • Burgh Island, lying close off the north entrance point of the river, makes for a reliable seamark to identify the entrance.

  • Find the beacon marking the end of a drying reef extending eastward from the island. The covered Murray's Rocks extends 300 meters southward of the beacon.

  • Align the two most eastward houses overlooking the entrance that broadly indicate the channel.

  • Break off the transit when the upper house covers and turn for the narrows bring the front house astern.
  • Best water will be found on the southern or starboard side of the narrows through to Bantham
  • .
  • Anchor off and prepare to dry adjacent or upriver of Bantham.

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 Avon for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Hope Cove - 2.2 nautical miles S
  2. River Erme - 3.6 nautical miles WNW
  3. Kingsbridge - 3.7 nautical miles E
  4. Salcombe - 4.8 nautical miles SE
  5. Starehole Bay - 5.1 nautical miles SE
  6. River Yealm - 7.3 nautical miles WNW
  7. Hallsands - 8.6 nautical miles ESE
  8. Plymouth Harbour - 11.3 nautical miles WNW
  9. Dittisham & The River Dart - 12.3 nautical miles ENE
  10. Dartmouth Harbour - 12.3 nautical miles ENE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Hope Cove - 2.2 miles S
  2. River Erme - 3.6 miles WNW
  3. Kingsbridge - 3.7 miles E
  4. Salcombe - 4.8 miles SE
  5. Starehole Bay - 5.1 miles SE
  6. River Yealm - 7.3 miles WNW
  7. Hallsands - 8.6 miles ESE
  8. Plymouth Harbour - 11.3 miles WNW
  9. Dittisham & The River Dart - 12.3 miles ENE
  10. Dartmouth Harbour - 12.3 miles ENE
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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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?
The entrance to the River Avon
Image: Michael Harpur

The River Avon, also known as the River Aune, rises 460 metres above sea level on the southern half of Dartmoor National Park. From here it makes a 23-mile journey to flow into the sea at Bigbury-on-Sea passing through South Brent and then Avonwick and Aveton Gifford on its way. Similar to its surrounding South Devon estuaries it is a ria where an original deep river valley was inundated by a later sea level rise. The estuary is tidal for 4½ miles inland as far as the weir at Aveton Gifford which is the bridging point. The low and navigable parts of the river below Aveton Gifford create a wide expanse of water with open woodland shores, broken here and there by a bay or creek on the flood. But at low water, the river and its entrance almost entirely dry to clean sand.

The river entrance is therefore only navigable on the rise by vessels carrying up to 2.5 metres that may take to the ground or have beaching legs when the water is away. The entrance is wide open to the southwest with no protection from seaward. Consequently, it cannot be entered, nor exited, when there is any swell which renders any approach hazardous.

Likewise, the path of the entrance is through an 'S' shape centred on a pinch point between Cockleridge and Lower Cellars. These narrows constrict the tidal flow to produce currents that can attain up to 5 knots on the ebb. Consequently, the best time to enter is an hour before local HW which is HW Dover -0523 or HW Plymouth +0015.

Though a challenge to enter, once in, the Avon River offers perfect shelter. In particularly bad conditions a vessel may escape it all by proceeding upriver on the rise. Visitors on a time schedule will have to remain vigilant as, should the weather turn, any onshore breeze or groundswell could close off the entrance for some time. On the other hand, for those with more time on their hands, it would be a challenge to find a nicer place to be trapped.

Image: Michael Harpur

During settled conditions a tide wait or temporary anchorage is available outside and off Burgh Island. 2 metres or more CD will be found close east of Murray's Rocks with excellent sand holding and some protection from the ledge. This also facilitates a reconnaissance of the channel by dinghy which will be a help when the approach is ready to be made.

How to get in?
Burgh Island
Image: c.art

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 entrance to the River Avon lies 2⅓ miles north by northwest of Bolt Tail, and Burgh Island provides an excellent seamark for the entrance. The 47 metres high island appears like a rounded lump with a small ruined stone lookout standing on the summit. At low water, the island is connected by a sandy neck to the land on the west side of the Avon entrance. Above the sandy beach, on the mainland behind, stands the small seaside village of Bigbury-On-Sea. The river mouth is about a mile eastward of Burgh Island.

Burgh Island with Murray's Rocks exposed
Image: Michael Harpur

The key danger of the initial approach is the sunken Murray’s Rock. It is the outer part of a continuation of an east-by-southeast and then south projecting peninsula from the edge of the island that forms a low ridge. The first part of the rocky ledge extends 200 metres east from Burgh Island's most eastern point and dries at low water. The extremity of this is marked by a 2 metre high unlit red beacon with a cross top.

The outer Murray's Rocks just breaking at low water
Image: Paul Appleton via CC BY-NC 2.00

This beacon stands about 300 meters northward of the sunken Murray’s Rock, sometimes also known as the Blind Mare, which has as little as 1 metre of water over it at LWS. It lies about 600 metres south-eastward from the centre of the island and is very much on the approaches to the river. This is the essential danger to be aware of, but do not give it such a wide margin as to be into the outlying rocks that fringe the extensive sand dunes and beach of the Ham on the opposite shore.

The conspicuous houses that provide a natural transit
Image: Michael Harpur

Initial fix location The initial fix is set on the 10-metre contour about a ½ mile south of the Murray’s Rock Beacon. The entrance will be clearly visible from here, lying between Bigbury-on-Sea and a high, dark cliff ½ a mile eastward. Steer in on a course of about 028° T towards the head of the inlet, to pass its outliers and pick up on a convenient natural transit provided by two conspicuous houses that broadly indicate the path of the channel.

The two houses are the two easternmost houses that overlook the entrance from the cliff top close east of a cluster of trees. The front is a single story dwelling house with three windows and the rear is two stories with eight windows and two chimneys on the skyline. When aligned they steer a course of about 038° T. This leads in past the outliers of Murray’s Rock and along the western side of the entrance beneath the high cliff of Mount Folly.

Yacht exiting in the channel running under Mount Folly cliff
Image: Michael Harpur

Keeping the houses broadly in transit leads along the beach under the cliff where the tide scours out about 1 metre at low water. The alignment is on the channel, or at times its eastern edge within the western headland, so prepare for some sounding about. Once over the drying entrance bar the channel gradually shallows all the way in so there should be no surprises.

The channel turning around the sandspit towards the narrows
Image: Michael Harpur

Start turning east when the rear house of the alignment dips below the front and a local boat mark of a white stripe painted on the rocks may be seen to port. Now expect the channel to almost go round through 90° to starboard/southward, to pass inside the verdant cliff on the eastern head of Lower Cellars Point. From this head, a sandy tongue of land and spit called Bantham Sands extends well over toward a bend in the shore close within the Mount Folly, and the objective is to pass inside of this sand spit and the shore.

A good line is to steer to pass close to the inside shore of Lower Cellars Point, bringing the front single story house almost astern. This passes in front of a drying sandbank, that dries to 3 metres, off the foot of the cliff which should be passed to port. Just before the narrows, the channel shallows over the remains of an old seawall which collects sand in various positions each year, the shallows may be marked by a locally placed buoy.

The deepest water is close to the southern shore after the narrows
Image: Michael Harpur

Expect strong currents in the narrows Upper and Lower Cellars which is deep from the scouring currents. The deepest water will be found close to the southern shore as a shingle bank extending from the northern Cockleridge side narrows the channel. Past the rivers iconic pink and thatched boathouse at Jenkin’s Quay, the river widens again. Here the water is deep with about 2 metres at LW.
Please note

This would appear to offer an ideal afloat anchorage. But its loose sands offer poor holding and with currents that can attain rates of up 5 knots on the ebb and also a rocky shoreline, puts paid to any boat that might drag onto them, it is only for the brave.

Follow the southern shore past the harbourmaster's thatched boathouse and continue upstream towards Bantham.

Bantham located a third of a mile within the narrows
Image: Michael Harpur

Haven location The usual location to anchor and prepare to ground on the hard sand is anywhere clear of the few local small boat moorings close to Bantham or above.

Yacht anchored close upriver of Bantham
Image: Michael Harpur

Above Bantham the river is shallow everywhere but it retains its drying sandbanks for about two miles inland after which it turns to mud. The river is tidal and navigable for 4½ miles as it snakes its way between open green pastures and cornfields that slope down to wooded shores fronted by drying sandbanks and reedy saltings. Above the Aveton Gifford weir, it transforms into a lovely freshwater stream carving its way between grassy banks and babbling over a clean gravel bottom.

Local boat moorings upriver at low water
Image: Michael Harpur

The Bantham Estate, who own and manage the rights to the river, have 140 moorings all the way along the river. Should the weather deteriorate complete protection will be found on a rising tide further upriver clear of these moorings, and in fine weather it makes for a wonderful dinghy expedition. Just be aware that there is a maximum speed limit on the river of 8 knots for boat users.

Why visit here?
The River Avon, also known as the River Aune, derives its name from the Celtic word ‘Abona’. It is a river-name found several times throughout England as the word means, simply, 'river'.

The headland was the site of a Bronze Age and later Roman Fort
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. Coastal forts were also established above the estuaries of the Avon and the Erme that offered safe beaching havens to vessels and the opportunity to progress further inland. Extensive finds of Bronze and Iron Age material have been discovered all along the River Avon.

The area known as Bantham Ham, at the mouth of the Avon Estuary, went on to become a large Roman and post-Roman settlement through to the Medieval period. During the Roman occupation, they built a large settlement to protect the entrance behind the dunes and to the west of the current village. A 70-metre earth bank can still be seen running along the north side of the present car park and a medieval corn ditch enclosing fields to the east of The Ham. More evidence for Roman occupation in the region comes from the enclosures at Mount Folly and near Bigbury on the opposite side of the river mouth. From this well-defended site, the Romans traded Dartmoor tin and various tin-made products to the Gauls.

Mount Folly, opposite Bantham, had corresponding enclosures
Image: Michael Harpur

The site continued to host a large trading settlement into post-Roman Britain times. A vast assemblage of late 5th and 6th-century Mediterranean pottery retrieved from its sand dunes indicate strong post-Roman Period trading links between southwest England and the Mediterranean. The quantity of ceramics recovered here is only second to that of Cornwall's historic Tintagel, one of the nation's most spectacular historic sites from the same period. South of Bantham's present day car park in Upper Cellars, medieval lynchets can still be seen terraced into the hillslope. All of this was covered by sand and unknown until mid-18th-century storms uncovered the settlements burnt remains. Since 1978, extensive archaeological excavations have tracked the extent of the settlement, and it is now a scheduled ancient monument protected by English Heritage.

The entrance to the River Avon as seen from within
Image: Mark Coleman

But after that settlement declined development ceased and the area returned to nature without a trace. In 1337 Edward III created the Duchy to support his eldest son and all future heirs to the throne. Bantham itself is believed to have started off as a little fishing hamlet. It derived its name from the Anglo-Saxon word ban or ‘bent’ referring to its marram grass conjoined with ‘ham’ for a village. The river was used up until as late as the early 20th-century by barges that regularly worked their way inland with cargoes of lime, stone and coal for the South Hams farms. But limestone and coal vessels seldom went above the village of Bantham and the discharging vessels would often lose weeks waiting for a favorable wind and tide to exit.

The iconic boathouse, Jenkin’s Quay, at the mouth of the river
Image: Roger Cornfoot via CC-BY-SA 2.0

By the 1800s Bantham the population of the village was around 100. It consisted then of a little row of white-washed cob and lathe cottages, a coastguard station, a smithy, bakery, shop, and a 14th-century inn, The Sloop. Locals made their income from farming and fishing and, like most out-of-the-way rural coastal settings, the odd tub of smuggled brandy from France. The village's seminal years came between 1750 and around 1880 when it became a regional centre for the pilchard trading industry during the Cornish pilchard-boom. The tiny quays at Bantham were then a hive of activity landing and curing the pilchard catches to be shipped to the Roman Catholic countries of, Italy France and Spain. Sadly over-fishing eliminated the trade and the village went into steep decline.

Burgh Island at dusk
Image: Povl Abrahamsen via CC BY-NC 2.00

Pilchard fishermen also worked off Burgh Island. The stone hut at its summit, formerly a chapel of which no visible trace remains, was a Huer's Hut. The name originates from the old French word hue, to shout, and the 50-metre high building provided a fine vantage point for its ‘Huers’ to oversee many miles of the south coast. During the Pilchard heyday, the small building would have been manned all day and even on moonlit nights. The sight they would be looking for is the distinctive ripple and colour of glinting giant pilchard shoals, locally called a shirming, or of other passing fish. When a shoal was spotted the 'hue and cry' would commence. The ancient pub on the foreshore, by the landing place, called ‘The Pilchard Inn’ remembers this history.

Huer's Hut atop Burgh Island
Image: Stephen and Therese Jennings via CC BY-NC 2.00
Operated by the Hotel today, the Inn has been serving ale to visitors, on and off, since 1395. It is thought the Inn started life as the guest lodgings for a monastery that was once established on the island, and early records and maps mention it as 'St Michael's Island'. The name later changed to Borough Island, eventually shortened to Burgh. Most of the remains of the monastery are believed to lie beneath the current hotel. Smugglers also used the island to bring contraband into the country. In its smuggling heyday, there was purportedly a tunnel running from a cave on the beach where Tom Crocker, the local king of smugglers, hauled his booty to the ‘The Pilchard Inn’ where it could be safely stored.

The first hotel was built in 1895 and the present Burgh Island Hotel took shape in the 1920s and 30s, in an Art Deco style. With current prices in excess of £600 a night it is and always has been the reserve of the literary, social and media stars. Guests it has hosted include Noel Coward, Winston Churchill, Lord Mountbatten, and Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Agatha Christie wrote six books here with and set two of her most popular books, 'And Then There Were None' and 'Evil Under the Sun' on the island. In addition to the hotel, the Inn and the remains of the Huer's Hut, the island has three private houses. When the tide is in, a unique sea tractor that can operate over the sand spit when it is covered by up to 2 metres of water, transports people to and from the island.

Burgh Islands elite and elegant Art Deco hotel
Image: Derek Voller via CC BY-SA 2.0

Today the Avon estuary is part of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and lies within the South Devon Heritage Coast. The Duchy of Cornwall still owns the river bed from the mouth of the river at Bantham right up to the highest tidal point at the weir upstream of the bridge at Aveton Gifford, including tributaries. Bantham is privately owned by the Evans Estates which eschews development preferring to focuses on keeping it as beautiful as it is. As such the streetscape of Bantham is strikingly similar to how it was in the 1800s. There are several Grade II listed buildings, including a row of well cared for 17th-century former fishermen’s thatched cob and stone cottages with tiny sash windows, running down from the pub towards the beach.

Sea-tractor that ferries foot passengers across to the island at high water
Image: Andrew

Today the little hamlet is the hidden gem of south Devon. For a family boat, there is no beating the area. Bantham Beach has been included in Lonely Planet’s Top Ten Beaches in Europe for families. The beach has soft sand, rock pools and when the tide goes out a huge area of sand with shallow pools. There are excellent conditions for surfing, kayaking and kite-surfing and other water sports. Life-Guards are on duty during the summer months, but dogs are not permitted during the summer season. For those who want to make life easier, 'The Sloop Inn' will slake any thirst and serves good food. Likewise, the Gastrobus should not be overlooked.

Bantham Sailing Club have been sailing on the river since 1933
Image: Michael Harpur

The access to the river when on the rise, provides a wonderful opportunity for exploring by dinghy. Above the Aveton Gifford weir, there are wonderful opportunities to have a picnic by the freshwater stream. Those who like to walking will find the coastal footpath runs along the cliff edge over the whole length of the surrounding area and through Bantham. After the village, it passes a small Woodland Trust copse which runs down to the River Avon. Most of Burgh Island's 28-acres is also open to non-guests who have a public right of way. A short walk across the causeway at low water, or a more unusual crossing by sea tractor at high tide, is recommended. Then it is a short, steep climb uphill to the Huer's Hut that provides stunning views back along the coast.

The River Avon upriver at low water
Image: Michael Harpur

From a boating point of view, those with a suitable vessel will find it one of the most attractive inlets on the south coast. Its drying nature and unmarked entrance has allowed it to remain totally unspoiled and far removed from the busier surrounding anchorages. This makes it a delightful and rare cruising gem on this busy coast.

What facilities are available?
There are toilets in the village and a shop/café. A distinctive thatched boathouse located on Coronation Quay provides a launch point for sailing boats and other craft and is where the harbourmaster for the Avon Estuary is based. Bantham's 'The Sloop Inn' serves good food as does Aveton Gifford's 'Fisherman's Rest' upriver and the up-market Gastrobus has to be recommended. Bantham Sailing Club has a racing season of approximately six weeks from late July until the weekend of the August Bank holiday. They do not have a clubhouse and the racing is based at the quay on the River Avon at Bantham, and there is a notice board outside Whiddons in the main street in Bantham, for information.

The No. 93 bus passes through Bantham on its journey between Kingsbridge and Plymouth. A seasonal pedestrian ferry crosses between Bantham and Cockleridge Farm. This operates between 10 am and 11 am and again between 3 pm and 4 pm on Monday – Saturdays from late April to late September. The ferry costs £2.50 each way and is popular with walkers on the South West Coast Path as it avoids the need to walk around the Avon estuary.

With thanks to:

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

River Avon entrance
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur

River Avon
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur

Bantham Sailing Club
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur

The quaint thatched boathouse above the narrows
Image: eOceanic thanks Nilfanion via CC BY-SA 2.0

Bantham Aerial Overview

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