Instow to Northam Burrows (Torridge Estuary), North Devon.
Extremely tidal location that goes almost dry on big spring low tides. A lot of water moves here so getting it right is super important. It’s quite sheltered, however, with Atlantic swell not really making it this high into the estuary. Wind can sometimes be a factor though.
Flat to choppy water dictated by tide and breeze are what you’ll find here. Some wake from boat traffic and very occasionally massive swell can push in from the open sea. Although this is rare and even if it does the waves will be small and weak.
Tide. Tide, tide and more tide. We can’t emphasise just how much tidal current runs through this gap during the mid (strongest) hours of flow. IF you get it wrong you’ll be sucked out to sea or pushed up towards Bideford. With correct planning and experience, however, riding the tide could be your preference. Watch out for mud banks that WON’T take your weight in certain areas. Odd currents and back eddies around piled up sand and shingle. Boat wake and marine traffic – especially during high season.
The chosen put in is usually from Instow side where an easily accessible beach gives way to the water. You could drop your SUP in further up the estuary at East-the-Water to make the journey slightly longer. This is trickier with access not as good. Appledore also has access to the water but, again, is a tad trickier. Parking along the harbour front is a nightmare during busy, peak periods.
Instow itself is a popular, sheltered North Devon beach that attracts many holiday makers through summer. Locals use the beach often also, so even during winter there’re people about. In terms of the Instow to North Burrows route, however, this is quiet for stand up paddling. Occasionally kayakers will be on the brine but SUP is yet to make its mark.
Plenty of amenities exist in Instow itself and the surrounding area. Instow has a swathe of pubs, restaurants and refreshment points along the waterfront. More can be found in the country lanes close by. Bideford is a short drive away and being a town has plenty to do. Other villages and SUP spots can be accessed from Instow within a small area. There’s more than you think in this part of the world. And generally it’s not quite as busy as the more headline locations of Saunton, Croyde and Woolacombe.
We’ve said it already but we’ll say it again: this is an incredibly tidal route that should only be undertaken if you’re experienced and know what you’re doing. The Torridge Estuary has a super strong current during the mid part of the tide’s cycle. If you’re comfortable with this then it can be used to your advantage. Depending on where you want to go. We’d suggest caution none the less the first time you take this route on. As such aim for one hour either side of high tide.
Put in at Instow (Crow Point) and paddle towards across towards Appledore. Watch out for bot traffic, including fishing boats and the Appledore to Instow. Once on that opposite side head west, hugging the coastline. This way you stay out of the main channel and strongest tide. From here continue on towards Northam Burrows.
If you need to get out then the slipway the RNLI Lifeboat uses can be found on the south facing length of Appledore. Just make sure it’s not being used. At high water, there’s a basin that has a muddy bottom if you carry on left. At points, it’s quite shallow. We’d suggest not getting off your SUP here though as the mud can be quite sinky. The aforementioned RNLI are often called to rescue people who’re stuck in it!
Instead, carry on across to the end of Northam Burrows. Northam Burrows is a semi-wild landscape consisting of a grassy plane and marshes. You can keep going a little way along its shoreline. But don’t go too far otherwise you’ll end up out at sea where the water becomes quite turbulent to say the least.
Get out at Northam Burrows and walk with your kit to your transport which can be left in the car park. As you can see it’s a fairly quick adventure SUP route but is very scenic. You’ll need your logistics sorted in terms of getting back to your put in. But that’s fairly easy to sort if paddling as a group. You may choose to paddle the opposite way next time. But as always, keep in mind the tide.