Work, Rest & Play in Exmouth

Exmouth in Devon is a town where the one-mile wide, eight-mile long River Exe Estuary feeds into the sea.

Here old-fashioned seaside charm blends in with the emerging gentrified cool. One thing that draws the strong community and visitors to the town is their love of the water – whether to work on or play in. Harriet Mellor meets just some of them. Photos Andy Lloyd

  Steph Bridge

At 4pm on a sunny weekday, the sky and sea are filled with at least 30 kitesurfers swooping, whirling, turning and flipping in and above the waves. They’ve either knocked off work early or the younger ones have come straight from school.

A prominent presence among them is Steph Bridge – three times world kite surfing champion, Guinness Record Breaker who spent Sir Richard Branson’s 60th birthday kitesurfing the English channel with him, and category ambassador for the 2016 Olympics.

Steph is Exmouth born and bred to a family of boat builders. She’s married to another champion, Eric, and together they have spawned more wave-riding winners – the ‘Bridgelets’: Tommy 10, a European junior champion, Guy 11 and Ollie 13. All the Bridges are bronzed, blonde and lovely, and extremely down to earth with it.

Steph and Eric have been together since she was 18. After starting Spinnakers, a successful sailing business aged 20, they then set up Edgewatersports teaching, hiring and selling everything related to windsurfing, paddle-boarding, kayaking and kite-surfing.

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Far from being sports for lithe lovelies, community clientele are aged from 6-74 and include the local-based Royal Marines, Army, schools, hospital units and lifeguards.

“With the estuary and the sea to choose from, there’s so much scope for watersports. There’s no such thing as a bad day on the water here.”

Steph was a comparatively late starter to kitesurfing but a “very passionate” one. She didn’t start competing until 2004, winning her first world title in 2007. In Exmouth she says the sport has snowballed, becoming as popular as the Cornish hotspots.

“Kiteboarding has become a bit of a scene here. People have come to me for a course and then keep coming back. Some have even bought second homes here. I think Exmouth will become the next Watergate Bay.”

Edge Watersports, 3 The Royal Avenue, 01395 222551,

Kevin Riley, MBE

“It becomes part and parcel of your blood,” says Kevin Riley, explaining how a three-month temporary stint at Exmouth RNLI has turned into 10 years as the station’s Lifeboat operations manager. The town has had a lifeboat station for 200 years, and is one of the busiest for ‘shouts’ in the South West. However, it relocated after nature’s elements shifted the shape of the river and the depth of its bed.

The new state-of-the-art, eco-build boathouse opened in late 2009 at the exit of the Exe on Queen’s Drive, thanks

to some generous legacies and a public appeal. Kevin does many a station tour – 1,500 ‘youngsters’ in the past year, and many adult attendees of the regular open days.

“We are really only the custodians of this station. The public have paid for it, this fantastic town really got stuck in and raised �2 million, so it’s great that they should be able to view it.”

Kevin, 63, and his family left Stockton-On-Tees for Exmouth 25 years ago, but his roots are part of the jokey boathouse banter. “They still take the Mickey and call me a foreigner from the North!” As it’s only 12 years since he left a military career in the Paras, he can probably give as good as he gets!

When he’s not on call, Kevin teaches sailing as a yachtmaster instructor, and flies as part of the Devon Strut Light Aircraft Association often with Scouts and the disabled. He modestly brushes over his MBE, but his heart obviously belongs to helping people. 

“It’s good to bust a gut and lead by example so others follow. You get out of society what you put in.”

Dave Foa and Paul Craven

It’s fair to say Dave Foa and Paul Craven are on an extremely tight deadline. The structure pictured may look like a half-built beach hut on a washed-up pontoon, but in a few weeks time it will be moored in the estuary ski lane and functioning as the River Exe Floating Caf�.

“We’ve already got lots of bookings through July and August, birthday parties and a wedding in September!” says Dave.

Customers will either be able to stop off and disembark from their various water sporting vessels – or arrive by more conventional methods, via one of the four ribs which will serve as the caf�’s shuttle service. In the evenings they’ll serve mussels – it would be rude not to as they’ll be sitting in the midst of the infamous Exmouth Mussel Farm – plus steak frites, and even throw ‘barbies’ on the al fresco deck that will seat up to 60.

Dave and his Foa family are “London exiles who would never go back”, he explains. He used to be in property and now has a thriving wakeboarding business, Exe Wake, and the imminent caf� adding to his portfolio.

 The Exe has always been part of business partner, Paul Craven’s life. Resident for 32 years, he has sailed on it since the age of 4, and now he works on it. Paul is the new director of the recently regenerated Exmouth Marina and runs an engineering firm, Craven Marine Services. He sees the expanding facilities as the start of a new era.

“The marina was almost a ‘closed doors’ operation before. Now it’s been developed with visitors’ berths, the Pierhead gallery, restaurants and a pub. I think the combination of that and our caf� will attract more people here.” The shuttle leaves from Exmouth Marina.

Bookings: 07825 539450

Emma Houlding

The recently opened lifestyle and design store INC fits perfectly with Exmouth’s new image. Filled with handmade and printed pictures, cushions, cards and lampshades, it’s based in the Strand, an area of town which has been the recipient of a multi-million pound redevelopment. Tastefully European in style, it’s now a vast, largely pedestrianised square for eating and drinking, entertainment, shopping and generally hanging out.

INC is owned by former award-winning glass-maker Emma Houlding whose work was sold at Liberty, auctioned at Sothebys and shown around the globe. Adding to the style credentials, Emma is a former resident of London’s Hackney bringing urban inspiration and artists from terribly trendy Shoreditch and Columbia Road.

Locally, she’s a huge fan and seller of World of Moose by the Devon artist and illustrator Moose Allain.

She, husband Adam, and their two young children are living a few minutes away in Lympstone. It’s been a rush job, moving in January and opening the shop in May.

“Before that we were homeless, having sold our house in London and travelling around Mexico. We knew we wanted to live in the South West but weren’t sure where. But this is such a beautiful part of the country –

there’s the beach, estuary and the town is thriving. And after we came to last year’s Exmouth Festival, it completely sealed the deal!”

INC, Shop One

17/18 The Strand,

Olivier Guyard-Mulkervin

On the search for Exmouth characters, many local fingers pointed to ‘the crazy Frenchman’. It’s a title Olivier Guyard-Mulkervin wears with pride, as it refers to his passion for spear fishing. In former and more exotic climes he was a deep-sea diving champion, infamous for wrestling marlins, sharks and catching a 100lb yellow fin tuna. In Exmouth his haul is huge conger eels and sea bass.

Olivier, who previously worked in many Michelin-starred kitchens, is also a pretty popular restaurateur. With a simple menu and d�cor both influenced by his native Brittany, he opened Les Saveurs four years ago.

“It was the recession and worst possible timing. We used every bit of our life savings to start and with no money to employ staff.” But pure hard graft with the help of Irish wife, Sheila, sons Patrick and Sean, and his sister-in-law and friends all doing the interiors, waiting on table and prepping in the kitchen, has earned them an AA Rosette.

Even on weekdays the place is often fully booked with fans of his trademark Mediterranean fish soup and Lyme Bay fillet of brill with a langoustine ‘Amoricaine’ sauce.

“My dad was a chef, and ever since I was 10 years old I always dreamed of having my own restaurant by the sea, so I could cook and fish. We fell in love with Exmouth because a lot of Devon and Cornwall coastline is like Brittany.”

Les Saveurs, 9 Tower Street 01395 269459. Open Tues-Sat from 7pm (so Olivier can spend as much time as possible fishing).

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