The South West Coast Path crosses the Exe via the Starcross ferry, but given I walked up the west side of the Exe estuary it is probably no surprise to learn that I walked the east side too.
I took the train to Exeter St David’s and decided to start the walk from there, since the station is out of the city centre and close to the river. I arrived a little after 11am and on leaving the station turned left and crossed the railway lines via the level crossing. The road is a bit grotty but soon reaches the river, crossing it into the part of the city known as Exwick. Here there are two channels to the river, the natural river and a man-made channel to the west, I think the latter is designed to reduce flooding.
I crossed both of these and took the concrete path beside the flood channel, which was full of water (sometimes it is empty).
I soon reached the low bridge that carries the railway line onto Plymouth. Not far beyond this I reached the point where this flood channel re-joins the river at a weir, with the Mill on the Exe pub beyond.
The path continues under the busy Exe bridges junction and then I am approaching the historic quay area. This is one of the nicest parts of Exeter, with the old custom house a particularly lovely building. The arches beside the quay are packed with craft workshops and the like whilst the ground floors of most of the warehouses are now restaurants.
I soon passed an indoor climbing centre on the right and continued on the west side of the river crossing the lock at the start of the Exeter ship canal.
Just beyond the lock I crossed a suspension footbridge to reach the eastern side of the river.
Here I turned right and walked through the pretty little Belle Isle Park. At the end of the park I have to follow a grotty path between metal fences to reach a road. I went ahead along this road and soon reached the river, beside a weir, and beyond the University playing fields at Duckes Meadow. The weir marks the point where a little side channel splits off the river and the path now follows this through the trees beside the playing fields, which are in fact an island, something that is not immediately obvious. Soon I pass the site of the old Countess Weir Paper Mills. The buildings are part derelict and part open and add a bit of industrial history. Beyond this the path joins a residential road through Countess Weir itself, soon reaching the swing bridge which carries the road over the river and canal. The area has some interesting architecture, this one in particular caught my eye.
On the other side the path continued on residential roads for a while, which had a mix of architecture, with 1960s houses mixing with thatched cottages in one place. This was now largely the edge of the city and I soon came to a sign warning me the path ahead to Topsham was incomplete and not passable at high tide. Was it high tide? I had no idea, so hoped for the best. I think this issue has since been resolved as part of the upgrading of this route to a cycle path. The path was initially good but soon dropped down into an area of reeds beside the river. The tide was obviously low enough, as it was dry underfoot.
Presumably either the path has been re-routed now or the surface improved. Soon this area ended and I was back on a sea wall now heading to the M5 bridge.
Just under the bridge the path passed a boat yard. Here the owners (I presume) were using a crane to clear a large tree branch from the river, and asked me to wait for a couple of minutes for them to finish. They explained that this was a common problem and if they did not remove it, it would damage the boats. The sea wall path continued past a very grand white manor house with fine views over the river and continued along behind the gardens of more ordinary houses – I was now entering Topsham.
I know the village well and along with Lympstone was always somewhere I aspired to live when I lived in Exeter, with a lovely estuary side location and an easy commute into the city. I followed the path along the backs of houses which soon brought me out into a little park where there were some seats overlooking the river. I stopped here for lunch but finding myself continually pestered by dogs (does no one use a lead any more?) I soon gave up with that idea and carried on walking.
There were now quite a few boats moored up in the river perhaps a sign of the wealth of the area.
At the end of the park it was back to road walking into the village centre. Topsham itself is a lovely village, being an old port town it was (and still is) wealthy, with some grand houses.
Soon I passed the point where a ferry runs over to the Exeter Ship canal on the other bank, which I passed on the last walk.
On reaching the quay (which now doubles as a car park) I walked out to the edge to get fine views of the river, now revealing muddy banks on either side, a sure sign it is now very much tidal.
The path followed the main road (Strand) south through the village. When the road ends, it continues as a path soon running along beside the Bowling Green Marsh Nature reserve on the left, owned by the RSPB.
Soon a minor road is rejoined here and you follow this past the reserve, where there is a bird hide. The path heads briefly away from the coast here, passing a bird hide overlooking the nature reserve and then soon running alongside the railway. Here the route has now changed (for the better). Having only recently heard about this path I’d come down to explore it, but in truth I was bit a premature, as it wasn’t yet complete. Ahead of me, between Topsham and the next village, Lympstone, the River Clyst flows out into the estuary.
The railway crosses the river near it’s mouth closer to the Exe. The road however crosses further upstream. Many councils that create cycle paths do little more than change a pavement to a “shared use” path, or paint dotted lines down the side of a road. So Devon County Council must be congratulated on doing a proper job. Not only have they created a traffic-free route south of here, they have done so at considerable expense, building a new bridge alongside the railway line to carry the cycle path. The problem was at the time I walked here, it had not been completed. So I head to head inland to cross on the road bridge.
Hence the path now headed inland to join the busy road that crosses the Clyst, it being the main road into Topsham. The path headed downhill past a rather bright pub to the bridge, down the aptly named Bridge Road.
On reaching the rather nice bridge, I was surprised (and pleased) to see a separate foot and cycle bridge has been built too, so you don’t have to walk on the pavement less road over the bridge.
Very nice indeed. And it also gives me a good view of the rather elegant old stone bridge that the road uses.
The Clyst itself is not a huge river, but looking the flood plain around it, I assume can become rather larger after heavy rain.
Once across the river, the path was back to the pavement beside the busy road. This was not a great stretch (but it has been replaced now), soon passing through a retail park/industrial estate. Still I could soon turn off it and back on the cycle path, which headed back to the railway bridge and to the other side of what is now the new bridge carrying the path. The next half mile or so was all new, a tarmac path with wooden fences either side, running alongside the railway line, although sadly the inland rather than coastal side of the railway, with high fences blocking the view. Now, like the western side of the Exe, the railway line runs alongside the estuary for the rest of the way to the coast, this time The Avocet Line, as it’s known, which runs between Exeter and Exmouth, Soon the path reached the edge of the village of Exton, and headed slightly inland to follow the roads through the village.
On reaching Station Road I could turn back along it, to reach the railway line and station, passing the Puffing Billy pub on the way. The station is just a platform beside the track and trains stop here only on request, but a train stops hourly, so it is quite useful if you want to end here, or break the journey. I suspect someone involved in building the cycle path was rather to keen with the cycle racks at the station though, anyone using the one nearest me, would block the path into the station!
I headed up to the station platform, because it offered good views of the estuary, with the tide having gone out further, revealing extensive mud flats.
South from the station, I was back on another new and very good path, again a tarmac cycle path which is easy to follow. The path here was at about the same height as the railway, meaning I could continue to get views of the estuary, rather than the high fence I had earlier.
Ahead though was something a bit surprising. Along the side of the estuary here is a large Royal Marines training centre. There is something a bit unusual though in that it gets it’s own private railway station, something that is very unusual. That is a station that can only be used by those heading to the training centre and not the general public. I remember the old signs giving the rather cryptic message Only those with business at CTCRM may alight here. Yet at the time I lived here I think every train stopped at the station. Now, like Exton, trains stop only on request and hourly. CTCRM stands for Commando Training Centre, Royal Marines I’m told (I once asked someone). The station was manned with a security guard and barbed wire fences between the platform and the base, presumably to ensure the public did not wander off into the base.
What was surprising is that the new cycle path has been routed between the railway line and the base, so it is right on the coast. But the station has remained private, so now you could get off a train onto the platform or walk or cycle on the cycle path behind the platform, but the platform and cycle path are separated by a wire fence and guard remains between the platform and the cycle path. It seems odd to guard the access between two places the public can access! But I suppose with Exton only half a mile down the line the station would serve little purpose.
Soon the marines base ends and on the left is now fields, one being a bright yellow field of rape seed oil. This pleasant path continues for around a mile with fine views of the estuary.
Soon I am approaching the village of Lympstone. The railway runs through the centre of the village and the new cycle path crosses the tracks to head closer to the coast on a new bridge just north of Lympstone Village station. The path headed around the edge of a little park offering good views over the village.
The clock tower especially I think is lovely. Heading down the path then joined the narrow roads through the village, but stuck close to the coast.
Some of the streets were narrow and cobbled, this one reminded me a little of a street in Clovelly in North Devon.
There were now cliffs beside the estuary a sign perhaps that I was getting nearer the coast. The path continued on roads south of the village, but as the tide was out, it looked like I could walk around the cliffs on the shiningly and mud beach beside the river, so I thought I’d give it a try.
You can get around, at least when the tide is out and it gave me the chance to see the lovely red cliffs that are a feature of this part of Devon, because of the iron in the soil.
The estuary was now wide, with the opposite bank now quite some distance away over the mud flats and water.
Soon I reached the road, where I could head back off the beach and back onto the official path, which now followed the route of the East Devon where, there having been a path along this bit of the estuary prior to the cycle path. It was now around 1.5 miles to Exmouth.
Trains still ran alongside on the railway line, but they are slower local trains compared with the tracks on the other side of the estuary, as this is a branch line that ends at Exmouth.
Soon though the path crosses the tracks and then follows the inland side of the railway for the rest of the way. Less than half a mile later, the path crosses back over the railway back onto the coastal side as I can now see Exmouth ahead.
The path soon enters the large car park beside Exmouth station and the railway line, and I’m now in an area I’m very familiar with. I followed this soon to pass the very 1970s station building (and adjacent bus station). I could end the walk here, because I’d done the walk from the station to the sea many times, but I had time to spare, so wanted to finish off by reaching the sea. So I followed the roads beyond the station to reach the beach. Looking over the Exe, I can see the river and the sands at the end of Dawlish Warren.
Soon I reach the beach itself, which is a pleasant sandy beach backed by a low sea wall.
After a short rest on the beach, it was time to head back to the station for the train back to Exmouth and then home from Exeter.
This was an enjoyable walk. A little urban in places but with some pretty villages to pass through on the way and fine views. It is fascinating to watch as the river turns from river to estuary to coast along this walk. Also being almost entirely flat and mostly tarmac throughout it is a good walk at all times of year, as I don’t imagine the path suffers from much in the way of mud. And well done to all concerned for creating this new and very good path along the estuary.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
You can return from Exmouth to Exeter by both bus and train but for the views it is recommended to use the train.
Train times Exeter to Exmouth : Exeter St Davids – Exeter Central – St James’ Park – Polsloe Bridge – Digby and Sowton – Newcourt – Topsham – Exton – Lympstone Commando – Lympstone Village – Exmouth. Every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and summer Sundays. Hourly on winter Sundays. Journey time around 30 minutes from Exmouth to Exeter.
Stagecoach bus route 57 timetable : Exeter Bus Station – Countess Wear – Topsham – Lympstone – Exmouth. Ever 15 minutes Monday – Saturday. Twice per hour on Sundays. Journey time is a little under 45 minutes.