Car-freeAdventures from Exeterwith Great Western Railway

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Green spaces, great museums, a majestic cathedral and lots of places to stay all make Exeter an excellent hub for holidays. Researchers recently found that the city has the greenest urban centre of any city in Britain and it sits at the heart of a web of scenic railway lines, radiating across the Devon countryside to reach castles and cruises, steam trains and cycleways. Here are just some of the things you can explore on a day trip by rail from Exeter.

  • County: with Great Western Railway
  • Great for: castles | coastal walk | good cafés and pubs | nature reserves | scenic train |
  • Refreshments: lots of fabulous station buffets, restaurants, pubs and cafes
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch: features@goodjourney.org.uk
  1. The Dartmoor Line: Exeter to Okehampton

    For the first time in 50 years, the Dartmoor Line began to run daily services from Exeter to Okehampton again in November 2021 and now there are hourly trains along the line to the edge of the Dartmoor National Park with its open moorland, great views, craggy peaks and shaggy ponies.

    • The Dartmoor Way, a hundred-mile circuit of the National Park, which officially launched a way-marked walking route in 2022, runs through Okehampton. There are cycling routes too, including the mostly traffic-free Granite Way and there is bike hire at the station.
    • About ten minutes’ walk from the station are the picturesque ruins of Okehampton Castle.
    • Don’t miss the Victorian Arcade in Okehampton, full of independent shops and great places for coffee.
    • The Dartmoor Way runs from the castle along a stream into town and passes Fatherford viaduct. From here, you can walk over East Hill back to the station. From the top of the hill, there are views all round across granite tors, wind-bent thorns and grazing ponies.
    • Lydford Gorge is ten miles away and bus 118 over the moors offers a rail link from the station, timed to coincide with trains. It stops by the gorge’s lower entrance where a trail leads to the thirty-metre Whitelady waterfall. The misty air means that mosses, ferns and lichens thrive here in a temperate rainforest.
    • At the top of the lane in Lydford, there’s a thirteenth-century castle, Saxon defences, and the cosy Castle Inn with a great range of pub food and real ales.
  1. The Tarka Line: Exeter to Barstaple

    The Tarka Line is named after Henry Williamson’s 1920s novel, Tarka the Otter, based on his years of careful nature observation in the area. The railway runs through some beautiful landscapes and, from Barnstaple at the end of the line, you can reach coast, countryside and fabulous gardens by bus or bike.

    • The 180-mile Tarka Trail follows the little otter’s journey in the “country of two rivers” and includes the UK’s the longest, continuous cycle path. Seasonal bike hire is available at Barnstaple station. There’s a bronze statue of Tarka on the Quay near the Long Bridge at Bideford, mentioned in the novel, and Otters café is nearby.
    • Great Scenic Railways, representing lines in Devon and Cornwall, has a Real Ale Trail along the Tarka Line (collect ten stamps and win an otter logo tee shirt!). Highlighted places include the Station Master’s café in Barnstaple, serving everything from brunches to brownies and the Boathouse at Instow (bus 21 from Barnstaple) with views across dunes, wide sands and water to Lundy Island. The Boathouse’s menu includes fish pie packed scallops and smoked haddock under a golden layer of brown crab cheddar mash.
    • Bus 5B runs from Barnstaple station every two hours to the gates of RHS Rosemoor. With its bright birches and dogwoods, elegantly-structured gardens and varied evergreens, Rosemoor really is a garden for all seasons and has a 30% discount for car-free visitors.