Car-freeAdventures from Exeterwith Great Western Railway
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.
The Riviera Line: Exeter to Paignton
The coast-hugging Riviera Line has some beautiful views from the start and they get better and better. Look out for the Norman towers of Exeter cathedral from train window. Soon after, you run alongside the wide Exe estuary with wading birds on the mudflats and – beyond that – the red-rocked Devon coast.
- Scenic Rail Britain has a free booklet of walks from stations. The first one is a three-mile amble from Starcross station, which is also a good place to catch bus 2 to Powderham Castle. There are ancient oaks, fields of deer, a walled garden full of geese and goats and the bus stops just outside the gates.
- Thousands of migrating waders and waterfowl visit Dawlish Warren nature reserve in winter while the sheltered dunes are full of birdsong and summer flowers. Stroll the couple of miles along the coast from Dawlish Warren to Dawlish to see rock formations like Langstone (or “Elephant” Rock) with sea caves and towering stacks of sandstone.
- The train goes on past Teignmouth, where England’s oldest ferry runs year-round across the river to Shalford with its botanical garden and smugglers’ cave.
- Next up is Torquay, with a seafront of palm trees and Agatha Christie connections. There are boats, including We Ferry, from Torquay to Brixham with the chance of seeing dolphins and combining boats and trains for a round robin.
- Paignton, at the end of the line, is home to the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which offers – among other things – another of the area’s great car-free circuits, this one by bus, boat, ferry and scenic steam train.
- And Paignton Zoo is a twenty minute stroll from the station or hop on the Gold bus. The zoo is a botanical garden with some beautiful plants, as well as all kinds of animals like gorillas and rhinos, monkeys and meerkats. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
The Avocet Line: Exeter to Exmouth
Running along the eastern shore of the Exe estuary, the Avocet Line takes its name from some of the beautiful wading birds you can see in the area. Avocets are elegant black and white birds that overwinter along the South Coast – just one of the many seabirds you might spot.
- The colourful town of Topsham was once a bigger port than Exeter. You can still explore its maritime heritage and Dutch-style merchants’ houses. There’s a local museum and quayside antique shops. Darts Farm, with farm shops and cafes, is about twenty minutes’ walk from the station (or hop on bus 57). Topsham is a good place to access the Exe Estuary Trail or take a boat trip to the riverside Turf Hotel. It’s a truly car-free pub as it’s impossible to drive there, but there are some seriously scenic ways to get there via boat or bike, including a cycle ride from Exeter past the Double Locks, another great waterside pub.
- Lympstone is a peaceful village by the River Exe with a cobbled quay and cosy tea rooms. About half an hour’s walk from the station, along tracks and quiet lanes, you’ll find luxurious Lympstone Manor, opened by celebrity chef Michael Caines in 2016, with its own vineyard, views across the estuary, and immaculate sculpture-dotted lawns. In winter 2022, non-residents can have lunch in the glass-walled Pool House.
- From Exmouth you can take a Stuart Line cruise on the River Exe, past mudbanks full of scampering sanderlings and spread-winged cormorants. These boat trips run even in winter, with hot drinks in the bar and blankets on the top deck.