Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Route 2: Exmouth to Topsham on foot

As I mentioned in the previous post - Round The Point: Exmouth - on Saturday I was in Exmouth, and on impulse decided to walk home to Topsham along the recently-completed National Route 2 Exe Estuary Trail (the segment that runs up the east side of the Exe).

Exmouth, The Point, from Weasel Run
Weasel Run
From Exmouth centre there are two ways on to Route 2 (see map). If you're cycling, there's no choice; the path begins just outside the railway station and runs north beside Marine Way (the A376), then cuts left past a donkey field and football ground, across a patch of park, then briefly joins a residential road before you reach the gate to Route 2 proper. If you're on foot, a rather nicer start is to go through the bus station or along any of the roads that cut straight to the riverside, then head north along the "Weasel Run", a path on the East Devon Way through an area of scrubland (see map) before crossing the railway line and joining Route 2.

from riverside meadow, looking towards Lympstone
From there, the trail runs more or north-west, on the landward side of the Exmouth-Exeter railway line. Again, if you're cycling, you've no choice but to follow it as far as Lympstone.

Old sea wall path - not for cycles!
But on foot there's a pleasant alternative at most tide levels except the highest; half-way to Lympstone, a footpath breaks away from the trail (here) and crosses to the old path between the river and railway line. After crossing a riverside meadow that's popular with picnickers, you could take this path all the way to where it joins Sowden Lane (the road into Lympstone over the outcrop of sandstone to its south). But on Saturday I took the route I generally prefer: down to the beach over a slightly tumbledown section of the sea wall, then along the firm shingle round the cliffs - the flat-bedded pebbles almost form a causeway - to approach Lympstone from its beach frontage.

rounding the headland south of Lympstone

Lympstone harbour

Lympstone frontage with the Italianate-style Peter's Tower
Lympstone Harbour from Cliff Field

Lympstone I won't describe in detail. It's very folksy, and has a couple of pubs if you want. On foot, it's worth going up the steep lane, The Strand, to take in the view from Cliff Field on the sandstone outcrop to the north of the village (see map). About half-way along the field, to the right, there's a bridge over the railway that takes you on to the next section of the Route 2 trail. Don't do as I did, and assume the bridge at the far end will get you there; that one crosses the railway then leads to a couple of unconnected paths, one to the beach and one up a lane running inland. You're directly adjacent to the trail, and there's a small flight of steps to it - but there are padlocked gates and a "railway use only" sign. I can't see any rational reason for the gates being locked: put it down to sheer bureaucracy.

After Lympstone, the trail felt interminable
So, from Lympstone the trail then runs straight on to Exton railway station: quite a long haul, past the Lympstone marine barracks, part of it tarmac, part on wooden walkway above lagoons.

At Exton, the trail breaks, and follows Station Road to the right past the Puffing Billy pub, then left along Exton Lane and Green Lane, before rejoining the railway on the other side of the village. I say "village" for want of a better word; Exton has no discernible centre, and I can only describe it as a patch of leafy and mostly upmarket suburbia that somehow accreted around a hamlet.

Nearly there: I had to climb the bank to get this shot of Riversmeet
The trail bends right at the River Clyst
Tthe Clyst: a man works on his boat, with two black swans nearby

North of Exton, the trail continues until you can see Riversmeet, the southern tip of Topsham, and then it breaks away from the railway where the latter crosses the River Clyst. After a short section through woodland by the Clyst - the view isn't as good as you'd expect, because the riverside track is private, and Route 2 runs parallel to it, fenced off and slightly inland - the trail goes through a small section of industrial estate, and out on to the pavement of the B3179 main road. You could take a detour right to the Darts farm shopping complex, or turn left to take the final stretch of trail (see map) across the flood plain of the Clyst and over the new wooden footbridge over the Clyst. There's a well-known pub there, The Bridge, but as it was 5.45 and it doesn't open until 6.00, I took the track across the railway line into town, and went home.
Hooray! At Topsham finally, looking back between old and new Clyst bridges

The walk took a bit under three hours, including lots of stops for photography and a break for something to eat in Lympstone. It couldn't have been a better day for it: mild and bright, but not so warm as to get overheated while walking. But do I recommend it? Not all of it. I very much like the section between Exmouth and Lympstone: there's a view, varied terrain, donkeys if you want to see them, and a beach section; and Lympstone itself is always worth seeing. Clare and I have covered that section before, and it makes a pleasant walk, especially if you start at the Saddler's Arms on the Exmouth road, walk into Lympstone village, and walk to Exmouth from there.

But the rest of the trail, Lympstone to Topsham, is just a long slog from A to B, with little in the way of view; you're on the landward side of the railway, with mostly interrupted views of the river. It would be fine for cycling, or for jogging practice. But I found it a dismal walk; at Exton my knee started playing up, as it always does if I walk too far on road, and it's still hurting today. I've done much longer and more arduous walks, but I find "road-bashing" boring and uncomfortable.

Distances: Exmouth centre to Lympstone: 2.25 miles. Lympstone to Topsham 3.75 miles. Total: 6 miles.

- Ray

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