Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Route 2: Countess Wear to Starcross

The current heat wave continues, so I took myself for a walk along the National Route 2 cycle/foot track down the west side of the Exe estuary from Countess Wear to Starcross. I've walked sections before - see Route 2: Topsham Lock to Powderham - but this time put it all together (a decision partly forced by the Topsham ferry being closed on Tuesdays).

It's a slightly peculiar feeling, after nearly 50 years, to be still breaking away from tenets of childhood. I guess my parents can't be blamed for believing the standard wisdom of their era, but some of this wisdom has definitely dated. I was brought up with the idea that you must wear walking boots for walks, and generally dress in anticipation of the worst possible scenario - with the result that my family used to clump around public beaches and promenades in full hill-walking gear. with cagoules packed whatever the weather forecast. I've long since realised that you can be too cautious, and as long as the ground is undemanding, I'm most comfortable walking in deck shoes with a thick insole; for more rugged terrain, I carry light boots and change as required. Another piece of daft folklore was the idea that it was bad to drink liquids during heavy exercise, because it would give you stomach cramps. That tale led to many grumpy and parched summer walks. Now, it's known that stomach cramping is only an issue if you drink large amounts in one go; steady rehydration has become the norm, with electrolyte replacement if you're sweating a lot. On that basis, I felt free to wear shorts and daps, pack a 1.5L bottle of water and two packets of crisps against the heat (it was around 25°C), and get started.

View Larger Map

It's a pleasant circular trip: bus from Topsham to Countess Wear; cross the Exe and Exeter Canal and join the former tow-path on the west side of the river; head downriver for six miles or so to Starcross; then catch the hourly ferry to Exmouth, and take the bus back to Topsham. The walk section is straightish and level, and took about three hours, with brief stops - the Turf Lock pub is a very handy half-way point - and the only crucial connection is catching the ferry, which from May to September finishes at 5.10 (if you miss it, you can get a train back from Starcross). The first segment is noisy and can be smelly - you're between a main road and motorway, and there's a sewage treatment works on the island between the canal and Exe. But it rapidly improves as you leave the motorway behind. See Sustrans Map.

Click any image to enlarge.

Crossing the Exe

The swing bridge ...
... which as the plaque explains was the scene of D-Day rehearsals
for the glider-borne attack on the Pegasus and Horsa bridges
in Normandy: Operation Deadstick.
On to the tow-path
The canal shortly widens out in deep-water basins ...
... after which you see this rather dilapidated boat, which apparently is a
'Nuoli' class Finnish motor gunboat (see BMPT forum).
Under the motorway ...
.... and the path divides. Take the cycle-free option to the left.
The Retreat - now-subdivided for residental use, this was the villa
of the Hamiltons, the local gentry of Topsham in the 19th century
Topsham comes into view ...
... and the Lock Cottage. This, accessible across a bridge, is open as a cafe
from 28th June to 25th August (not Mons/Tues). A ferry also crosses to
Topsham here - but again, not on a Tuesday. I picked the wrong day!
And the path goes on ...
... until you reach the yacht basin at the seaward end of the canal ...
... and you can take a break at the Turf Locks. First three miles done.
Turf Locks lawn - the view ahead
Turf Lock, where the Exeter Canal exits to the estuary
And the path continues along the sea wall
The construction of the linking section of the Route 2 cycle path between
the Turf Lock and Powderham Church is well under way.
Zoomed image: the The Belvedere Tower (Powderham Castle Folly),
built in 1733. See English Heritage page.
St Clement's church, Powderham ...
.... not open to the public except for an hour after Sunday service,
or by prior arrangement. See
The next section of Route 2 follows a road between the railway and
the deer park of Powderham Castle estate.
Deer are generally visible, but not close to the road.

Occasional beach access points over the railway give good
views over the widening estuary to Lympstone ...
... and to the Point at Exmouth
In Starcross, the Starcross Fishing and Cruising Club
building is housed in the old pumping station for
Brunel's Atmospheric Railway.
It's directly opposite the jetty for the Exmouth Ferry.

Crossing the Exe ...
... the channel follows the sand spit of Dawlish Warren ...
... which is directly accessible by water taxi from Exmouth Docks.
Arriving at Exmouth Docks.
- Ray

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