Friday, 27 September 2013

Day 6 - September 27th 2013 - Exmouth to Starcross via The Exe Estuary Trail

The official Coast Path crosses the Exe via the Exmouth to Starcross Ferry. That seems a bit too easy to me so I chose to take a long-cut today and make my way across the river by walking around the excellent Exe Estuary Trail, one of my favourite local walks. After an eight hour shift delivering milk I set off feeling fit and well in fine weather after resting at home for an hour. It was also less than 48 hours since I'd made a blood donation, though as usual that seemed to have had absolutely no impact on me and my energy levels felt normal.

My house looks over the estuary and I can see Starcross from my bedroom window less than a mile away across the water. However it's a much longer walk to get there. The trail starts just across the road from my house. I set off at a good pace, well aware that the last river ferry from Starcross back to Exmouth would be leaving at 4-10pm. If I were to miss it I'd have to make my way home by making a time consuming train journey via Exeter St.Davids. I was soon in Lympstone, as usual the eastern side of the trail was very popular being shared by many walkers, joggers and cyclists. I also saw several bird watchers with big binoculars and cameras with huge zoom lenses. The tide was quite high and I could see huge flocks of birds on the vast expanse of water.

Between Lympstone and Exton you pass behind the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre. All Commandos famously have to complete four tough tasks here in full kit at the end of their intense 32 week training course if they're to earn their green beret, not many make it that far. There is a curious railway station, Lympstone Commando, next to the path here where ordinary trains stop but only military personnel may alight, the only one of it's type in the country. Occasional parts of the Exe Estuary Trail are on roads, including a section here, though for the most part they're very quiet lanes and you see very few cars. There are almost no hills on the trail and the entire route is essentially at sea-level and completely flat.

Just past Exton I could see a new section of the path under construction, it looked close to completion and includes a large bridge over the River Clyst. It will shorten the route a little by cutting out the part where I had to use the footpath next to the road between Darts Farm and the Bridge Inn. There are several ways you can make your way through Topsham. I prefer the footpath next to the river, even though it's fairly narrow here and always muddy because it gets covered by the water at high tide. There is another river ferry here for foot passengers which you can use to cross to Turf Lock, I passed the opportunity and continued north determined to do it all on foot. Close to Countess Weir Bridge I diverted into a housing estate to buy a sandwich and a drink in a convenience store. Due to the urgency of catching the last ferry I decided to eat while I walked rather than stopping for a break.

The Countess Weir Bridge on the southern outskirts of Exeter in the furthest place South where pedestrians can cross the River Exe on foot. The road here is very busy, though you're only next to it for a short distance before heading south on the tow path of the Exeter Ship Canal. The first section along the canal isn't exactly the best; first you pass a large sewage works on the opposite bank, then under the noisy M5 motorway. After that it gets much more tranquil and pleasant. There were swans in the water and several fishermen camping along here, all of whom seemed to have three rods each and well equipped green tents. The Turf Hotel at Turk Lock where the Exeter Ship Canal meets the Exe Estuary is a lovely spot, I'm told it's a great place to stop for lunch though I've never been in myself. After stopping briefly to take a couple of pictures I pushed on. The path from here goes along the high bank on the side of the estuary for a mile or two, to my right were peaceful flat fields where cattle were grazing, to my left with the tide subsiding there were mud flats starting to emerge where earlier there was water.

After crossing the railway line the last mile and a half was spent walking along a lane behind Powderham Castle, home of the Earl of Devon. The castle itself is quite distant and you only get occasional glimpses though the trees. There are many deer in the grounds and I got within a few feet of a wading crane at one point. It flew away before I could get my camera out. Upon reaching Starcross I felt I could have easily carried on for a few miles more, but with the ferry by far the easiest way back going any further on made no sense. To my amazement I'd arrived more than an hour before the 4-10pm ferry, in fact I'd just about made it in time for the 3-10pm crossing, my good pace today allowing me to get home an hour earlier than expected. After a relaxing crossing on the boat and an easy stroll home from Exmouth Dock tiredness finally began to kick in. I'll sleep well tonight, very happy with progress on this walk so far.

Distance Walked Today 14.97 miles (24.09 km)

Walking Time; 3 hours 37 minutes

Average Walking Speed 4.1 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 137.77 miles (221.72 km)

GPS Track;

 A typical section of the eastern side of the
Exe Estuary trail

Razor wire, high security at the Training Centre entrance next to
Lympstone Commando railway station

 A peace stroll through Topsham beside the River Exe

 The spot where the peaceful Exeter Ship canal passes under the busy M5 motorway

 Busy mum, a swan with eight cygnets on The Exeter Ship Canal

 Turf Lock and the Turf Hotel, there is no public road neaby, you can only get here on foot

 The grounds of Powderham Castle, deer graze under the oak tree

The best surviving engine house of Brunel's experimental
atmospheric railway at Starcross

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