Posted by: Jenny | Monday, 25 October 2010

On the East Devon coast

The train to Exmouth leaves St James Park at 11.41. It is a three minute walk from where I am staying, and I arrive ten minutes early. A train consisting of just two coaches chunters slowly through the station, without stopping. I am dismayed. Is the line so infrequently used that you have to wave your arms or phone the driver to get him to stop?

But then one or two more people arrive on the platform, and I realise that that our train hasn’t arrived yet. On time, the train arrives and stops. We all – and there are half a dozen of us – get into the front coach. There are six stops on the journey to Exmouth, so the train never really picks up speed. At each stop, it picks up and sets down passengers. The service is evidently well-used.

Sitting on the train, I consult the OS map I had the foresight to bring with me. I realise that, instead of spending the afternoon pottering around Exmouth, I can head for the South West Coast Path and walk along it as far as Budleigh Salterton. It seems to be about four miles each way. True, I don’t have the ideal footwear, having brought with me only trainers and no walking boots. But over such a short distance and in dry conditions this shouldn’t present too much of a problem.

So I walk along Exmouth’s streets, down to the seafront and along a busy road for several minutes until I reach the start of a footpath heading up the cliff.

View over Littleham Cove

The path affords beautiful views over the Exe estuary and out to sea. I can make out Starcross, Dawlish Warren and Dawlish, and later what must be Teignmouth comes into view. A good number of walkers are taking advantage of a fine, clear day in autumn, and all along the path I encounter families, younger and older couples, and, more rarely, the occasional lone walker like myself. A woman walking with her eager young grandson explains the different types of rock that can be seen along the coast, from a vantage point above Budleigh Salterton: “here you can see the red cliffs of Devon, but at Sidmouth they turn white and continue like that right the way round to Kent.” I chip in “and you can find fossils”. Grandma takes up the bait and starts to discuss fossils with the child.

Budleigh Salterton is not as busy as Exmouth, but still has its share of people out and about. The fish and chip shop is losing business by staying closed on a Sunday, but a couple of other cafés do a good trade. I find myself a table in the sun, and enjoy a pot of tea and a ‘Budleigh crab’ sandwich while I write a postcard. The map shows me two alternative routes back to Exmouth: I could walk back the same way I came, with the sun glaring in my face most of the way, or I could follow a disused railway line from Budleigh to Exmouth which has been made into a National Cycle Trail. This presents the risk of having to step out of the path of the cyclists on the route. I decide to take my chances, hoping that at this end of the season and at 3.30 in the afternoon, there won’t be too many cyclists about.

The Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth cycle track

Unsure of my way to the start of the route – despite my 1:50 000 map – I ask directions. However, when I encounter a road labelled Station Road, I ignore my instructions and follow it. Soon enough I am on the cycle track, comfortably shaded and with occasional signs of its former use, mainly in the form of solid brick-built bridges. This short railway was opened in 1903 and closed in 1967, and never made a profit.

Arriving at Exmouth station in good time for the 17.10 train, perhaps the thing that has surprised me most on this outing is the extent to which this train service is used. There must be at least 150 of us boarding the small train that runs only as far as Exeter’s mainline station, St David’s. It is Sunday, and there is at least an hourly service all day. The last train leaves Exmouth at a minute to midnight. One explanation might be that the fare structure is kept low. My excursion today (excluding lunch) has cost me a total of £3.50. And it was worth every penny.

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