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Thursday, 11 December 2014

Walk 125 Exeter to Starcross (Devon)

Walk 125 Exeter to Starcross (Devon)

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End)

Map: L/R 192
Distance: 12 miles or 18 km approx
Difficulty: fairly easy
Terrain: road and coastal/river path
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Regular trains from Exeter St Davids in both directions

It is worth spending a few hours or more in Exeter including the 14th century cathedral which was badly damaged in World War 2 and the Roman walls which go around the city.

From St David’s Station cross the River Exe at the first crossing point. In the thirteenth century a weir was built here by the Countess of Devon and this blocked the port. However, a lawsuit was decided in favour of the Exeter citizens and the weir was removed. Unfortunately, the river had silted up making navigation impossible. As a result Exeter Canal was completed in 1566 by engineer John Trew. The northern end of the canal can be seen a little further along the walk.

Continue alongside the river to the quayside. You don't need to use it but it was 30p to get the ferry to the other side when I went – there are some attractive outdoor eating/drinking places and an 18th century custom’s house on the quayside.

Further along is the canal basin. This was the last extension to the Exeter Ship Canal built in 1830. It provided reliable deep berths in the heart of the city for large sea going vessels. This helped to increase trade and contribute to Exeter’s wealth. The canal is over 5 miles long and goes alongside the River Exe. A huge variety of goods passed along the canal but the amount started to decline when the railways came in 1844.

Continue along the path to the Kings Arms sluice and Trew’s Weir. A double lock beyond here allows two vessels to park side by side, which is an unusual feature. Beyond this is the site of old lime kilns on the opposite bank. The limestone came mainly from Torbay and Plymouth and the high temperatures in the kilns produced quicklime – this was spread on the land to improve the soil and for speeding up the decomposition of bodies after burials.

The Turf Canal Basin further south allowed vessels to wait for a suitable tide, wait for fair weather or transfer goods between sea craft. Ships sailed to here from as far away as the West Indies. The Turf Lock Hotel which is still here would have been a busy cosmopolitan place. Look out for the old cottage, a small dwelling for the lock keeper – it is very near to the waterside. From here you can see Topsham on the opposite bank. Soon after this the canal merges with the River Exe.

About a mile along the river are the grounds of Powderham Castle. The building, which is the home of the Earl of Devon can be seen on the hilltop.

This part of the walk ends at Starcross. A ferry runs from here to Exmouth on the opposite bank of the river. Look out for The Atmospheric Railway pub on the seafront road. This is named after the Brunel built railway (this still runs from along this coast from Paddington to Penzance) which was originally designed as a revolutionary ‘atmospheric railway’. Two pump houses drew air out of a pipe between the rails and this produced a vacuum which worked a piston that in turn propelled the trains. The effects of the weather, rats and mice jamming the pistons (they ate the grease of the leather air tight seals) meant horses then had to be used to pull the trains. All this meant the expensive experiment ended in 1848 and steam then diesel (still diesel) took over.     

Photos show: Butt Ferry at Exeter Quayside; River Exe with Exeter on the opposite bank; Lock-keeper's cottage; Atmospheric Railway Pub at Starcross.