Visiting Devon — A Slice of Heaven
My recent sojourn through England included a week in Topsham, a charming, small town in the southwest county of Devon near the city of Exeter. I wasn’t keen on driving on the opposite side of the road, so no rental car for me. I was determined to see the United Kingdom via mass transit. Thank goodness for the Great Western Railway’s amazing network of rail links throughout Devon and Cornwall.
Here’s some highlights of my stay in Devon.
Devon is the only English county with two separate coastlines. The north coast is on the Bristol Channel and the south coast on the English Channel. The quaint, historic estuary port of Topsham is the perfect place to stay while exploring the southern area of Devon. Wandering the narrow main street, you’ll discover unique shops for gifts, clothing and antiques, as well as several charity shops (what us yanks call thrift shops).
There’s no shortage of places to stop for a cream tea with scones and other freshly baked goodies, and plenty of pubs and restaurants.
At the Quay, where the main road meets the River Exe, you’ll find a huge three-story antique mall, and the Lighter Inn, a pub and restaurant with loads of outdoor seating. It’s the place to be on a warm summer’s evening, drinking your pint while enjoying another spectacular sunset over the water.
Wander a bit further to start the Goat Walk. The trail takes you along the water’s edge and then inland past Bowling Green Marsh Nature Reserve, part of the Exe Estuary Reserves. A covered platform offers spectacular views for bird watching.
For a slightly longer walk, head out to Dart Farm (only a 20-minute walk from the center of town). This working farm, raising sheep, cows, chickens and roosters and growing 50 different types of vegetables, was rated the number one farm store in the UK, and I can see why.
A plethora of delicious food and drink awaits you in their amazing food hall. You’ll find everything needed to stock your travel pantry, including ready to cook traditional British fare like beef wellington, shepard’s pie and a slew of pasties (what Americans call a savory hand pie), as well as seasonal vegetables grown right on the farm.
Dine at one of their four restaurants and two bars, one offering cider and wine tasting. You can also have an afternoon high tea. I particularly liked The Fish Shed where you can select from a range of freshly caught seafood prepared to your liking.
Exeter is an ancient city on the River Exe and just a 20-minute train ride from Topsham. With a population of around 130,000, it's an easy city to tour on foot. A stroll along the historic quayside takes you to several riverfront bars and restaurants, antique shops and boutiques featuring the work of local crafts people.
You can rent boats by the hour to paddle along the River Exe. When you're too tired to walk any further, take a quick ferry ride across the river for only a pound.
Entry to the Exeter Cathedral, an impressive gothic structure, will set you back 10 pounds, but the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery is free and walks you through the city’s 2,000-year history. I was pleasantly surprised to find out Exeter is the twin city of my beloved Rennes, France.
Later in the week I hopped on the train going in the opposite direction. After a scenic 12-minute ride, I arrived in Exmouth, a beach town at the mouth of the River Exe and the England Channel. The downtown offers restaurants, pubs, charity and other shops, but the coastline is the main attraction. Miles of sandy and rocky beach and blue water awaits. Restaurants feature a large selection of seafood caught locally that morning. And of course, there are plenty of ice cream shops.
I returned three days later to take a two-hour cruise north along the Jurassic Coast with Stuart Line Cruises. Call to book ahead, as schedules vary with weather conditions. Then head to the Exmouth Marina. They offer several different cruise options of various lengths.
The Jurassic Coast, England’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers stunning views of outstanding rocks, fossils and landforms. It is the only place on earth where rocks from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods can be seen in one place, representing 185 million years of Earth’s history.
Exploring Devon and beyond
Topsham was the perfect base for exploring this area of Devon. I arrived by train from Bristol and after a week I took the train to Bath. However, Topsham is easily reachable from London. I only wish I’d stayed longer and taken some of the train routes from Exeter to other picturesque villages throughout Devon. Now that I know how easy it is to travel the UK by train — not only to large cities, but coastal towns — I’ll be back to explore the county of Cornwall in a similar fashion.