Walk - Riviera Line - Dawlish Station - Dawlish - Teignmouth
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2017. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Note: This walk runs along the sea wall and so should not be attempted in stormy weather, as waves break over the wall, and there is the risk of being swept off. Part way along the walk, the path crosses underneath the railway and this is impassable without getting your feet wet for about an hour at high tide. You can see tide times here.
- From Dawlish Railway Station, walk along Marine Parade, or at low tide along the sea wall or along the beach. At the end of the beach continue up a steep walkway to Lea Mount Gardens.
- Go left past shelters and continue onto an exit onto the Teignmouth Road. Turn left and after 100 yards, veer left down a surfaced path on to Old Teignmouth Road. This road continues until it re-joins the main road.
Just past the junction, turn left over a stile and down wooden steps on to a path between post and wire fencing.
Note the red cliffs and the two small stacks. These were once part of the headland, until the erosive action of heavy seas on the rock weakened cracks in its structure and caused these parts to break away and stand alone as stacks. The cliff face beside the railway tunnel to your left shows a rock type for which this part of the coastline is known: a breccia (one rock – in this case a sandstone – containing angular fragments of another) from the Permian period.
Follow the coast path down to the railway line and then steeply uphill. The path emerges onto Windward Lane.
Turn right and then left along the main road.
- After about 200 metres turn left into Smuggler’s Lane.
The railway line is part of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Penzance-Paddington line, and the tunnel as you descend Smuggler's Lane to reach the seawall is one of five Brunel had to build to bring the line around this part of the coast. Brunel was appointed as the engineer to the South Devon Railway in 1843, and decided to use the innovative atmospheric railway system to power the trains. This involved running pipes along the rails and creating a vacuum in them to propel the train by means of a piston from the train running through the tube via a sealable slot.
The system encountered two problems: one was due to the fact that the railway line was not connected to the telegraph system. So the tubes which powered the railway had to be emptied of air at the pumping stations along the route according to a timetable, whether the train was on time or not. This was both inefficient and expensive. The other problem was the spray from the sea during stormy weather, which made it difficult to seal the tubes effectively. Because of these issues, atmospheric trains were used for less than a year, from 1847-1848.
Brunel's tunnel here is known as Parson's Tunnel, after the Parson and Clerk rocks off the headland. According to local legend, an ambitious parson from an inland parish had high hopes of succeeding the Bishop of Exeter, who lay dying in Dawlish. To further his cause, he paid the bishop regular visits, guided by his parish clerk. One day the two lost their way in thick fog, and spent hours wandering around in the heavy rain. The parson, a man of uncertain temper, lost his rag and berated his unfortunate clerk for his incompetence, assuring him that he'd rather be guided by the devil.
Stumbling upon a peasant a short while later, they allowed him to lead them to a tumbledown cottage, where a riotous crowd was enjoying a lively drinking session. Warmed and soothed by a good meal and rather too much ale, the parson and his clerk were somewhat the worse for drink when news arrived at dawn that the bishop had died. Throwing themselves upon their horses, the two men tried to set forth, but the horses would not move. Suddenly the crowd of merrymakers turned into leering demons, hooting horribly at the parson's plight, and the cottage disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Realising, too late, that he had indeed been guided by the devil, the parson found himself stranded in the sea, his clerk also adrift some distance away. In that instant, they were both turned to stone, and stand there to this day.
- Go down to the cove. Follow the sea wall and the railway into Teignmouth.
Like Dawlish, Teignmouth’s history goes back to Saxon times but it was not until the early 1800s that Teignmouth developed as a port associated with the Newfoundland Cod industry and then particularly as a holiday resort. The sheltered harbour faces upriver, and had a quay built in the 1830s. From here Dartmoor granite was shipped out to build the old London Bridge. Teignmouth’s famous inhabitants include John Keats who wrote his poem Endymion with its famous opening line “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” whilst living in the town. In 1690 Teignmouth is said to have been the last place in England to be invaded by a foreign power when some of the French fleet anchored in Torbay attacked the town burning down over 200 houses, 10 ships and plundering their goods. In the Second World War, Teignmouth was bombed 21 times causing 79 deaths and over 2,000 houses damaged or destroyed.
- Turn right past St Michael’s Church, follow Regent Street through the shopping area. Turn right up Hollands Road to the roundabout. Teignmouth Railway Station is in front of you across the car park.
In Dawlish and in Teignmouth