Walk - Avocet Line: Topsham Town Trail

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

This walk is part of a series commissioned by the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership. It is designed to start from a railway station (in this case Topsham!). If you intend to drive to this walk then park at Holman Way car park and then walk to the station.

  1. Turning left out of the station, turn right on the road and walk up to the roundabout, turning left here to go along Elm Grove Road. Cross the road and carry on past the cemetery, passing Denver Road on the left and continuing to Highfield Farm.
  2. Turn right into Highfield Farm and follow the signs for the permissive access route around the field.

This footpath has been created under the DEFRA Higher Level Stewardship Scheme to allow walkers access to the grasslands bordering the river. Highfield Farm is a working farm and hosts regular visits from local schoolchildren. Please keep dogs under close control and pick up any mess they may make.

  1. On reaching the river, turn right along the path and follow it around the loop in the river to the gate on the right where it heads inland again. Turn right with the path and follow it to the top right-hand corner of the field, taking the path to the left here and following it back to the farm entrance.
  2. Turn left on the road. Turn right down Denver Road passing under the railway bridge. At the junction with High Street, turn right then cross over into Ashford Road, which takes you down to the River Exe. Circle the playground and the playing fields anticlockwise. Leave the river by the community centre to walk past the Sea Scouts hut and on to Ferry Road.

The Exe Estuary is of international importance for its wildlife, especially birds. Over thousands of years the river has washed mud and sand down from Exmoor, forming extensive mud flats, sand banks, marshland and pastureland. The water is shallow and the area covered by mud and sand extends six miles in length and 1½ miles in width and it is home to a huge range of burrowing invertebrates, providing a valuable food source for wildfowl and wading birds (see the Countess Wear Walk).

  1. Turn right and continue along Ferry Road to its junction with Follett Road.

Follett Road, to the left off Ferry Road, is named after eighteenth century Attorney General Sir William Webb Follett, who was born in Topsham.  Educated in Exeter Grammar School before going on to Cambridge University, Follett was called to the bar in 1821 and appointed Solicitor General in the Robert Peel administration in 1834. The following year he became MP for Exeter and received his knighthood, although he resigned from his post as Solicitor General when Peel's government  was overturned by the electorate. When Peel returned to power in 1841 Follett returned to his post, and in 1844 he was promoted to be Attorney General, the chief legal adviser to the Crown. Ill health forced him to resign again the following year, and he died a few months later. There is a statue of him in Westminster Abbey.

From the landing point on Ferry Road, the ferry runs across the Exe, where Exminster is a ten-minute walk past the RSPB Exminster Marshes Nature Reserve (see the Countess Wear Walk) and to Turf Lock, a short way downstream. The Exeter Ship Canal, built in 1566, was extended southwards to Turf in 1827, and the Turf Hotel was built at the same time to accommodate the lock keeper and the crews of the sailing vessels entering the canal. Today the hotel is a family-run pub (see the Powderham & Starcross Walk).

  1. Continue along Ferry Road. Reaching the end, carry on past the 'no through road' sign to the quay ahead and onto the Strand.

After Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Devon, enlarged her fishing weirs across the River Exe in the thirteenth century, Exeter was no longer accessible from the sea and Topsham became the river's chief port instead (see the Countess Wear Walk). By the seventeenth century the booming export trade of serge, wool and cotton from Exeter's mills made Topsham one of England's busiest ports. In 1688 William of Orange and his wife Mary had their baggage, ammunition and stores landed here when they arrived to take up the throne, and Holland became one of the port's chief customers. Dutch ships brought bricks across the Channel as ballast and they were used to build a number of Dutch-style houses along the waterfront.

There are a number of fascinating buildings in this part of the town, as well as the Topsham Museum, housed in one of the elegant seventeenth-century buildings overlooking the estuary. Displays include items from the town's maritime history, its wildlife and local trades, as well the furnished period rooms of the original house and the sail loft with its historical timeline of Topsham. 

  1. Continue to the end of The Strand and then along the Goat Walk to Riversmeet House to follow the road around to the left keeping the house on your right and then passing the Bowling Green Marsh Nature Reserve.

Goat Walk was named at a council meeting in 1908, when the path was created. One local man, irritated by a number of fanciful suggestions, burst out 'But it's nowt but a bloody goat walk!' and the name was promptly adopted!

Bowling Green Marsh overlooks the River Clyst, providing safe roosting sites for birds as the rising tide pushes them off the mudflats on the River Exe. It is the main high tide roost for the north of the estuary, and large flocks of birds feed very close to the hide in the reserve. In winter this number includes hundreds of wigeons and black-tailed godwits, and throughout the year many different species of wetland birds acan be seen, such as mute swans, grebes and a wide range of different ducks. Regular guided walks and other events are held at Bowling Green Marsh, and the RSPB also has a shop at Darts Farm, just up the road.

  1. From the nature reserve carry on along the road, following Bowling Green Road over the railway bridge and into Elm Grove Road.

The Clyst Bridge, at the bottom of Bridge Hill, was first built in the early seventeenth century, but was destroyed a few years later during the English Civil War when Roundhead chief Sir Thomas Fairfax seized Exeter from the Royalists. It was subsequently rebuilt and widened twice, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Bridge Inn is thought to have been a dwelling at the time of the 1086 Domesday Book, and that the stonemasons who were building Exeter Cathedral in the twelfth century may have stayed here. The main fabric of the present-day inn dates from the sixteenth century, and it has been in the hands of the same family since 1897. In 1998 the Queen visited, and when the pub brewed a special ale in its 111th year ('111'), a case was delivered to Buckingham Palace.

  1. On the main road turn left to walk back to the roundabout and so return to the station.
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