Walk - Avocet Line: Lympstone to Exmouth
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the Lympstone Station car park, drop downhill past the garages and turn right at the bottom to go past the Swan Inn. When Chapel Road leaves on the left, carry on ahead past the Post Office, continuing along Sowden Lane past the Globe Inn.
Taking the footpath to the right after the Swan Inn gives an interesting diversion to the harbour, where the cottages back straight onto the sea and the passages between them are equipped with metal floodgates which the residents close when there is a high tide. Note the tall poles on the beach, traditionally used for drying washing. The tall clock tower is the Peters Tower, built in 1885 by William Peters in memory of his wife, Mary Jane. From a family of Liverpool merchants, Peters was in the Seventh Dragoons and lived locally.
Shipbuilding has been an important part of Lympstone life since as long ago as 1588, when shipwrights from the village helped fit out the 50-ton Exmouth vessel, the 'Gyfte of God', which sailed with the English fleet against the Spanish Armada. Between 1785 and 1813, when the Napoleonic Wars ended, 25 ships under 100 tons were built here, including the Royal Navy 12-gun warship HMS Urgent, built in 1804 by John Bass, who also built the frigate HMS Cyane. Many fishing boats were built here, including a number that sailed 2000 miles every spring to the prime cod fishing grounds in Newfoundland. In 1869 as many as 63 fishing boats were moored in the harbour. There were also three whalers based here, used in the Arctic in the summer, and in the winter they were laid up on the sand bank in the middle of the river which is still known as Greenland.
The tall red rock, or stack, owned by the National Trust, is known as Darling Rock. It was once attached to the cliff, and both are of a rock known as breccia, a red sandstone with rough limestone pebbles embedded in it. It dates back to the Triassic period, between 248 and 205 million years ago, and it was formed in a hot dry desert conditions a little way south of the Equator. The stack was created when the sea exploited a fault in the cliffs, carving out a cave whose roof eventually fell in as a result of increased air pressure caused by waves crashing into the cave. This left an island, and as recently as the last century it was large enough for sheep to graze there; but the sea continues to erode the soft rock, and it is shrinking all the time. According to local legend, it got its name after the wives of the fishing fleet gathered on the rock and sang to guide their husbands safely through thick fog and into the harbour. One of the men called out 'Oh my darling!' and the name stuck.
The lime kilns beside the harbour were used to burn limestone for making lime to use as a fertiliser. Dating from the eighteenth century, they were in use until around 1900 and there were five of them. in total.
Carry on along Sowden Lane, pulling gently uphill, ignoring Highcliffe Close on the left to carry on along the lane, past the old redbrick wall.
Follow the lane around to the left to the railway bridge.
- Just before you pass beneath the railway bridge, turn right onto the footpath running alongside it. The path is narrow and it may be overgrown and muddy in places. If you prefer an easier stroll, carry on beneath the railway bridge to turn right onto the Exe Estuary Trail, which runs parallel to the East Devon Way, on the far side of the railway line.
Travelling along footpaths, bridleways and quiet country lanes, the East Devon Way is a 38-mile route from Exmouth to Lyme Regis, waymarked with a foxglove motif. Linking with both the South West Coat Path and the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, the long-distance path crosses open heathland and winds through ancient woodland, passing prehistoric hillforts, Saxon villages and medieval manors, in an area whose rich geological foundations support a wealth of wildlife.
The East Devon Way runs between the railway line and the riverbank for about a mile and then it pulls away from the railway to cross a stretch of open grassland. Carry on ahead along the footpath.
- Cross the railway line carefully, carrying on along the narrow path below the Exe Estuary Trail, which it joins shortly afterwards to continue along Mudbank Lane and into Exmouth.
The mud and sand of the estuary's riverbed, swept here from the source of the Exe high up on Exmoor, are rich in nutrients for invertebrates such as cockles and lugworms, which in turn provide a valuable food source for birds. The estuary is a traditional stop-off point for migratory birds, including Brent geese travelling from as far away as Siberia, and in the middle of winter there may be as many as 25,000 birds in the middle of the river, thousands of them having flown from Northern Europe to join the native wildfowl and waders roosting and feeding in this internationally important habitat. Birds to be seen in large numbers include the avocet, with its long spindly legs and its upward-curving black beak, once rare but now increasing in number and seen in the hundreds on the Exe Estuary. Other species regularly spotted include godwits and black-tailed wigeons, as well as long-legged curlews with their down-turned beaks and black-and-white lapwings with twitching legs designed to disturb the invertebrates in the soil.
- Carry on along Mudbank Lane, turning right with it road to cross the bridge, turning right again through the parkland a moment later. Leave the Exe Estuary Trail here (it continues ahead, joining the road just before the station on the right) to take the footpath to the right, crossing the railway line, following the riverbank through the Exmouth Local Nature Reserve and coming out in the car park beside the station.
- Cross the car park to the far left-hand corner to go through to the railway station to catch a train back to Lympstone.