Walk - Riviera Line - Starcross - Powderham
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Starcross offers great views across the Exe Estuary, an internationally important site designated for its special birdlife. When the railway station opened in 1846, Starcross was one of the villages along Brunel’s famously ill-fated ‘Atmospheric Railway’. Now it is the location of the only remaining pumping station. In the past Starcross was known for its “cockles and oysters” During the 19th century “many persons resort to it (Starcross) who cannot bear the stronger sea air of the coast”
- From the railway station footbridge leading to the ferry, walk past the toilets to the footpath alongside the railway, leave the grassy area by the metal gate.
- Take the minor road which forks right, back towards the railway and estuary. Continue north.
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. 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, black-tailed wigeons, long-legged curlews with their down-turned beaks and black-and-white lapwings with twitching legs designed to disturb the invertebrates in the soil.
- Turn left onto Church Road and walk through Powderham Park. At the right-hand bend leave the road to carry on along the footpath, heading steeply uphill through parkland into the woodland at the top. Over the crest of the hill the path drops down through the trees and into the valley below.
Powderham Castle was the home of the Courtenay family for 600 years. Built by Sir Philip Courtenay in 1391, it was added to in later years and is a fortified manor rather than a castle. The walk travels through its deer park, where herds of several hundred fallow deer can sometimes be seen grazing among its mature trees. Powderham is the site of the main heronry on the Exe, and grey herons can often be seen standing in the marshland bordering the river, or flying to and from the nests they build in high trees in the spring. Look out for buzzards wheeling overhead, too.
During the English Civil War, in 1645, the Parliamentarians established on the east bank of the Exe set their sights on capturing Powderham in order to stop provisions travelling up the river and reaching the Royalists, under siege in Exeter. On approaching the castle, they found it far better defended than they had been expecting and they holed up overnight in the church, setting about fortifying it the next day. The Royalists in Exeter sent down 500 men to reinforce the 200 already in the castle, and it was the Roundheads who found themselves under siege, in the church, although the castle fell to them the following month.
- When the path splits take the left-hand fork onto a short footpath leading to Slittercombe Lane. Turn left and follow it up to the main road on Kenton Hill.
The history of the village of Kenton can be traced back to the Domesday Survey of 1086. Salt making, fuelwood extraction and flour milling were recorded as local activities. During medieval times, as well as farming, Kenton had strong connecttions with seafaring and river estuary activities. As in other Devon villages, cider orchards survived here well into the 20thcentury.
The centre of the village is located around the parish church, and the ‘Triangle’ with its Celtic Cross and war memorial. The 120 foot church tower is said to be the second tallest in Devon.
Many of Kenton’s houses are brick-built in a finely detailed Victorian styles after the great Fire of Kenton in 1856 destroyed about 30 of the village’s traditional cottages. This necessitated extensive rebuilding.
- Turn left when reaching the main road and walk a short distance to Warborough Hill, on the opposite side of the road. Cross the road and walk up Warborough Hill, turning left at the top to walk a little over a mile, with far-reaching views across the Exe on your left.
- When the road forks, bear left, turning sharply right shortly afterwards and then bearing left beyond, to carry on down Brickyard Lane to the T-junction at New Road.
- On New Road turn left and walk to The Strand. Turn left on the main road, crossing over and walking a short distance to the station.
The redbrick church-like building by the ferry stance is the last remaining pumping house from Isambard Kingdom Brunel's ill-fated atmospheric railway. Numerous technical issues plagued Brunel's ingenious scheme to drive trains using vacuum power to 'suck' them along the rails, instead of the traditional steam engine, and the trains failed to run on time – in fact a lot of the time they failed to run at all. A shame-faced Brunel refused his salary for the year's work and the line was turned over to steam trains after all.