Walk - Riviera Line - Starcross - Orcombe Point
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.
- Starcross Pier is accessed by steps via the railway station bridge at Starcross Station. Take the ferry across the River Exe to Exmouth. No pre-booking is available. Well behaved dogs on leads are welcome. Telephone 01626 774770 for further information or visit www.exe2sea.co.uk/
The ferry runs hourly every day from the end of March to the end of October. Depending upon tides, the journey takes 15-20 minutes arriving at Exmouth marina.
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.
Exmouth has been a popular tourist resort since the eighteenth century, when its Assembly rooms and seafront houses with stables and views attracted some illustrious members of fashionable Georgian society, including Lady Byron and Lady Nelson (who is buried in the churchyard at Littleham). In 1861, the arrival of the railway, linking the town with Exeter, brought with it a dramatic population explosion, and many of the buildings in Exmouth date from this time. In the first five days after the railway opened 10,000 people travelled on it, and by the 1880s there was a substantial volume of commuter traffic between here and Exeter. In 1903 the line was extended eastwards to Budleigh Salterton, where it joined the main London and South Western Railway Line.
From Exmouth Marina follow the path to the seafront.
There are tremendous views from the seafront across the Exe Estuary, which is an important place for wildlife. The vast mudflats are home to many invertebrate species such as clams, worms and snails, which feed on the wealth of miscroscopic algae and bacteria living in the mud. Each cubic metre of estuary mud here is said to have the same number of calories as 14 Mars bars!
The invertebrates are themselves a valuable food source for the thousands of wading birds which flock here in the winter. Bird species feeding and roosting on the mudflats include avocets, with their blue legs and curved bills, as well as large flocks of dunlins, which can be seen flying in formation to protect themselves from predators such as peregrine falcons.
Another important food source for the estuary's birds are its beds of eel grass, Britain's only flowering plant capable of growing in saltwater. 1% of the world's population of dark bellied Brent geese feeds on the eel grass and the wetland areas around the Exe Estuary through the winter, as do large flocks of wigeons.
- At the seafront turn left and follow the Esplanade. Keep on past the clock tower and the roundabout. The Esplanade changes into Queens Drive but still follows the seafront.
The Diamond Jubilee Memorial Clock Tower was built in 1897 for Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. When it was first erected it was wound by hand by a Council employee, but the original mechanism has since been replaced, and can now be seen working in the Exmouth Museum.
- At the junction by the lifeboat station keep on the seafront. As the road ends, look for the South West Coast Path climbing in a zig-zag manner. At the top of the slope keep going right along the path.
A lifeboat station existed in Exmouth in 1801. In 1859 the RNLI established a new lifeboat house for the lifeboat Victoria. The entire cost was met by Lady Rolle of Bicton. In January 1894, Silver Medals were awarded to John Bradford, Uriah Bradford and George Prowse, for gallantly launching a small boat, at considerable risk, to rescue the crew of six from the schooner John Gronsund of Svendborg, which had in heavy seas and a strong south easterly gale been driven on the Pole Sands.
- Follow the path towards Orcombe Point. The path does split. Either carry on along the Coast Path to the right, or take the higher path to the left: they join up again a little way ahead. The lower path has an optional detour down a rough path to an astonishing sandstone plateau forming the beach at Rodney Point when the tide is out.
The beach at Rodney Point is a part of the Exmouth Sandstone Formation, laid down during the Triassic period, about 250-200 million years ago, when Devon and Dorset were south of the equator in a hot, dry desert. The vivid colour of this striking platform of red rock is due to the presence of iron oxides, which tell geologists that there was no life in the desert at the time.
The platform some distance above the beach is a marine abrasion platform, or a raised beach, formed by wave action on the rocks after the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. Sea levels were 8 –10 metres higher then, before the land mass of Great Britain rose in the sea as the weight of the ice sheets on it diminished when the ice melted.
- At Orcombe Point enjoy the view before returning along the Coast Path back to the zig zag slope.
The Geoneedle is constructed of the various rock types found along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage coastline and represents the sequence of rocks deposited along it. Celebrating 95 miles of internationally important rocks displaying 185 million years of the Earth's history, the Jurassic Coast is a geological walk through time, spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The rocks used in the Geoneedle include sandstone and the several different kinds of limestone that make this part of England a famous source of building stone, used over many centuries for the construction of some of England's most famous buildings, including St Paul's Cathedral in London, as well as parts of Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle.
- Where the two paths meet above the start of the seafront, take the high path name above the cliff. The top path turns left onto Foxholes Hill. At the roundabout, keep straight on along Maer Road.
- Just past the car park entrance (on your right) turn left at the entrance to parkland. Follow this path past the tennis courts and cricket ground on your right until you reach Trefusis Terrace. Turn left here. Continue on to Louisa Terrace and The Beacon.
- The Beacon bears right onto Beacon Hill. Turn left onto Chapel Hill at the roundabout, with the Pilot Inn on your right.
- Bear left at the traffic island, keeping Lloyds Bank on your left as you follow in to The Strand.
- Turn left down Victoria Road. Follow the road back to the Marina.
- Catch the ferry back to Starcross Station.
Be aware that the last ferry back from Exmouth is at 4.40pm. There is a ferry at 5.40pm from mid-May to mid-September. If you miss the ferry then Exmouth Station can be located back up Victoria Road, then turn left into Imperial Road. Cross the roundabout to the station. Trains run on the Avocet line to Exeter.