Walk - The Imperial Hotel - Exmouth to Lympstone
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.
- Leaving the hotel via the car park entrance, cross over Alexandra Terrace and turn right around the outside of Manor Gardens.
- At the roundabout turn left, into Chapel Hill. Pass in front of the Town Hall on your left, cross the end of St Andrew’s Road to the Strand and continue along the Strand to the next roundabout.
The first shop in this row is Thomas Tucker’s, built in the 1790s as West End House and converted to a shop as early as 1801 by Richard Webber. Some of the original frontage remains.
- At the roundabout turn left along the Parade, then cross The Parade, and either take the subway to cross under Marine Way (the A376) or take the footpath alongside The Strand Inn to the zebra crossing over Marine Way to Exmouth Railway Station.
- From the Railway Station cross the car park to the far left-hand corner where you join the Exe Estuary Trail.
- Follow the riverbank through the Exmouth Local Nature Reserve. Cross the railway line and turn left through the parkland on to the Exe Estuary Trail. Turn left along Carter Avenue, cross the bridge and turn left again into Mudbank Lane.
- Carry on along Mudbank Lane, past Halsdon Avenue, two fields and the last of the houses alongside the railway line, keeping on the Exe Estuary Trail.
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 black-tailed godwits and 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.
- There is an opportunity to carefully cross the railway line on to the East Devon way. If you prefer an easier stroll, carry on the Exe Estuary Trail, which runs parallel to the East Devon Way, on the land side of the railway line.
If you chose the East Devon Way then carefully cross the railway line. The East Devon Way runs between the railway line and the riverbank for about a mile. First it pulls away from the railway to cross a stretch of open grassland. Carry on ahead along the footpath. The path is narrow and it may be overgrown and muddy in places.
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 Coast 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.
- Turn left onto Sowden Lane, away from the railway bridge. Follow the lane around to the right, dropping gently downhill, past the old redbrick wall, ignoring Highcliffe Close on the right.
- Continue along Sowden Lane past the Globe Inn on your right, the Post Office on your right and The Swan Inn on your left.
Taking the footpath to the right before the Swan Inn gives an interesting diversion to Lympstone 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 local resident, William Peters, in memory of his wife, Mary Jane. From a family of Liverpool merchants, Peters was in the Seventh Dragoons and his son and grandson also went on to have military careers. The tower, once used as a refuge for fishermen, is now owned by the Landmark Trust, and can be rented for holidays.
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.
- Lympstone Railway Station is on your left, from there take the train back to Exmouth, and reverse your journey back to the Hotel through Exmouth Town Centre. Trains currently run every ½ hour, and to check times visit www.nationalrail.co.uk
Much of this walk uses the Exe Estuary Trail, a 16 mile cycle route from Exmouth to Dawlish Warren via Exeter, which is part of National Cycle Route 2. Cycles can be hired in Exmouth or Exeter, and it’s possible to do a loop of the estuary by using the ferry between Starcross and Exmouth. As space for bikes is limited on the ferry, it’s wise to get the ferry at the start rather than the end of your circuit. For more information see the Sustrans website.
There are many cafes, pubs and restaurants in Exmouth and a selection of pubs in Lympstone.