Walk - Cofton - Exe Estuary Cycle Trail - CYCLE ROUTE

15.4 miles (24.8 km)

Cofton Country Holidays Cofton Country Holidays

Challenging - Flat.

Not a route for the fainthearted! This is a challenging cycle ride that takes you from Cofton, through Starcross, past Turf Lock to the Topsham Ferry. From the Ferry follow the complete Eastern Estuary Trail to Exmouth before catching the ferry back to Starcross.

There are a range of wonderful places to lay your head near the Coast Path for a well-earned sleep. From large and luxurious hotels, to small and personable B&B's, as well as self-catering options and campsites. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

The Croft Guest House

The Croft Guest House is ideally set in an acre of secluded gardens overlooking Cockwood Harbour. A 5 minute walk to local pubs, offering a 10% discount for our guests. Well behaved pets welcome.

Cofton Holidays

A stunning park with camping, caravans & cottages with year-round facilities, a short stroll from Cockwood (Starcross).

Quentance Farm Bed & Breakfast

Halfway between Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton, our comfortable farmhouse offers local food,log fire and free wi-fi in the cosy guest lounge. Well behaved dogs welcome.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

From Reception cycle along Cofton Lane past St Mary's Church into the village of Cockwood. Pass the Ship Inn and Cofton Parish Hall before turning left at the harbour. Follow Church Road out to the A379, the main Dawlish-Exeter road. This road can be very busy so take care. Cross at the pedestrian lights and with the golf course on your left follow the wide pavement/cycle route alongside the railway, river, coast path and road northwards into Starcross.

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.

  1. Take care cycling through the middle of Starcross. The road narrows and often becomes congested. Cross the road at the pedestrian crossing. Pass the railway station footbridge leading to the ferry and the toilets before reaching the foot/cycle path alongside the railway. Leave the grassy area by the metal gate. Turn right on to the minor road, back towards the railway and estuary. Continue north. This is a shared road with no pavement and is populated with cars, bikes and walkers.
  2. At Powderham Church, where the road swings away from the estuary, take the footpath straight ahead. Carefully cross the railway and continue alongside the estuary to the Turf Lock Hotel at the end point of the Exeter Canal.

This part of the route is not yet designated as a cycle route on the Exe Estuary Trail. Plans are currently in place to develop this section so great care must be taken.

The Exeter Ship Canal was the first canal to be built in Britain since Roman times with the first section dating back to 1566 to bypass the weirs. In 1827 the canal was extended a further 2 miles down the Estuary to Turf. The Turf Hotel provided accommodation for the Lock Keeper, and the crews of the many sailing vessels that were to enter the Canal. The Turf is one of the few pubs in the country that cannot be accessed by car. Turf Lock is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Exminster and Powderham Marshes are a vital feeding and resting area for large numbers of birds which come here on their migration and to spend the winter. Large flocks of Brent geese and wigeons can be seen. Look out for the black and white lapwing and the distinctive orange-red legged redshanks. This is also one of their last remaining nesting places in the south west.

  1. Continue along the Exe Estuary Trail until you reach the ferry landing stage. Cross on the Exeter City Council operated ferry to Topsham. From the Ferry landing turn left along Ferry Road and then right onto Follett Road. Emerging at the small roundabout in the High Street go straight over and cycle along Station Road, over the level crossing.

In the 13th century Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Devon, enlarged her fishing weirs across the River Exe and suddenly Exeter was no longer accessible from the sea. Topsham became the river's chief port instead. By the 17th century the booming export trade of serge, wool and cotton from Exeter's mills made it 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 the Dutch-style houses along the waterfront.

  1. Turn right at the roundabout and cycle along Elm Grove Road. Do not turn down Bridge Hill but keep on Elm Grove Road (by forking right). Branch left in to Bowling Green Road and follow the signs for the new Cycle Route bridge. Cross the River Clyst on the bridge and follow the cycleway signs.
  2. Nearing Exton the cycleway forks left away from the railway before turning right into Green Lane and carries along Exton Lane. At the end turn right into Station Road, past the Puffing Billy Inn. Just before Exton Station, the cycleway turns left and back alongside the railway.

The cycleway passes Lympstone Commando Station, built in the 1970s to serve the Commando Training Centre of the Royal Marines. There are a number of information boards beside the Training Centre, and viewing platforms.

  1. Nearing Lympstone Station, the cycleway which has been running along the eastern side of the railway line, crosses the bridge over the line. The path then passes the station. At the end of the station car park drop downhill past the garages and turn right at the bottom onto The Strand passing the Swan Inn. Carry on ahead past the Post Office, continuing along Sowden Lane past the Globe Inn on your left.

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. The passages between them are equipped with metal floodgates. These are closed 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. He was from a family of Liverpool merchants 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. Many fishing boats were built here, including a number that sailed 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 that were used in the Arctic in the summer. 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 is of a rock known as breccia, a red sandstone with rough limestone pebbles embedded in it. The stack was created when the sea exploited a fault in the cliffs, carving out a cave whose roof eventually fell in. This left an island. In the last century it was large enough for sheep to graze there. However, the sea continues to erode the soft rock. According to local legend, it got its name after the wives of the fishing fleet who gathered on the rock to sing and guide their husbands safely through thick fog into the harbour. One of the men called out 'Oh my darling'! 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.

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. 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.

Continue along Mudbank Lane and into Exmouth. The mud and sand of the Exe 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. In the middle of winter there may be as many as 25,000 birds in the middle of the river. Birds to be seen in large numbers include the avocet, with its long spindly legs and its upward-curving black beak. Other species regularly spotted include godwits and black-tailed wigeons, as well as long-legged curlews with their down-turned beaks.

  1. Carry on along Mudbank Lane, turning right to cross the bridge, and then 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.

Follow the road around to the roundabout keeping the car park on your left. At the roundabout cross the busy road onto Victoria Road which leads to the seafront. Turn right at the seafront and the ferry landing is directly in front of you.

  1. Catch the ferry across the River Exe back to Starcross. From Starcross turn left and reverse your outgoing route to Cockwood and then back to Cofton.

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. Cross the roundabout to the station. Trains run on the Avocet line to Exeter. Trains then follow the Riviera Line back to Starcross.

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