Walk - Riviera Line - Dawlish Warren Station -Dawlish
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2017. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- The walk begins at Dawlish Warren Railway Station.
Dawlish Warren Station opened in 1905 as Warren Halt but not on this site. It was situated nearer to the sea wall by the footbridge which was built in 1873. The platform was originally 46m long. In 1907 it was renamed Warren Platform when the platform was extended to 120m long. In 1911 it changed its name to Dawlish Warren. In 1912, the present day station was built, 400 metres nearer to Starcross with a 180m long platform. From 1935 to 1940 and then from 1952 to 1964, camp coaches were stationed in the goods yard. These were old retired passenger coaches converted to basic sleeping and living spaces that could be rented by holidaymakers. By 1959 there were 9 coaches. Nowadays the current coaches, replaced in 1982, cater for British Rail Staff Association members.
- Head left under the railway arch and continue straight ahead, past the car park towards the cluster of buildings which includes a pub, and up to the sea wall.
From the sea wall looking east (or left – as you gaze out to sea) Dawlish Warren, the Exe Estuary and Exmouth can be seen. You can see the start of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site at Orcombe Point and, on a clear day, further beyond into Dorset.
Dawlish Warren spit is 1.5 miles long and provides sandy beaches, summer amusements, a golf course and a nature reserve. The Warren is a National Nature Reserve (NNR) supporting over 2000 species of invertebrates and 620 different plants, many of them rare species. Conservation grazing by ponies along the Warren is essential to maintain the site in good order for its many wild and human visitors. The beach at The Warren is presently holder of the European Blue Flag Award for water quality, safety, eco-management and education.
- The walk heads south (turn right as you meet the sea), and follow the sea wall towards the red rock stacks, known as Langstone Rock.
Langstone Rock was originally known as Langstone Point and was a much larger headland joined to the mainland. Sea erosion and then Brunel’s railway separated the rock from the mainland. At Langstone Rock stacks, a natural arch and a blow hole can be observed.
It is considered that Dawlish cliffs show one of the finest continuous exposures in the country of cross-bedded aeolian (windblown) sands and fluvial (water-laid) Permian age breccias. Breccias are rocks made up of broken fragments of minerals cemented together. The Permian Age extended between 250 and 300 million years ago. This era ended with the largest mass extinction in Earth's history, in which nearly 90% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial species died out. It would take well into the Triassic for life to recover from this catastrophe.
The exposed rocks include Dawlish Sandstone, Teignmouth Breccia and Exe Breccia formations. The pattern of cross-bedding in the sandstone demonstrates how dunes were partly eroded and then overlain by others. The angular nature of the breccias indicates that they were deposited by sheet floods. A change from the aeolian sands to the fluvial breccias may have resulted from an increase in rainfall associated with climate change at the end of the Lower Permian Age.
These stunning red Permian rocks are separated from the mainland by Brunel’s railway cutting. It is not unusual to see dolphins swimming along this part of the coast on early summer mornings when the sea is calm.
- Continue south on the coastpath alongside the railway line towards Dawlish to the railway station.
The railway line was designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who intended to reduce costs by using the sea front as a relatively easy, and a scenically attractive, route. In 1845-1846 as many as 2000 navies were involved in excavating tunnels, blasting cliffs, building the sea wall, and constructing the line which opened in 1846. It was initially broad gauge and operated by an "atmospheric" (vacuum pipe) system without locomotives. Within a year this was changed to steam engines and, eventually, in 1892, to standard gauge.
Brunel's optimistic plan was that breakwaters would cause the accumulation of beach sand, and that the sea wall would not be touched by the sea except under severe gale conditions. However, the sea wall has long been under attack, particularly in the winter of 1872/1873, when there were major breaches. For many years there has been discussion about building a new line inland.
Dawlish Station was opened in 1846. The original station buildings burnt down in 1873 and the present buildings opened in 1875. Look out for the unusual signal box built so that the upper storey had a full operating floor. The remains of one of the pumping houses designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for his atmospheric railway are at the far end of the car park.
At both Dawlish Warren and Dawlish.