Leaving from Dawlish just after 9.30 am and using nothing but the rail network and a Devon Day Ranger, we set about our 12 1/2 hour voyage of discovery around Gods Wonderful Railway to see what ideas, activities and places of interest we could tempt both residents and visitors into visiting for themselves.
This is the story of our day.
It’s 9 am on a typically damp and uninspiring June morning and we head down to Dawlish railway station and purchase our Devon Day Ranger ticket. This is a little known ticket that you can buy on the day of use. No cheap advance booking required, just turn up and go! The ticket costs just £13 for an adult or £6.50 for a child. It will cover you on any train after 9.30 am Mon-Fri or all day on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. It can be used on GWR, Cross Country or Southwest trains within the extremes of Tiverton, Barnstaple, Exmouth, Paignton, Gunnislake and St Budeaux Ferry Road.
Now that is some serious mileage for the cost but, it’s often worth considering a purchase instead of a standard return as it can often be cheaper! There is even better news! Additionally you can use your railcard to receive an additional 1/3rd off of the cost making it just £8.20!
There are many railcards available nationally including those for senior citizens, young people and for those travelling in pairs or as a family. What isn’t covered nationally is a railcard for those of us who travel by ourselves and happen to be too old for the young persons and too young for the senior citizens card.
We’ve now reached 9.15 am and unbelievably the sun has decided to join us and indeed stayed with us for the entirety of the day. Neil and I set up on Dawlish station and do a quick intro for our video footage that should be available within the next couple of weeks. We are joined by Colin and a few guests who will travel with us for the whole day.
Our first train is one of the new GWR IET class 802’s. We are taking this as far as Plymouth and pick up Nick at Teignmouth en route. It’s a comfortable and quick first journey that takes us along the familiar coastal stretch, up the river Teign and then skirts the edge of Dartmoor as we pass Totnes and Ivybridge before our arrival in Plymouth.
GWR have now introduced the full fleet and December will see an increase in the number and frequency of services to the south west. Trains are made up of 5 or 9 car sets with most of the 5 car sets being doubled to create 10 car trains.
At Plymouth we are greeted by Luke Pollard who is the Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport. He is fully supportive of our mission to all of Devon but kindly agrees to talk to us about what Plymouth has to offer to anyone spending time in the city. Plymouth is known as the Ocean City and has a rich history of not only naval matters but seafaring in general. We are rapidly approaching the Mayflower 400 anniversary celebrations next year and much is being done around this event.
Additionally we are told about the hopes to expand the National Marine Aquarium into the first Marine park in the UK. He encourages the use of a more sustainable and greener use of the railway to visit the City and take in the Hoe, Devonport Column and the Barbican area with it’s many coffee houses, restaurants and even have a cheeky gin at Plymouth Gin.
Luke says, “the railway is an ideal way to travel to Plymouth and across the south west for students, international visitors and locals alike”.
Our next train is one of the class 150 sprinters. This particular one, 150243 is about to take us on leg 2 of our journey which runs from Plymouth to Gunnislake. At this point I think it’s entirely fair to admit that this was a branch line I had never travelled and I really wasn’t too sure what to expect from this 46 minute journey that actually broke our rules by entering Cornwall.
I am joined for this section by Richard Burningham from the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership. Richard’s team are experts in many aspects of rail connectivity to the benefit of the travelling public. They specialise in community rail projects which promote the use and growth of branch lines within Devon and Cornwall. Based at Plymouth University the team have had incredible results and their model has now been used by over 60 such projects across the UK.
Richard is also extremely knowledgeable of the history of the Gunnislake line and spends the entire 45 minutes giving me the full guided tour. We roll out of Plymouth and pass through Keyham and Devonport with it’s connections to the naval base, we then veer off of the main line at St Budeaux and head along the Tamar. The service runs every two hours and serves a community of around 10,000 but has an incredible 180,000 passenger journeys per year.
Originally this branch was part of two railways. St Budeaux to Bere Alston was part of the Northern route with the line to Tavistock, Meldon Viaduct and Okehampton closed by Dr Beeching. The line from Bere Alston to Gunnislake was originally part of the Callington mineral railway which was later converted for passenger trains.
The branch line survived being closed in it’s entirety due to the fact that buses were unable to reach the villages without taking a much longer extended route. The line has a bridge where their is no road equivalent and so makes the railway the most viable and efficient route for journeys from the communities into Plymouth.
As we travel along the banks of the Tamar there is an incredible view back towards the Tamar road bridge and the Royal Albert Railway Bridge. This is a stunning vantage point and one that is new to many of us on board. This is just the first of many outstanding views along this “Little Gem” of a branch line.
Richard and I continue to discuss our views on the reinstatement of the Northern route. We find ourselves in total agreement that this stacks up on it’s own merits. As the communities along the route grow and investment is sought then this has to become a priority opening.
The route from Exeter to Okehampton now has trains using it, albeit not as frequent as some would wish or demand but it’s a slow and long procedure with the powers that be needing convincing. As far as our day is concerned, we would have certainly of benefited from the northern route to take in and visit even more during the day.
We pass over the Tamar and Tavy rivers and have now we have reached Bere Ferrers which has it’s own heritage site with camping coaches and a small loco. The signage is a replica of the 1950’s style and oozes charm.
Here is an interesting fact! The branch line from St Budeaux to Gunnislake is not actually a branch. It’s classed as a siding and has a special token that is removed and replaced as the train passes through St Budeaux. This is old fashioned railway technology in a modern World but it works beautifully.
Next stop is Bere Alston where we transfer from the Northern route to the Callington line. We have a few minutes here as the driver changes ends and the guard has to go and change the points before we can proceed.
We now leave Bere Alston for what is undoubtedly the highlight of this line. The route takes us around a large horseshoe curve, passing over the Calstock Viaduct which towers over the Tamar and our next stop is Calstock station in Cornwall.
There is a national trust property called Cotehelenearby and Richard tells me that it’s a beautiful walk of around half an hour to reach it. The views are breathtaking as we can see river valleys and the rugged view of Dartmoor from the comfort of our seat. The scenery from the window will rival any view in the Country and I can not believe this is all new to me.
Some of the walks are highlighted and can be downloaded free of charge at Great scenic railways.com another of Richards sites.
As we approach the end of the two mile horseshoe I ask Richard why people should visit this line. His response, “It’s spectacular!” I can’t argue.
We have now arrived at Cornwalls newest station Gunnislake. Opened in 1994 and decorated with tiles crafted by the local school children it’s a rail head more than a destination but I can honestly say that you wont be disappointed by the journey!
Time to head back to Devon.
Back at Plymouth and time for our 3rd leg. We have now been met by our colleagues from Railcam. They have travelled from all over the Country to both support us and visit much of Devon for the first time. Some left at 4 am and just missed out on joining the Gunnislake leg due to connections.
We have just enough time to take a few shots and grab a coffee while we tell the new arrivals about the gem they have just missed out on. Some are already promising to return in the near future to add this branch to their long list of ticked journeys.
Time for us to climb on board another GWR IET. I am joined for this section by Dick Wood of the South Devon Railway. Dick points out the GWR Depot at Laira and then we head along the river Plym, past Tavistock Junction and up Hemerdon bank towards Totnes where we can join the South Devon Railway.
The South Devon Railway is a seven mile former Great Western Railway branch line, built in 1872, which runs along the stunning valley of the River Dart between Buckfastleigh and Totnes. They run steam trains with heritage rolling stock and offer a wonderful all day, all weather attraction for families and people of all ages.
With a huge amount of pride Dick explains that this year is the 50th anniversary of the heritage line. Buckfastleigh at one end is not only the main location of the sheds and storage but also has a fantastic museum celebrating the GWR in the south west.
There are numerous items contained within it that will give you a whole new insight to Brunel’s GWR. Included in the collection is Brunel’s only surviving broad gauge engine “Tiny”.
Also easily accessible from the station are the Buckfast Butterflies and Dartmoor Otter attractions. Buckfast Abbey is also nearby and I am impressed to hear Dick telling me about the variety of attractions that a run down the South Devon Railway can lead you to.
This was a trip that I can remember only too well as a child. A journey behind the Steam loco and visiting the Otters when they first opened and walking around the butterflies were all memories that I was happy to recall from a far distant childhood. It was great to be back!
Nothing much has changed. It’s a really easy day out where time isn’t an issue. If you travel to Totnes by train, there is a short walk and a bridge over the Dart before you enter the Totnes Riverside section of the SDR. With buildings reclaimed from all over the UK and rebuilt at Totnes, you would find it hard to believe that this station was created from recycled spares and the passion of it’s many volunteers.
At the far end of the station is the signal box and the Totnes Rare Breeds farm. The farm often come out to greet arriving trains and while I was there an Owl was brought along while it’s handler explained how to reach the farm and what to expect. So many people were delighted to see this and it again shows just how closely this group of attractions work together in providing a thoroughly enjoyable yet varied day out that every member of a family group can enjoy.
Time to jump on the train and relive my childhood trips? I had a few minutes and so took the time to film an ex London Transport loco L.92 uncouple from one end, run around and rejoin for the return to Buckfastleigh. I can say there are perks to my role at Dawlish Beach Cams, today’s perk took me by surprise. I wanted to get a few shots from inside the loco and of her proud crew that were working her. As soon as I explained to the crew what I was doing they invited me to do the trip with them on the footplate.
Lets be honest, I wasn’t ever going to say no thanks and took the opportunity to film the 7 miles beside the River dart from behind the fireman. Yet again I am reminded of the pure natural beauty that Devon boasts such an abundance of, Water plays such a role in where the Devon mainline goes. We have the Exe, the Coast, the Teign, the Tamar and the Dart all playing major roles in where the railway was routed.
Each river is different and the low branches and dappled sunlight along the Dart makes for another of our great scenic days out while visiting a land based attraction. Does life really get any better for replenishing the soul and enchanting the most serious person to smile at what man and nature can achieve together?
One thing that you just can not fail to be impressed by is the sheer friendliness at the SDR. Every single person representing the railway was keen to talk and answer any question from the public. Always in a warm friendly manner and a passion for what they provide. These people have pride in their attraction and deserve to be recognised for having an old fashioned approach to those visiting.
The SDR runs set timetables but also has regular Galas and special events including the 1940’s event on the 6-7 July. You can really take your pick from a number of events to ensure you get exactly what you want from a day on the SDR.
Our next leg takes us down to Newton Abbot and we have time for a short break before our connection to Paignton and the Dartmouth Steam Railway and Riverboat Company. There are now around 25 in our group, made up from enthusiasts, rail industry and tourism industry. It’s time for a quick group picture before we set off again.
So far everybody has been enjoying their day. We are in total agreement that Devon really does have an awful lot to offer and the modern idea of a greener and more sustainable use of transport really does fit our county.
Not only are we more environmentally friendly by using the railway but the costs are surprisingly cheap with the tickets and railcards we are using. No traffic jam, no parking issue, no stuck in a hot car without stretching your legs, no worry about needing the loo. We can even charge our phones and cameras en route. This really does scream “Best Option” to our group.
The next visit for us is to the Dartmouth Steam Railway and Riverboat Company and we meet up with Pete Roach who has worked here in many roles over a number of years. Pete leads us from Paignton railway station, over the level crossing and straight on to the Steam Railway. It’s honestly a 30 second walk and again an attraction that again highlights the use of the main rail network to reach it.
The DSRRB have kindly laid on lunch for our group and we enter through the main entrance and ticket office, through a gift shop that is extensively stocked with everything from toys to memorabilia that has half of the group reaching for their funds, and into a well presented, clean and roomy cafe which sits on the station itself.
It’s clear that there has been an awful lot of investment and thought put into what makes a visitor happy when you arrive here. You enjoying your day, is certainly at the centre of this attractions heart and this is just the entrance facility. Sadly our time was limited during the day but Neil visited recently so we can tell you about what is on offer to fill your day, and you will need all day to make the most of this.
My favourite and always most memorable thing about this attraction was the Round Robin Ticket. I’m sure it’s as old as me if not older! As a child we were taken to Paignton, usually by train, and climbed aboard the steam train from Paignton, down the Dart Valley, passing Agatha Christies home and into Kingswear station. Next we would board the ferry across to Dartmouth and spend some time there before joining the river boat to take a journey of around 1 1/2 hours up the Dart to Totnes. After leaving the boat we would then climb aboard a bus and return to Paignton.
The adventure, as that was how I viewed it, was always the highlight of my summer holidays. To travel all day through the most incredible countryside with views of and from the river by different forms of transport usually left me extremely quiet. This wasn’t a bored child but someone who was genuinely not wishing to miss a thing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then book your tickets now and be amazed.
The DSRRB also has the Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle. She is often used for the river part of the round robin and needs to be included in your visit. Kingswear Castle is the last remaining coal-fired paddle steamer in operation in the UK today and is running on her home waters of the River Dart once more. She was built in 1924 at Philip & Son of Dartmouth and plied her trade between Totnes and Dartmouth until 1965.She has won many awards as a tourist attraction and is considered to be of national importance to Britain’s maritime fleet.
Once again we can clearly say that this is another attraction that is both friendly and keen to work with other attractions and facilities to produce an all welcoming approach to either locals or visitors to the area. There are regular services between Kingswear and Paignton and one of those arrived at the station during our visit.
Catching a few off guard while Pete gave a tour of the workshop, the service train arrived at the station to off load its passengers. Colin got straight on board to grab a few photos from inside the famous observation car. If you are lucky enough to travel on this then you will never forget the difference in views from this vantage point.
The railway to Kingswear for Dartmouth does have quite a place in History. Originally Brunel had wanted to cross the river with a grand bridge. However, the powers that be, in this case the Admiralty refused permission for a bridge on the grounds that it would prevent ships from navigating as far up the river as was required at the time. This led to an odd occurrence, Dartmouth’s railway station had already been built in anticipation and is one of only two railway stations in the UK that you could buy a ticket for but not reach by train.
Instead the opposite bank town of Kingswear stationed the railway and passengers took the ferry across to Dartmouth. This is still a popular trip today with not only the DSRRB’s trains bringing visitors but many of the mainline rail tours that pass our cameras, and crossing from mainline to heritage at Paignton and terminating at Kingswear for Dartmouth.
Before we leave Paignton I need to tell you about an event for your diary. It’s very early but do make plans to visit the railway in the lead up to Christmas. The DSRRB have now created the extraordinary “Train of Lights” and this year they are looking to expand the experience even further. I’m not spoiling it but take the family along to experience something completely unique in the UK as far as I’m aware.
Farewell to Another fantastic attraction and thank you so much for your warm welcome and hospitality!
We just have to cross the level crossing and we are back on the national railway network and headed out on the Paignton to Exmouth train for our next leg.
Leaving Paignton we travel through the resort town of Torquay. An area of the county that I am very familiar with having both studied and worked there. Along with Paignton and Brixham the three towns are jointly known as the English Riviera. There are numerous beaches and many many top attractions in Torbay including the World famous model village, Kents Cavern caves and Paignton Zoo to mention but a few. There is a regular bus joining the three towns and if you find it’s a little too far from the railway then this is still a much more sustainable and greener choice. There are many holiday parks and hotels although the Fawlty Towers inspiration has now been demolished. As a base for visiting the whole of the south west Torbay is one of the livelier destinations.
We pass through Newton Abbott and head down the River Teign to Teignmouth. We have one of our cameras here and it captures activity in the estuary and sunsets over Dartmoor. It’s at Salty Cottage on the back beach which is another super little self catering home to rent.
We have shared many recent times with Rob at Devon Sea Safari. Many of our viewers have followed our recommendation and been out on “Whistler” for a local wildlife tour. These trips depart from the fish quay at Teignmouth and can be booked online.
Devon sea Safari is another of those must do trips which includes the whole family. Whether spotting seals or watching dolphins race the boat you will not return feeling disappointed.
As we leave Teignmouth we round the coast on the famous Sea Wall. This is one of the most photographed sections of railway in the UK. From Newton Abbot to Exeter you have water almost entirely beside you. Of course the conditions can get a little choppy and splash the train during an Easterly gale but these are much rarer than people think and this is one stretch of line that has to be included in the must do section.
From Teignmouth you have the five tunnels that pop you in and out of daylight until you pass the Blenheim hotel on Marine Parade that hosts another of our cameras. You would struggle to find a better location for a base with a view. The rooms have been upgraded and modernized and there is no better place to sit for your breakfast.
Through Dawlish station and passing the third of our cameras you head towards Dawlish Warren.
Now how about quirky and an iconic railway landmark? Brunel Holiday Park should be open for business very soon after the extensive renovation of the camping coaches. Look out for more on these coming soon.
Leaving Dawlish Warren we head toward Starcross and are Joined by Derry Tydeman, Heritage Manager for Powderham Castle. Now this is something that has changed in recent years. When I grew up Powderham was known for Deer in it’s fields and not an awful lot more.
Powderham now boasts regular events and concerts with some top names performing in the grounds. Derry says they offer a wide and varied choice to visitors. Some like to explore the house and gardens, others enjoy walking through the parkland and watching the deer but an increasing number and becoming familiar with those special events like jousting or even the concerts.
Powderham itself is still very much a family home to the Courtenay family, Earls of Devon. It is around 600 years old and a fortified manor house on the banks of the river Exe, It has strong connections to the railway and Brunel used it as a base while working along this section of railway. Derry tells me that by allowing the railway to cross the park, the estate not only cemented its relationship to the railway but gained even more land as parts of the marshy riverside where drained.
It is around a ten minute walk from Starcross station to reach the main gate and with the roads being relatively narrow the Castle team are keen to suggest the use of the railway to visit. Last year after a concert there were long delays to those bringing cars in leaving. By the time those folk had left the car parks, those wise enough to use the railway were at home and tucked up in bed. Sometimes we overlook the obvious i guess.
With around 25,000 visiting the castle to watch Craig David or Noel Gallagher then public transport really is the go to option. Derry tells me that they work closely with GWR to arrange extra trains and stewards at the station to help everyone get in and out much more easily.
Personally I now prefer the quieter life and so the Deer park and maybe the odd jousting event would appeal to me more. What this does show is how diverse the castle now is in its range of events as well as static displays for those wanting a history fix. This is only going to grow and grow and I would suggest anyone looking for something to do to have a look at the website to see what is coming up next. I’m sure you may be surprised.
We have now come away from the Exe for a few minutes as we arrive in the City of Exeter. Again there are many things to do in this great City but do make your way across to Exeter Cathedral if you have a few hours to spare. We aren’t stopping today as our train now changes direction at St Davids and heads towards Central and then off at Exmouth Junction for the Avocet line.
The line is another beautifully positioned single track line that skirts along the other side of the river Exe and commands wondrous views across the river towards Powderham, Starcross and Dawlish Warren. It’s a well used line by Commuters, Students, Locals, visitors and the Commando base at Lympstone!
Along the route I chat with Lauren from Stuart Line Cruises of Exmouth. Stuart Line won many awards last year and I was keen to see what they offered. There are a number of cruises available but as we are on the train today Lauren begins by telling me how they work with the railway to provide a round robin trip of their own. Taking the boat from Exmouth, there is an hour cruise up the Exe as far as Topsham where passengers can then board the train for the return to Exmouth. It’s an all inclusive ticket so no worries about finding the fare back.
There is also a cruise up Europe’s oldest working ship canal. This trip takes you into the heart of Exeter City Centre and again offers the choice of returning by train to take in both sets of scenic views. Both of these cruises and train trips can be taken either direction but check the website for the timetables. These are cruises not a ferry service.
Going in the opposite direction and headed out into the English channel there are cruises that take in England’s only natural World Heritage site, The Jurassic coast. Stretching from Exmouth to Old Harry’s Rocks in Dorset the area is well known for it’s scientific and natural history interest. Stuart Line offer a range of choices but the one I really like the sound of is the 6 1/2 hour day cruise all the way to Charmouth with a guest geologist on board to explain the coastline to me. The view from the water gives such a better understanding of what this coast line is made up of.
Lauren suggests that maybe this isn’t their best tour for younger children, I like that. Children can often get bored and although the boat is kitted out with all the modern conveniences expected, there isn’t enough to keep the younger members of the family interested. This comment just tells me that yet again we have an attraction that has it’s guests needs at heart. Don’t buy a ticket for the sake of it, buy one that suits your needs. It’s not all about money and i imagine this is the type of approach that gets people coming back and the recommendations for those awards.
There are also shorter trips to the Jurassic Coast as well as a cruise across to Torbay. We often see the “Pride of Exmouth” popping into Boat Cove or Teignmouth on our cameras. You can’t miss the boat. Bright red, blue and yellow, she was extended by around 4 metres in 2017 to allow for extra capacity and band nights.
My trip out with this friendly family company took us out of the river Exe and past the many kite surfers that use this area and the Dawlish Warren bird reserve. We then had a full and interesting commentary from Jake Stuart, who is the third generation to captain boats for Stuart Line. Passing Starcross with it’s Pumping House museum and Powderham again. Jake gave us a host of facts and even explained some of the wrecks in the Exe and the specialised mussel factory working away. We also passed the second boat in Stuart Lines fleet, the Tudor Rose before returning to Exmouth after a very quick hour introduction. Private charters and special events such as Torbay Airshow are also available. Dogs are also permitted on board as long as they are well behaved. Stuart Lines have their own Jack Russell called Pebbles, who is often found dozing on Jakes captains chair! Please do visit the website and book a trip out.
My second guest on the way to Exmouth was John Thoroughgood who is a train driver. Not just any train however, John drives the Deer Train at the family attraction of World of Country Life just outside of Exmouth. Situated just a few miles from Exmouth is Sandy Bay. This is the largest static caravan park in the UK, maybe Europe and hosts a huge number of visitors keen to explore Devon.
Just as you enter Sandy Bay, World of Country Life is on your left. It was around a ten minute bus trip when i visited and the bus stop is right beside the entrance. Walking in you are greeted by a few classic cars, a reception and gift shop. All beautifully presented, clean tidy and airy. I thought I was coming to an old farm museum?
John tells me how this is so much more than a farm museum and really the clue is in the title. The World of Country life. Leaving reception and I walk into a room that fascinates me. It is full of old steam powered and historic equipment from years past. I am told that the owner had the mentality of throwing nothing away in case it was still of use. I’m glad! This is a huge collection and Victorian engineering is a sight to behold.
Additionally there is a whole Victorian street recreated. There is the chance to walk into the game keeper’s cottage or into the pub. Model railways and electrical equipment from the years are also on display.
We next enter a converted barn which is full of classic vehicles. Some of these are used for TV and Film work and the Daimler proudly on display has just returned from filming Downton Abbey where it was used to convey the King and Queen. The cars are mostly in working order and are frequently taken to shows and rallys so they can be shared with fellow enthusiasts. There are two traction engines at the far side and every exhibit here is presented with love.
So Ok that’s me and Granddad happy but what about the rest of the family?
Venturing back into the daylight and the attraction really opens up. There is a race track for animals, and beyond that the pens. Pigs and piglets, Alpacas and goats that like nothing more that being taken out for a walk! Yes you heard, Goat walking and the children loved this close, hands on interaction. Further on and we have numerous birds on display, wallabys, sheep. Ferret racing, with a course designed in true crystal maze fashion, Duck and Lamb racing. It’s all going on here!
We wander back across and we find a full size Pirate ship play area. Last year they had actors in to put on a full display to entertain children, mums, dads and grandparents alike. The play areas throughout are separated with each age group being catered for. Parents can sit and watch in a relaxed atmosphere. I think my favourite part, at least if I was still 10, is a full sized climbing frame based on a combine harvester.
Further on and past the outdoor snakes and ladders we come to John’s Deer Train. This runs several times through out the day and takes passengers across the fields to the 25 strong herd of deer. There are also llamas and sheep who all love approaching the train to feed from the hand of a guest. Considering that deer are normally quite timid creatures, this gives an excellent opportunity for the younger members of the family to get a close up look with these beautiful animals.
World of Country Life is a family owned visitor attraction in Exmouth, Devon. The park first opened in 1978 and since then has grown and developed over the years, winning a number of awards, to be one of the best family days out in Devon. The attraction has an eclectic mix of museums, animals, play areas and entertainment, both outdoors and under cover, making it an excellent day out for the whole family, whatever the age, whatever the weather.
Back in Exmouth and it’s time for a train with a difference! Again to show how these attractions work together we have a combined ticket available for Exmouth’s very own Land Train. Meeting us just outside of the station we were whisked off for our own guided tour of Exmouth.
With options of 3 routes or the full circle tour we think the best value was the all day jump on and off ticket for just £5. The expert commentary was both fun and extremely informative. I hadn’t realised that Lord Nelson had such a connection to the town but he is just one of many. I think anyone listening will be very surprised and pleased to have jumped aboard this little gem of an attraction.
Our private route was a shortened one as we had to be back at the railway station for our next connection but we were taken through the town, past some historic buildings and finished with a blast along the sea front to wake up some of those who were now flagging.
We had just enough time for a quick group photo along with our Green Devon’s Top Attractions goody bags before we sadly had to leave Exmouth and head for Barnstaple.
So it’s off on our way to the Tarka line. Named after the Otter in the famous Henry Williamson book, the Tarka Line runs for 39 miles between Exeter and Barnstaple, following the gentle river valleys of the Yeo and Taw. The line has linked North and South Devon since 1854. It is an ideal and picturesque way to visit Barnstaple, capital of North Devon or to reach the great cathedral city of Exeter. Stop off to explore the historic market town of Crediton and rural Eggesford.
Our first guest for this section is Mike Day of the Tarka Rail Association. Mike tells us how this is one of the fastest growing routes in the UK over past years. With an expected 700,000 passenger journeys expected this year the line has reached capacity and they estimate another 10 – 20 % of journeys are being suppressed. To help with the growth, Network Rail are working on the line over the next 18 months to increase line speed where possible. GWR are withdrawing the 143 class pacer trains and replacing them with the 158 sprinters. These have more seats, table, electrical points and wifi.
Mike goes on to explain that the line is currently operated via the old fashioned token system. The token is collected at Crediton and dropped off at Eggsford where trains can pass at the station. The line then reverts to single track to Barnstaple itself. Many of the stops are request stops, this helps to speed up the service but this is Devon and we never mind stopping.
As we approach Barnstaple Mike tells us about the connectivity via the bus routes to the major towns of Bideford and Ilfracombe as well as the many tourist attractions, beaches and coast path. North Devon doesn’t end at Barnstaple railway station, it just begins so get out and explore.
There are now so many commuters, locals and visitors using the line that Mike is keen to support our call to promote the Devon and Cornwall railcard as well as the Devon Day Ranger. Currently it’s £11 for an Exeter to Barnstaple return. For that little extra you can go so much further and the Tarka Rail Association is keen to promote the use of the rail card for a huge potential saving for those using the line.
The last thing from Mike is to tell us about the North Devon Cycle route and it is now that we swap over to Ian Wallace who represents Tarka Cycle Hire. Based on Barnstaple station and operating from part of the old station buildings this really does define “Off the train” connection to one of the attractions from the day.
Tarka Cycle Hire offer bikes for every age and ability. From racing bikes to mountain bikes to tricycles. With trailers for youngster and pets to tandems for those who want to do it together. You can enjoy the peace and quiet of this beautiful corner of Devon, and with the level, traffic-free cycling, it’s perfect for families and less experienced cyclists. The Tarka trail is a bird watchers paradise, with stunning river estuary scenes, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for evidence of the trails former use as a railway line!
The routes across the disused lines have been well thought out. There are amenities all along including cafes and play areas so as a family, you could do just three miles or the whole route. The South route is the most popular and was the route featured by James May when he tried to run a model railway along the old route.
You could even cycle to Instow and take your bike on to ferry across to Appledore. Some even take the old route 27 to Plymouth and Tarka Cycle Hire will even come and collect the bikes from you a few days later when you have completed your journey.
Ian says that because the cycle trails are away from busy roads and traffic it really is the perfect way of getting out into the countryside with everyone from Granny to Baby with the family dog included too. I have heard so many excellent reports about these cycle trails and doesn’t it just fit in perfectly with our earlier strategy of using more sustainable, greener forms of transport than our beloved cars?
These guys will hire you a bike for half or whole days or even weekends or longer. They make sure you have all the information needed and equipment if you have a flat tyre or mechanical issue. That is a rarity as all of the bikes are looked after by a full team but, should the worst occur, one of the team will be straight out to you to get you going again.
Finally! It’s time for us to head home and we are on the final leg of the day to Dawlish and some nourishment at the Marine Tavern. After such a long day exploring and visiting some of the very best of Devon I catch up with Andrea Davies who is chair of the Pennisula Rail Task Force.
Andrea has been with us since we set out from Dawlish this morning and has been a huge support in the planning of the day. I’m wondering if she realised just what she had let herself in for?
The Peninsula Rail Task Force is a rail improvement campaign group comprising Cornwall Council, Cornwall and Scillies LEP, Devon County Council, Heart of the South West LEP, Plymouth City Council, Somerset County Council and Torbay Council. They work closely with the rail industry and government to push for improvements to sustainable transport links via rail to the south west for residents and visitors.
Andrea is delighted with the day, seen and visited many new things, met new people and experienced the enthusiasm that people have for the use of Devon’s railways. Our choice of ticket and the Devon and Cornwall rail card is particularly close to her heart for the people of Devon. She says, ” I’ve had a Devon and Cornwall railcard for years, and I’m always surprised by how many people don’t know about them. For £12 it makes such a difference in getting around Devon cheaply, for hard pressed families, it means you can get around Devon and enjoy some of the attractions”
she continues, ” It’s a great way to explore, go to a sporting event or just go and visit relatives. It’s also a great way of avoiding congestion in our cities and avoiding air pollution in our towns. It’s a green way to get around and I’m amazed by where we have been today”.
The day has now come to an end but before we stop and enjoy a lemonade we’d like to look back and thank those who joined us and supported us with this day out. We truly hope that the information and the ideas have been both useful and interesting to our readers.
The use of the Devon Day Ranger and Devon and Cornwall citizens railcard have been central to the day but without the support of the following list and those previously mentioned, this day would not have happened.
To Anne at Devon’s association of top attractions and Charlotte of GWR. Getting people into places and organising those special events was key to the day going without a hitch and the whole team thank you.
To Jamie at Railcam. Thank you for organising your team to join us but huge thanks for some of the photos and help with the timetable.
To those supporters who came to tag along for the day, and to our Dawlish Beach team our thanks for your material and help through the day.
Lastly to Neil, who I have to say was some what upset about the thought of being on a train for 12 1/2 hours! Thanks for supporting and filming the whole day, we just have the videos to edit now and show the story as well as tell it. Team work is everything!