A new train station is something to be celebrated, and this one at Marsh Barton, although intended to facilitate sustainable transport to a large industrial estate, is also beautifully placed for canalside walks and quayside lunches.
Opened in July 2023 Marsh Barton train station is on the main London to Penzance line.
And it’s well worth a visit.
For a city train station, Marsh Barton has a surprising amount to offer. For a mini city break, why not walk into Exeter to enjoy lunch at Exeter Quays and then a stroll around the Cathedral? Or to blow off the cobwebs, turn the other way and keep walking until you feel the sea breezes of the Exe Estuary. You could even turn this into an activity adventure by train and try your hand at climbing, paddling or sailing at Haven Banks outdoor centre just a 20-minute walk away.
The options are all there.
Why choose a station to station walk?
Station to station walks are satisfying for so many reasons. To my mind, the sense of journey you get from going from A to B is second to none but I also like investigating in more detail places I usually speed past on the train. On top of that, station to station routes are very practical. No more boring there and back walks to pick up the car and no more irritating loops that take you places you don’t really want to go.
From city to sea – the Exeter Canal
There are plenty of walking routes to explore from Marsh Barton station but I chose to walk along the Exeter Canal and River Exe estuary. The new station made it easy with generous ramps that took me right down to the water’s edge.
Dog walks by train
Fred the dog joined me on this walk. He’s still quite excitable but is getting more used to train travel. We arrived in plenty of time at Newton Abbot station and did a double lap of the park before we got on our train. As it turns out an 11.5-kilometre walk is just about enough to persuade a young terrier to be quiet on the train trip home.
And help his mum relax.
I’m still learning but I’ve written a few hints and tips about taking your dog on a train, if you want the benefit of my experience.
Bike and wheelchair friendly
As well as being walker and dog friendly, this is also a cycling and wheeling route. Unfortunately however, although the ramps at Marsh Barton station offer great possibilities, Starcross station does not have step-free access to either of its platforms. The route itself is accessible all the way (with the possible exception of the pubs), but you might prefer to select a halfway turn-around point.
Shared cycling and walking paths
As a pedestrian who doesn’t cycle, I’m not a huge fan of shared walker and cyclist paths but accept they are often a necessity and a useful tool in getting more people outside. Some of this walking route includes shared paths but if you keep an eye out, you’ll see that walkers do have several quieter and often more beautiful path sections all for themselves.
Something you don’t get on all canal towpaths.
Most of the walk is traffic-free but the lane between Powderham Castle and the estuary (my least favourite section) does have a few cars, especially at the weekends.
Walking route Marsh Barton station to Starcross station
- Start station – Marsh Barton
- Finish station – Starcross
- Distance: 11.5 km
- Elevation: 0 m
- Time: 3 hours
- Refreshments: Double Locks, The Turf, Powderham Farm Shop and Bistro
- Toilets: Next to Starcross station (but unfortunately not at Marsh Barton station)
From Marsh Barton station
Head downhill on the bike ramp to leave the station. Continue to the swing bridge and cross over the canal. Turn right along the canal towpath and walk until you reach the road at Countess Wear.
From Countess Wear bridge
Cross the road using the crossing (be careful here, it doesn’t give you as long to walk as you might think). On the other side of the road, cross the canal via the footbridge and continue to pass underneath the M5. Eventually you’ll reach the bridge by the Topsham Ferry.
From the Topsham Ferry
If there are people waiting, take the time to cross the canal bridge and watch the Exeter Council run Topsham Ferry arrive to pick up its load. For another station to station option, you could cross here and catch a train from Topsham station or follow the East Devon Way along the other side of the Exe to Exmouth, where you can catch another ferry back to Starcross.
Once you’ve enjoyed the ferry and worked out how people call it, carry on for another couple of kilometres until you reach Turf Locks (The Turf). There’s no road to this historic hotel so you have to arrive on foot, by bike, or by boat (I have now done all three). On a sunny day, it has to have one of the best beer garden views in the country.
Note: In the summer, there is another more expensive Topsham ferry from the end of the garden at Turf Locks – make sure you check the timetable for the right one as tides can have an impact.
From Turf Locks
The Exeter Canal ends here but your journey towards the sea continues along the Exe Estuary. Walk along the top of the bank for the best views (and to avoid the bikes). Then take care as you join the shared path to cross the impressive railway bridge and arrive at St Clement’s Church. Enjoy the views on this section because once you reach the Powderham lane, you’ll be sandwiched between the railway line and the edge of the park.
Follow the lane south for three kilometres until you reach Starcross and your destination station. This lane does not have pavements but there are few cars and there is a 20 mph speed limit. There is an alternative footpath that takes you across the Powderham Estate to exit near the Farm Shop and Bistro from where you can follow another path towards the station.
Once you’ve arrived at Starcross station you have options:
- Get on your train home.
- Get on the ferry and explore Exmouth.
- Continue along the South West Coast Path to join up this walk with my Sea Swim along the English Riviera adventure by train.
Author’s station to station walk
This walk was a last-minute decision for me, which meant I wasn’t quite as organised with my packing and weather checking as I usually am. I had remembered to check the train times though, which was just as well because not all mainline trains stop at Marsh Barton station.
Fred the dog is still learning about train travel and I am still learning about what to take with me on our adventures together. He was more than happy to share my lunch and water but thinking I could stop in at the pubs, I hadn’t quite brought enough of either. In the end, the combination of bustling Saturday lunch service and an excitable puppy proved too much for me to fathom and we had to manage on my slightly meagre supplies (and the blackberries I found along the Powderham lane).
City to sea
I love a journey, especially one that leads out of a city into more open space like my adventure by train along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. The Exeter Canal is much shorter but also much prettier.
Under the motorway
Anyone who has followed my adventures so far will know I love walking below places I would usually drive above. Favourites include walking under the Tamar Bridge in Cornwall and under the Prince of Wales Severn bridge in Somerset (just before I walked over the original Severn Bridge into Wales). In this case, my under-not-over experience was the M5 and I was surprised by two things:
- Looking up I could see a stripe of sky between the carriageways.
- There was a delicately placed bench (with accompanying picnicker) right underneath.
Not properly dressed
As I approached Turf Locks (rebranded The Turf) the people on the path became more and more well-dressed. They had presumably arrived from ‘charming’ Topsham. I was smiling to myself because, not only had the unexpected warm weather rendered me a sweaty mess, last time I had arrived at this beautiful spot, I had been wearing my much-faded kayaking wetsuit.
It being the middle of August and me being on foot, I was glad I had left the wetsuit at home this time.